Regarding Virginia Tech
Recorded on March 22nd, 2016
Photo courtesy of the School of Industrial Engineering and Management, Oklahoma State University
In the early 1990s at Virginia Tech, shortly after I had switched out of Electrical Engineering and into Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE), I ended up in a class called “Engineering Economy”, taught by Dr. Carl Estes. It was a required course for ISE majors, meant to teach us just enough economics and accounting to know how to calculate future costs, do feasibility analysis, and generally figure out if we were saving money or costing money with a project.
I’ve now forgotten most of the theory, but I vividly remember Dr. Estes. Besides being a wizard about the material, he had a fatherly way, and he was funny and shared stories when the mood struck him. He must have been in an especially legacy-leaving mood one day when he told us about “The Three Ps”. I don’t remember how he arrived at this philosophy, but he said he kept a post-it note on his mirror that he would see every morning when he was putting on his tie. On that note he had written “P… P… P” on successive lines. He said those were there to remind him to always be positive, personal, and professional in his work and in his interactions with others.
Maybe he was trying to teach us how engineers should make ethical as well as practical decisions about their systems. Whatever the intent, that vignette stuck with me more than any other lesson in his class. I attempt the three Ps and fail regularly, but it’s still good to have them as a goal. From what I remember about Dr. Estes, he lived that post-it note. Always smiling, always knowledgeable and willing to help clear something up and make things better. A force for good.
It should be no reflection on his excellent teaching that I had to repeat his class. The subject matter wasn’t even that hard – it was just that I was a particularly poor student and had no idea how to study at that age. (However, I could have easily named you the latest 7” releases from Ajax Records at the drop of a hat. Priorities.)
I remember he looked disappointed to see me fail (or maybe I got a D?) one semester and return to his class the next. It was the same way that a parent would look over their eyeglasses at you, as if to say, “Are we gonna buckle down this time?” Even though it was unfortunate and wasteful that I had a second tour of the class, I felt like it gave me a little better connection to him. I knew he was watching out for me, but also keeping a watchful eye on me and my grades. I made sure to do better the second time around.
It’s funny how few professors’ names I remember from my long undergraduate career at Virginia Tech. I’ve never had trouble recalling the name Carl Estes. I didn’t realize that by the time he taught us engineering economy, he had recently retired from OSU and had just started as a visiting professor at Tech. A few years later, he returned to his roots at OSU, and I was sad to learn that he died in 2002 back home in Stillwater, Oklahoma.1 I think he would have smiled to learn that the life lessons he shared had a higher future value than he would have estimated.