Associate Professor Chris Pionke retired July 31, shifting focus to a new chapter in his long and fruitful career of educating Engineering Vols. He played a key role in the college over the last few decades, notably as part of the team that established the engageTM program, the signature first-year experience for students of the Tickle College of Engineering.
“I have been a part of UT since 1976 as an undergraduate student, resident assistant, grad student, teaching assistant, research assistant, adjunct professor, assistant professor, and associate professor,” said Pionke. “I guess you can say that I have been, and continue to be, a Vol For Life.”
Pionke’s journey from student to teacher launched in 1982 when he was a fifth-year senior. No less a Vol engineering icon than Professor Bill Snyder, his advisor and department head, offered Pionke a teaching assistant position to instruct Engineering Graphics.
“This opportunity is what ignited my passion for teaching and education and altered my career path towards academia,” said Pionke. In the mid-1990s, then-Dean Jerry Stoneking offered him the opportunity to be part of the Basic Engineering Renovation Team (BERT), challenged to redevelop the college’s first year curriculum in a way that would focus on student success.
“I jumped at the chance,” he said, noting that it was a cutting-edge move at a time when only a few. schools were developing engineering education programs. “It was exciting to be part of something new, innovative, bold and to be quite honest, a bit risky.”
Pionke is proud of the curriculum he helped build, as well as the development of the honors sequence that in 2017 became the Cook Grand Challenge Honors Program.
“Teaching and constructively challenging these very highly talented and motivated students has been enjoyable and inspiring,” he said. “I told many students over the years that I thought I had the best job at UT.”
Pionke gives solid nods to colleagues like Roger Parsons and Kevin Kit for the success of the first-year and honors programs.
“All were team efforts and I truly believe that their success was in large part because of this team approach,” he said.
Another team effort that stands out for him was the establishment of an Engineering Ethics course developed and taught in conjunction with philosophy Professor Glenn Graber in 2002.
“The course focused on the human and social implications of technology and technology development, intended to help students think about their role in society and how their specialized talents, engineering education and their work, both current and future, may affect individuals and society both positively and negatively,” said Pionke. “It was truly a lot of fun engaging in dialog with both the students and Graber about issues that are still very much current today—like privacy, safety, intellectual property rights, etc.”
Pionke looks to enjoy more time now to visit other college campuses and towns with his wife, Cindy.
“If there are historic homes and/or museums nearby, so much the better,” he said. “We have visited over 50 campuses so far from as far south as Auburn, Alabama, to as far north as West Point, New York, and as far west as Vancouver, British Columbia.”
They look forward to visiting more, including a number of SEC schools still on their list.
“I would also like to get more involved with some volunteer work as well—no pun intended,” said Pionke. “Unfortunately, this and the travel may have to wait until the current COVID-19 situation is better. So, in the meantime, I am going to look for a new stay-at-home hobby or two. Cindy just wants me to find something that will keep me happy and out of her hair.”
Pionke will continue to watch the continued growth and success of the first-year and honors programs, and is happy to continue to be a presence.
“Going forward, if I can be of any help in the development of that program and department, or in the advancement of my home department MABE, I would surely do what I can,” he said. “That may involve serving on a committee, teaching a course, working with student design teams, etc., or it just may be being a true Vol For Life and cheering them on from the sideline.”
Colleagues Honor Pionke
“Chris Pionke is a dedicated teacher. He broke concepts down into easily understood steps to help students in their learning. I enjoyed teaching with him, and wish him the best in retirement.”—Richard Bennett, director, Stoneking engage Engineering Fundamentals program
“Chris Pionke was always so welcoming and helpful when I first started working with the Cook Grand Challenge Honors Program. I often think of him as an integral part of the program and it will not be the same without him!”—Jessica Jeffers, coordinator for the Cook Grand Challenge Honors Program
“I feel fortunate to have worked closely with Chris for the last eight years in the Cook Grand Challenge Honors Program. I learned a tremendous amount from him about working together with a co-instructor and interacting with first-year students. He is extremely passionate about educating first-year engineering students and has exhibited this by showing great respect for his students and introducing as much fun as possible into our classes. I will miss him greatly. He has a wealth of knowledge about engineering education and programs in the Tickle College of Engineering, and even though he is retiring, I am sure I will continue to seek his advice. I wish him the best.”—Kevin Kit, director, Cook Grand Challenge Honors program
“It has been a pleasure for me to have Chris Pionke as a colleague for many years in various capacities and roles. Chris’s dedication to students has always been exemplary and his contributions to the college numerous. From the inception of the Engineering Honors program, his role has been an example of quality and devotion. His teaching career included intercollegiate collaborations with arts and sciences faculty, a task that remains to be fulfilled and continued for the benefit of our future students. His colleagues will have to work harder to fill his shoes. He is now cheerfully welcomed to another and no less distinguished group: The retirees of the Tickle College of Engineering faculty and administrators!”—Former Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Masood Parang
“Chris has been one of the most respected and influential voices for undergraduate education in the college. Selected as one of the college’s first UT National Alumni Association Outstanding Teachers, his students’ loyalty to him is remarkable. One class showed up in t-shirts featuring his ever-present coordinate system testifying to his role in determining their direction. I worked with Chris for 25 years, it was always an honor and a joy to be his colleague.”—Professor Emeritus Roger Parsons