First-Hand:Edwin C. Jones, Jr.
History of an ASEE Fellow
Edwin C. Jones, Jr
August 15, 2017
Birthplace: Parkersburg, West Virginia
Birth date: June 27, 1934
My father, Edwin Channing Jones, was born in Smithburg, West Virginia, in 1903. His parents, Edwin Camden Jones and Georgia Smith Jones, were descended primarily from English and Welsh backgrounds, arriving in the USA, especially Virginia and Maryland, at various times in the 17th and 18th centuries. He entered West Virginia University (WVU) to study electrical engineering in 1921, graduated and joined the faculty at WVU in 1925, and remained in Morgantown until his death in 1996, spending more than 75 years at WVU.
My mother, Helen Sterrett Jones, was born in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, in 1904. Her ancestors were Irish, from County Donegal, arriving in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She was possibly the first person in her extended family to earn a university degree, graduating from Cornell University in 1925. In due course she joined the Home Economics faculty at WVU, married my father in 1929, and died in 1959. I had 2 sisters, both deceased.
In Urbana, IL, Ruth Carol Miller, of Lincoln, Illinois and I met in 1958. Her mother was a teacher, and her father, an engineer. We married in 1960, and have 3 children: Charles Edwin Jones (Carleton College and the University of Minnesota Law School), Helene Carol Jones Anderson (Central University of Iowa), and Cathleen Cheryl Jones Hickman (Iowa State University). All told, we have 5 grandchildren. All of us now live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.
I attended public schools in Morgantown and, for a short while, in Smithburg, WV, during World War II. Long discussions between teachers and my parents led to my “skipping” the 6th grade—possibly because I was too big for the seats. This had the unpredictable but fortuitous effect of putting me in high school with a very strong set of students, some of whom I am still in contact with.
I then attended West Virginia University, graduating with a BSEE in 1955. This occurred as practice-based study was being phased out, and science-based study was developing. The emphasis that this study plan had on laboratory and experimental work served me well as my career developed. As suggested earlier, my father was on the faculty in EE, and in fact, department head. He taught senior design, so he was also one of my teachers. I was active in a wide variety of activities, in engineering and across campus.
The next item illustrates the effect one person can have on young people. A Morgantown Rotarian, John Slavins, suggested in late 1954 that I apply for a newly developed international study opportunity, the Rotary Foundation Fellowship for Advanced International Study. Though skeptical, I did apply, and much to my surprise, was selected. So, in September, 1955, I sailed on the Queen Mary for London and enrolled at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, then a part of the University of London, where my advisor was Colin Cherry. I earned a Diploma of Membership of the Imperial College (DIC)(1956), working in a laboratory headed by Dennis Gabor, a Nobel Laureate. (The University of Illinois accepted this as equivalent to a Masters degree.) Participating in a different system, and in a group of students from more than 10 countries, awoke my interest in engineering education, giving clear direction to my life.
Next came two years of active duty as Lieutenant with the U. S. Army Signal Corps. While in service, mostly in Japan, I investigated PhD opportunities, and chose the University of Illinois. The department head then was Edward C. Jordan, and the letter he wrote offering me an assistantship “turned the tide”, telling me that I would get the education I needed to be an engineering educator, and how I should proceed. I accepted the offer, and have never regretted it. My PhD advisor was Gilbert Fett, and I worked closely with Mac Van Valkenburg, two outstanding engineering educators. I completed the degree work in late 1961.
Industry and Government. In addition to my U. S. Army Signal Corps experience, I served as a test engineer with General Electric in Syracuse, NY, as a development engineer with Westinghouse Electric in Baltimore, MD, and a development engineer with General Electric in Bloomington, IL.
Academic Employment. While serving in Japan, I taught basic mathematics courses in the University of Maryland Overseas Program. After completing the PhD, I stayed in Urbana for 4 ½ years as a faculty member, working especially with Ed Ernst and J. O. Kopplin in developing new approaches to laboratory instruction. I also became active in the National Electronics Conference (NEC), a consortium developed by a group of large Midwestern universities to enhance research and education in this part of the country.
