A former construction worker and member of a 1980s bluegrass band whose hobbies include science fiction reading and Aikido, does not fit the cookie-cutter mold of a professor in civil engineering. But that is exactly the path that CSM senior lecturer Joe Crocker took as his passion for teaching and engineering could not be deterred.
From the beginning, construction was a family matter for Crocker growing up in Oklahoma. With his father heavily involved in the construction business, Crocker soon found himself spending his weekends and summers as a construction worker on the job site. It was during those brutally hot summer days that Crocker knew he wanted to become a professional engineer. “It was really hot,” remembers Crocker, “and I would see the engineer drive up in the middle of the day in his air conditioned car while I was sweating over that hot asphalt. It would be 100 degrees out with 100 percent humidity, and I remember thinking, ‘Boy, that’d sure be nice to have his job’.”
So once he had the chance, Crocker pursued his dream earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in civil engineering at Oklahoma State University, which, according to Crocker was much “prettier of a campus” than the nearby University of Oklahoma.
Upon graduation, Crocker headed into industry, where he would spend the next 20 years as a professional engineer. His projects ranged all across the United States, including an enormous timber day use center in Pensacola, Florida that was, as he says, “wiped off the face of the earth,” thanks to a hurricane that swept through the region. After that, Crocker then headed to Big Bend National Park where he began to work on a tertiary treatment plant, which was cutting edge technology at the time. But for those that are familiar with the Big Bend area located in southern Texas, it was literally in the middle of nowhere. Crocker remembers having to drive “about a hundred miles to the nearest town just to get groceries.”
It was during this time, that Crocker’s musical talent was displayed. “Sometime in the mid 80’s” he performed as a member of a bluegrass band playing songs from musicians like Peter Rowan to Tony Rice.
But at the heart of it all, after spending 20 years as a professional engineer, Crocker wanted to become a teacher. “When I was in school, I really enjoyed taking classes that were taught by professionals that had cool stories from their experiences in the field. I’ve always wanted to teach, and after I had spent some time as a professional engineer to get those cool stories, I wanted to become a teacher.”
Crocker’s first opportunity came at Mesa State College in 2000 where he spent three years teaching community college and high school classes. Then, after a brief stint teaching at Northern Arizona University, he accepted the job as a lecturer from the Colorado School of Mines.
Now in his eighth year at Mines and fourth year as a senior lecturer, Crocker has taught over ten different subjects in civil engineering. He covers a myriad of structural and geotechnical topics ranging from seismic design and soil mechanics to timber and masonry. After spending time teaching at other universities, Crocker explains his love for the Mines community. “The students here are exceptional. You couldn’t ask for a better set of students. They are very bright, always learning, focused, and want to be here…You couldn’t ask for a better place to teach.”
But his wide variety of talents doesn’t stop there, as the civil engineering professor also has a knack for self-defense. Crocker serves as a the faculty advisor for the jujitsu club and teaches two sections of the Japanese martial art of Aikido.
With a Native American heritage that traces back to the Kaw tribe of northern Oklahoma, Crocker is also a faculty advisor for the student chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. “I really enjoy it,” explained Crocker concerning his work with minority students. “There are so many different and unique students here. I spend most of my time with the American minorities, but I love getting to work with the international students as well. It really broadens your perspective. I learn a lot from them.”
As Crocker continues his career in higher level education, his professional experience has helped guide his teaching philosophy. “I think that it is important that we as teachers listen to our students. The students are our customers. In the industry you are always cognisant of your customers. In education it is important to realize that the students are the customers and that we must not just meet, but exceed their expectations.”