RIT is a place where people like to stay, but it’s also a place where they want to know they’ve made an impact, especially making a difference in students’ lives. In my interview with soon-to-be retiree Robert Merrill, he said something that as an educator must be a powerful and equally humbling thing to realize: “We affect people’s lives.”
And he did… and I believe will continue to do so.
Bob Merrill, professor in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology, served as both faculty and an administrator in the college for 42 years. He will retire at the end of this academic year but will leave a considerable amount of influence behind. He was celebrated yesterday at his retirement party surrounded by family, colleagues and friends.
Over 40-plus years, you meet a lot of students and see a lot of changes. When he arrived at RIT in 1972, Merrill taught in the manufacturing/mechanical engineering technology program. Several years later he would move into an administrative role, acting as program chair for 10 years and department head for four years. During that time he was closely involved in ABET certifications, the credentials necessary to ensure that the curriculum is strong, the learning sound and the students able to launch careers in needed engineering technology fields. Merrill wrote the department’s successful assessment reports related to coursework, learning outcomes and degree programs.
“Bob is one of the founding members of the MMET department and was instrumental in shaping the many developments we have seen,” said Manian Ramkumar, professor and MMET department chair. “His passion for teaching and assisting students and transforming them into excellent engineers is evident even today. He has also played a very important role in the department’s accreditation over the years and being recognized for its excellence. He has been my mentor since the time I joined the department as its youngest faculty member in 1991.”
The students today are really not too much different than those Merrill had when he began his career. He said he learns as much as they do, and that over time, his teaching style evolved from primarily lectures and board diagrams to conversation with the students centered on the learning topics. They must ‘own’ the problems and solutions to those problems, he said, and take responsibility for getting the work done and done well.
“My classroom teaching adapted, and that adapting has occurred for the most part over the last 10 to 15 years. It was interesting to come out of administration after several years and the first class I taught, lecturing, was not good,” he said, shaking his head, “and it was me not them. That’s when I said, ‘I’ve got to learn.’ I had to adapt and understand what these students need.”
Apparently, he did. In 40-plus years, you get to see what successes your students have become. They invite you to talk to their employees, or participate on panels about engineering technology trends. Sometimes, they become colleagues, such as Mark Olles, one of Merrill’s former students who is now part of the MMET faculty.
What must it be like to teach along side some one who was YOUR teacher?
“I am privileged to have known Bob on multiple levels,” said Mark Olles, assistant professor in the department. “When I was a student at RIT, I took a class, to my memory one of the more difficult ones, with him and he was my academic adviser. Now I am honored to call him a colleague and have him to advise and mentor me on yet another level. Bob is such an integral part of our department and has reached so many with his teaching and mentoring. In his retirement he will be greatly missed by all.”
Merrill said he enjoyed doing big things and leading teams – and others enjoyed having him on those teams.
“Bob was one of my earliest and most influential mentors here at RIT. He is the most dedicated, no-nonsense professor that I know,” said Marty Gordon, associate professor of MMET. “His retirement will leave a large void in our department. We can only try our best to carry on his tradition of excellence.”
Merrill recalled that when he first began as a young faculty member, he would bring his children to campus and they grew up among the faculty, staff and students of CAST. His wife, Linda, would bring their daughter Kristin to campus, and his daughter Amy was a member of the Office of Distance Learning overseeing its site-based program. Today, his son, Andrew, works at CIMS in the Nanopower lab alongside engineering professor Brian Landi. The Merrill family became part of the bigger RIT family.
It is like the genealogy studies that Merrill enjoys in his off times. After formal retirement, Merrill intends to continue work his father began on the family’s long history, from when they came to North America in the early 1600s. He also has started cataloging 35 mm and 16 mm photos and movies of family that he will archive and share among his children and extended family.
Bob Merrill has set deep roots and is a significant part of RIT’s family tree.