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Dr. James R. Cunningham honored

James R. Cunningham, Ph.D., P.E., appreciates a comic strip he saw recently, showing a young Dilbert in the doctor’s office. “His symptoms were disassembling all sorts of small appliances and then reassembling them for other purposes. That was me. I just had to know how things worked, and taking them apart was the best way to find out,” Cunningham said.

His youthful curiosity defined a distinguished career, which earned a prestigious award for this veteran UTC professor of chemical and environmental engineering. He was named Engineer of the Year by the Chattanooga Engineers Club. Founded in 1924, The Chattanooga Engineers Club membership includes engineers and scientists from various technical disciplines in the Chattanooga area.

“I am delighted that Dr. Cunningham received the Engineer of the Year award for his outstanding service as an engineering educator,” said J. Ronald Bailey, PhD, P.E.
Interim Chief Research Officer, Guerry Professor, and Dean of the UTC College of Engineering and Computer Science. “For 34 years, Dr. Cunningham has been sharing his knowledge of environmental and chemical engineering with students and the community, making a real difference in the quality of life for Chattanooga and beyond. Perhaps more importantly, his legacy will endure through the efforts of the hundreds of UTC engineering graduates who have had the privilege of learning from a true master teacher.”

Growing up on the grounds of the Shell Oil Refinery in Norco, Louisiana, Cunningham’s father was a Chemical Engineer, and many of his playmates fathers were engineers. He says it would have “surprising” if he had chosen a different career.

“Engineering was everywhere I looked: the cracking units, the distillation
units, the storage tanks, the shipping docks, the ships, the wells. The high school I attended had the Pan American Refinery in Destrehan as its immediate neighbor. One could say that engineering and chemical engineering in particular was just a part of the culture in St. Charles Parish,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham includes among his areas of interest process and equipment design, chemical kinetics, process control, optimization, pollution control, vapor-liquid equilibrium, modeling. He earned his undergraduate degree at Louisiana State University, and both his master’s and Ph.D. from University of Florida, all in chemical engineering.

He has served as a consultant and contributed research to environmental innovations in the Chattanooga area. His professional service includes an appointment to the State of Tennessee Water Quality Control Board, and he served as a member of both the Community Advisory Panel for W. R. Grace and the City of Chattanooga Public Works Organization Task Force.

“Work, whether at study or on the job, doesn't seem so much like work if it's what you like doing. Engineering study and engineering on the job is a challenge. Every day is different - there's some new problem to address, some new design specification to meet,” Cunningham said. “But if you like it, if it is exciting to you, then you should consider engineering for a career.”

In light of his success, Cunningham graciously shared his wisdom with those considering the study of engineering:

“Engineers have the opportunity to make things better. It goes beyond making a product better - it's making life better. Our Obligation speaks of using resources for the benefit of Mankind. Mankind present and future, so sustainability has entered the picture.

“To accomplish this lofty goal requires knowledge: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, English, social science, etc. To accomplish this lofty goal also requires the development of skills: writing, public speaking, teamwork, innovation, etc.

“Learn all you can in every class and in every situation. There is no such thing as irrelevant knowledge. You never know when some piece of information you regarded as trivial will be the key to solving a problem. To paraphrase John Wesley, ‘Learn all you can so you can give all you can.’

“Sign up for co-operative education. There's no better way to grow as a learner of engineer principles that to be engaged in learning engineering practice. We have some great companies participating in our co-op program. Students should take advantage of these opportunities.”

Cunningham honored
Dr. Ed Foster, Dr. Mike Jones, Honoree Dr. Jim Cunningham, Dr. Ronald Bailey

Cunningham honored
Dr. Jim Cunningham and Tiffany Gibby, E Week committee chair and Past President, Chattanooga Engineers Club is a graduate of UTC Chemical and Environmental engineering program and proud student of Dr. Jim Cunningham

Cunningham honored
Sean Cunningham, eldest of Dr. Cunningham's four sons, Dr. Cunningham, and Dr. Cunningham's wife, Gayle.

March 5, 2007