Material Witness

Barry Andrews Retires after 38 Years at UAB

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At top, Barry Andrews (left) is seen with current dean Iwan Alexander at a reception in Andrews' honor. At bottom, Andrews (right) is pictured with Jim Woodward, the school's second dean, in a 1981 photo provided by UAB Archives.

Barry Andrews came home to UAB in 1976, and for the next 38 years he was content to stay there; but just because he was home, that's not to say he was idle.

With more than 40 total years as a student and faculty member in the School of Engineering, Andrews retired as chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the beginning of this month, capping a distinguished career that spans almost the entire history of UAB.

"It is unusual for a school to keep a faculty member for that length of time, particularly when the faculty member is as accomplished and respected in his field as Barry Andrews," says School of Engineering Dean Iwan Alexander, Ph.D. "I first met Barry when I was working in Huntsville and he was working on research with NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center. When I came to UAB years later as dean, it was a big advantage for me to have someone with the history and institutional knowledge that he has."

A Timely Suggestion

A native of Birmingham, Andrews graduated from Woodlawn High School in 1966 and enrolled in engineering classes in what was then the Division of Engineering—part of the University of Alabama's extension center in Birmingham. During Andrews' undergraduate years, the School of Engineering was created as part of UAB—which became an independent university within the University of Alabama system.

"I started out as an undergraduate with plans to be a mechanical engineer," Andrews recalls, "but then I took a materials class from Dr. Tom Talbot that I really enjoyed. The homework was challenging, and I started getting together with a group of classmates to work on it. We treated it like a puzzle, and we would talk through it and try to figure it out. One day, we were all standing around in the hall, and Dr. Talbot came to us and said, "You know, you guys are doing really well in my materials class. Have any of you considered going into materials engineering?'"

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With that simple question, Talbot helped launch Andrews' career in materials engineering, but little did either of them know the impact that question would have on the future of the school. Andrews credits other professors, such as Jack Lemons, Ph.D., and Charles Bates, Ph.D., for helping develop his knowledge of materials in general and metals casting in particular. Lemons also helped steer Andrews to graduate school at the University of Florida.

After being a part of the UAB School of Engineering's first graduating class in 1970, Andrews earned both a master's degree and Ph.D. from Florida. At the time, however, he says he had no intention of going into academia as a career. That all changed with another timely suggestion from Talbot. "I was interviewing for different opportunities in industry," Andrews says. "Dr. Talbot heard I was on the market, and he called and asked if I would consider interviewing back at UAB."

A Homecoming

Andrews interviewed with engineering dean Joseph Appleton, Ph.D., who was interested in bringing in someone to start a metals casting program. Andrews accepted the job, and in 1976, he started his career as an assistant professor of engineering.

andrews3Andrews as a new faculty member in 1976 (photo courtesy of UAB Archives)"When I was a student, there was Cudworth Halland Tidwell Hall ," Andrews says. "When I came back in '76, the biggest changes were in the hospital, but other areas were growing rapidly. The education building was under construction, and our school briefly hit the 1,000 student mark. It was an exciting time, but it was obvious that we were going to need more space."

In his new role, Andrews secured funding for a new foundry, but the only space available was on the third floor of Cudworth Hall. "In those days, everyone just did whatever they had to do to make things work," he says. "We managed to get a foundry set up, and we operated our metals casting program out of that foundry until the Business-Engineering Complex was built in 1984. At that point, we moved into a 2,000-square-foot foundry with an overhead crane and everything that we needed."

During those years, Andrews became more than just a metals casting professor. In 1996 and 1997, Andrews sent experiments into space aboard the Space Shuttle to do pioneering research into immiscible alloys at zero gravity.

andrews4Andrews was awarded the Young Engineer of the Year Award by the Engineering Council of Birmingham in 1982 (Photo courtesy of UAB Archives).Meanwhile, back on Earth, Andrews was also making his mark in the classroom. He was named the Ellen Gregg Ingalls/UAB National Alumni Society Award for Lifetime Achievement in Teaching in 2003. In addition, he was awarded the 1989 Ingalls Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the 2000 UAB President's Award in Teaching for the School of Engineering. He was also selected as the ASPE Engineering Educator of the Year for 2003.

Recalling his own undergraduate experience, Andrews says he was always mindful that conversations in the hallways are often as influential as lectures in the classroom. "I always remembered my conversation with Dr. Talbot, and so I look for any opportunity to talk to a promising student about materials engineering," Andrews says.

One such student was future School of Engineering dean and UAB provost Linda Lucas, Ph.D., who received her bachelor's degree in materials before going on to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. "Nobody could teach the introductory engineering courses better than Dr. Andrews," says Lucas. "Taking a course from him was one of the reasons I majored in materials. He was absolutely a professor who would take all the time he needed to help a student understand the processes he was teaching."

A Time to Lead

andrews5This 2003 photo representing Andrews' NASA research ran in the school's alumni magazine soon after Andrews was named chair of the department.Over the years, Andrews was a big part of raising UAB's visibility on a national scale, and consequently, his own reputation began to grow as well. With that increased visibility came offers to leave UAB, but Andrews says he had found his home. "I was approached about other jobs over the years, but I felt a sense of ownership at UAB," he says. "I watched the school grow from a division within an extension center to a school with five departments, and I always felt there was more to do."

Through his first 25 years in the department, Andrews served as interim chair three different times. The third time, he was briefly interim before being named the permanent chair in February 2003. "There were a lot of pieces that were coming together at that time," he says. "Dr. Lucas was the dean by then. We had known each other since she was a student, and working with her as dean was one of the highlights of my time here."

Under Andrews' leadership, the department began to expand into composites research, and the school invested money to convert the 501 building into what would become the Materials Processing and Applications Development (MPAD) Center. That facility includes a 9,600 square-foot, state-of-the-art metals casting facility.

"With that investment, we were able to grow our composites program and expand our metals research at a time when programs across the country were cutting back or getting rid of their programs metals casting programs," Andrews says. "That has already begun to pay off, as more and more companies are coming to us looking for graduates with experience in metals."

Unfinished Business

Although his retirement from the faculty was effective at the end of May, Andrews is still working on a $2-million research project for the Army Research Laboratory. The one-year project will run through November.

Aside from that, he says he looks forward to spending more time on hobbies such as landscaping, hiking, motorsports and photography. And while he says he feels he is stepping down at the right time, he says he hopes to stay in touch with many of the former students and colleagues who made his long career so memorable.

"I saw a lot of changes at UAB, and the thing I am most proud of is how we were able, throughout all those changes, to continuously move the department in a positive direction," he says. "When I joined the faculty, materials engineering was almost like the secret engineering field. Students enrolled in the school, and we had to teach them about the opportunities in materials. Today, a lot of students come in already knowing about materials. But I still made it a point to ask them that same question Dr. Talbot asked me. I like to think that with some of them, those little conversations made a difference the way they did with me."