In 1953, Charles Dalton began taking night classes part-time at the University of Houston. Now, nearly 60 years later, he’s almost ready to leave.
It’s not that Dalton took decades to earn his bachelor’s degree. In fact he completed his B.S. and then his M.S. in mechanical engineering at the Cullen College and then went on to earn a Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1965. He spent a total of 51 years, a Cullen College record, as a faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He’s retiring from this role at the end of this month.
Unlikely as this path was, it was even more unlikely than one would think. Dalton didn’t enter college aiming for a career in academia. In fact, since he was working full-time as a pipe fitter and only part-time as a student, it took him a full seven years to earn his bachelor’s degree.
In those seven years, though, he obviously made a good impression on the college’s mechanical engineering faculty. Toward the end of his undergraduate career but before he began interviewing for jobs, he was offered a teaching assistant post at the college. He accepted – after one semester he was promoted to instructor – and began pursuing his master’s degree. After completing his master’s in 1963, he enrolled in the engineering mechanics doctoral program at UT. While he was still uncertain about his career path when he began working on his Ph.D., the Cullen College once again made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“I was on leave from UH when I left [for UT]. As far as I was concerned, it was an open question whether I would come back. But during my second year, the mechanical engineering department chair at the time called and said he was going to be in Austin and he wanted to see me. When we met, he offered me a job and I accepted,” Dalton said.
As a researcher, Dalton specialized in computational fluid dynamics, a field of particular interest to the offshore industry. Along with one of his graduate students, he published the first calculations for vortex-induced vibrations, as well as the first calculations of the Honji Instability, a certain kind of instability that occurs in an oscillating flow past a cylinder.
Of course, Dalton did more than just conduct research during his decades at the college. He also spent 18 years as an associate dean (three for undergraduate studies and 15 for graduate studies) and was a highly-regarded teacher. He has graduated 20 PhDs, which ties for the most in his department, and was recognized as an outstanding faculty member/teacher nearly 20 times, including with the university-level honor for outstanding teaching by a full professor. He was also selected as the Houston-area Engineer of the Year by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 2002.
With decades of perspective to call upon, Dalton has a positive take on the current state of the Cullen College and university as a whole. There are more outstanding students enrolled in the college than ever before and UH has is making impressive progress on it’s Tier One journey, he said.
Though he’s retiring, Dalton will be around to see more of this progress. He will continue advising one student working toward a Ph.D. and will maintain an office at the college, where he’ll fulfill his duties as an associate editor of two journals.
Still, he won’t be spending nearly as much time at UH as before. With just a handful of days left as a full-time professor, it’s this day-in, day-out that he says he’ll miss the most. “When you’re a faculty member, you’re here every day for most of the day and quite often into the evening. It’s going to be a hard habit to break."