Legacy of a Chemical Engineering Professor: Dr. Frank Jones – by Deborah Levine

Dr. Frank Jones
UTC College of Engineering and Computer Science faculty honoring Dr. Frank Jones

The room was packed at the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) as faculty, students, and graduates gathered to celebrate the life of one of their own and mourn his passing. Dr. Francis Joseph Jones (1951-2016) was a UC Foundation Professor and the Chemical Program Coordinator at CECS at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The CECS memorial was like an old-fashioned wake with shared stories and heartfelt testimonials for the man that colleagues and family knew as “Frank.”

Born and raised in New Jersey, Dr. Jones made the decision to teach, research, and live in the South. He came from Louisiana Tech University to UTC as an associate professor in 2000 and moved on to become a UC Foundation professor in 2007. To Frank, teaching and research were his life. His siblings described him as having “teaching and research in his protoplasm.”

Frank’s research included publications that often focused on the environment: hybrid vehicles, energy consumption, biodiesel fuel, and greenhouse gas emissions. He consistently involved promising students and colleagues in the writing, publishing, and presentation process. Dr. Louie Elliott spoke about Frank’s invitation to join him. “I was hired for General Engineering and needed to start to do research. Frank came to me and asked if I’d help design a micro-reactor. The invitation set me on my professional career path.” Frank formalized that path for his students as an Environmental Engineering concentration within the Chemical Engineering program in 2014-15.

It was Frank’s dedication to his work that overrode his battle with cancer. He served on the search committee that selected the new CECS Dean, Dr. Daniel J. Pack, and never missed a meeting despite his cancer treatments.

Speaking to the UTC student newspaper, Dr. Pack said, “If you asked me adjectives to describe him, it would be dedicated, caring and he also has this eccentric nature… he’s very passionate about students and their education. We’ve lost a very valuable educator.”

Frank’s work was lauded by his colleagues. Dr. Ron Cox, the Burkett Miller Chair of Excellence and Professor of Engineering Management & Technology described Frank as, “A sincere person, caring, sharing person who sees the Big Picture. He pulled people together and was a good role model.” Dr. Aldo McLean, Assistant Professor Engineering Management & Technology noted that Frank asked students to do a lot, which the students were happy to do and asked for more. “Frank had the secret of how to push students with results.”

Dr. Michael H. Jones – former Director of the Engineering Programs shared a biblical verse in Frank’s honor. Describing their friendship and how he’d taken Frank to the hospital many times during his illness, he quoted Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Frank’s influence extended to colleagues who’ve moved on from UTC. A letter was read aloud from colleague, Dr. Rob Bailey, now an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering at Loyola University Maryland.

“I remember how, as new faculty members at UTC, Frank and I were happy to discover that our research interests intersected, even though we came from different disciplines. Frank had a keen intellect and a structured way of approaching and attacking technical problems that has stayed with me. I’m a better researcher and engineer because of him.
I remember how Frank was always able to involve his best undergraduate students in his research, and how dedicated he was to his teaching. In fact, of all the academic colleagues I have come to know, I think Frank may have been the best at pursuing undergraduate-based research at an institution where undergraduate teaching was a prime focus. It’s a challenging thing to do well, but Frank did just that…

I think Frank found a real home at UTC—a place where he could bring his best, and a place that brought out the best in him. He loved what he did, he loved the people he worked with, and he loved his students. He was a true scholar. His legacy lies in the ways he made each of our lives richer.”

Dr. Joe Owino, Head of the Department of Civil and Chemical Engineering, guided the group in sharing their memories, and occasionally lightening the somber mood, “At first I thought Frank was very stiff, but he had a great sense of humor. In May, we bet on football games, a bottle of Jonny Walker Blue Ribbon. But Frank didn’t return so….”

Dr. Jim Cunningham, Professor Emeritus Chemical Engineering interviewed Frank when he first came to UTC and recalled thinking, “How would someone from North of the Mason-Dixon line fit in?” When Frank accompanied him to meeting that evening, Jim discovered that he’d figured out ‘Southern’ from his time in Louisiana.

The entire room smiled and nodded in agreement as Jim affectionately described what Frank wore the night: a white shirt & tie, blue jeans that he’d ironed, and a leather jacket. The jacket would become his ever-present brand, as did his insistence on orderly desk, and eating lunch at the same time every day, preferably at Whole Foods. There were loud guffaws as another of Frank’s passions was highlighted by Dr. Gary McDonald, UC Foundation Associate Professor and Department Head of Mechanical Engineering. “Anytime you lose someone you love, a piece of them is always in you. The people who miss you the most, Frank, are the folks at the salad bar at Whole Foods.”

Dr. Nesli Alp, CECS Associate Dean, came to UTC at roughly the same time as Frank. She describes him as quietly effective, choosing his words carefully, while being very straightforward. He was dedicated and determined to extend the accreditation of the Chemical Engineering program. He was so sick, but wouldn’t leave the building without completing the required reports. She ran with the reports to FedEx. Frank went directly to the hospital. He left his office organized as if expecting to return. Although his health and mind rapidly diminished when he left Chattanooga, he continued to call CECS and try to be helpful.

Frank’s legacy may be best expressed by the memorable stories from his students, current and past.

“He went above and beyond for any student that would let him,” said Amanda Hodges, who graduated with her degree in chemical engineering in the spring of 2016. “Dr. Frank Jones was more than a teacher, he was a mentor.”

“He spent so much time focused on helping me, he was totally selfless in that respect,” said Cooper Thome, a junior majoring in chemical engineering.

A student from Venezuela shared how Frank helped solidified his career choice. “He was a good listener and guide for achieving our personal career goals.

Former student, Zoe Braden, now a process engineer of healthcare products with Chattem, Inc. spoke of Frank’s influence on her. She was supported by three members of her Chattem team, all CECS graduates who’d been encouraged to apply to Chattem by Frank and began their careers there. I asked Zoe and her team mates to share words of wisdom for current students as Frank would have. Here is what Zoe, Raven Snyder, Joseph Weeks, and David Doss advised:

  • Pursue practicality in engineering. See the Big Picture.
  • Absorb everything you can in your limited time as students.
  • When you get stuck, ask for help.
  • Regardless of what you know, you’ll figure it out. It’s all about the
  • effort you put into it. Use your intuition and educated guesses.
  • Even though it seems futile, you continue to work on problems.
  • That’s how you eventually solve them and innovate.
    earning is never going to stop.

Yes, faculty, staff, and students will miss Frank’s “tiny meetings” that would go on for hours. But his legacy continues through the students he inspired, the graduates he launched and colleagues who he influenced in his quiet way. The world of Chemical Engineering will miss Dr. Frank Jones. His life calls us all to follow our passions, be determined in our path, and, above all, be courageous in the face of adversity.


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