In 1966, I accepted an offer to join the faculty at Iowa State University, was promoted to Professor in 1972, and given the title of University Professor in 1995. I was Associate Department Head for a while, and led the College’s distance education activity for about 15 years. I also led a university-wide program called “Technology and Social Change,” which developed courses and a graduate minor intended to help students with international ambitions and international students to become aware of how technological developments have affected and may affect society. For about 20 years, I was the academic advisor for our Honors Program students. In this period, I worked with gifted students to help them develop their abilities and to challenge them. What a privilege!
I retired as University Professor Emeritus in 2001, but continued to visit campus almost every day until 2005, when all of our family members were employed and living in the Twin Cities area. We decided to join them, and one day I was offered a part time position in the relatively new engineering programs at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul. My title, as this is written, is 3M Thwaits Fellow and Adjunct Professor, helping to develop and to advise graduate students in Systems Engineering, and also helping with accreditation.
Research and Scholarship
My scholarly activities, in the terminology of Dr. Boyer’s study, have primarily been in the scholarship of teaching and the scholarship of service. Improving methods of laboratory instruction and also of content led to grants for modern equipment that enabled the laboratory to be a place of discovery and a place to use materials from prerequisite courses to enhance knowledge and, more important, abilities. At the same time, computers led to continuing challenges and opportunities.
I have been fortunate to have receive some awards. I have to mention the first. The State of West Virginia gives, in the 8th grade, a “Golden Horseshoe Award.” It is test-based, and considers knowledge of the state’s geography, history, culture, and government. It dates back to George Washington and his surveying engineering activities in what is now West Virginia. I received it in 1947. I was elected to Tau Beta Pi and Eta Kappa Nu as a student. Since then, I have been elected to Fellow grade membership in IEEE, ASEE, AAAS, and ABET. I received ABET’s Linton E. Grinter Award in 2001.
But the most important award came from some of my Honors Program undergraduate students, who established the “Ed Jones Scholarship in ECE” at Iowa State University, about 10 years ago.
Philosophy of Engineering Education
Education is more than knowledge. An educated person has the ability to use knowledge to improve our world, regardless of discipline. A teacher has the responsibility to help the student evaluate the knowledge and use it to enhance abilities. One interesting way I tried to develop this capability was my philosophy of tests. Even before spreadsheets, I recorded student grades on every test problem, not just the sum. If a student did not do well on an the intermediate examination, but showed substantial improvement on the final exam, then I concluded that the student had improved, which is why we have intermediate exams, and so I substantially reduced the effect of the intermediate examination on final grades.
Service was, and still is, a place where I have tried to make contributions. I joined ASEE in 1961, and attended the annual conference in Lexington, Kentucky, with my father. My principal contributions have been with the Electrical and Computer Engineering Division, where I have served as Awards Chair. I also served some in the Educational Research and Methods Division, and helped start the Multidisciplinary Engineering Division. I also served on the Publications and the Awards Policy Committees. Perhaps my major contribution relates to Accreditation, where, John Weese, Sherra Kerns, and I led the effort to increase the ASEE participation in ABET by becoming the “lead society” for the nearly 100 multidisciplinary engineering programs that have earned accreditation.
Other Professional Activities
In IEEE, which I joined as a student in 1953, I have been quite active with the Education Society, holding nearly all of the offices, starting in 1970, including President, Transactions Editor, and Awards Chair. I worked to attract people to the Society leadership, and they have taken it from a struggling society to a major contributing agency in ECE education.
In 1976, I became a Program Evaluator in ABET for IEEE, and also became a member of an IEEE Committee that revamped the IEEE participation in ABET. I served on the Engineering Accreditation Commission, chairing more than 20 visits, and on the ABET Board of Directors. I am still a Program Evaluator, and have served as an evaluator for both IEEE and ASEE as a team member on about 45 teams in more than 12 countries. I have also served as an engineering education consultant, visiting many engineering programs in the USA, and perhaps 40 universities in 15 countries.
One of my hobbies is to collect slide rules. Another is photography, which I have used to help document activities in ASEE and in IEEE.
Prepared August 2017.