Faculty and Teaching Staff Stories

Woodie C. Flowers

Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus

I grew up in a small town in Louisiana. Because mom and dad were great parents, my sister and I had delightful childhoods. Because my father was very creative but a terrible businessman, we were literally dirt poor. Always in debt. I could not afford a car. Dating was tough! So with guidance from my father, I designed and built a hot rod roadster. Fun! So I planned to graduate from high school, get a job in the local oil fields, and buy a Corvette.

In the last part of my senior year, one of my teachers noticed that I could not fully extend one arm (I broke many bones as a kid). Through his help, my crooked arm led to a rehabilitation scholarship to a state college. I gave up on the Corvette and went to college. I had much to learn! I took algebra and trigonometry in college. I was a sophomore before I took my first calculus class. Throughout my life, I have been surrounded by people much more capable than I. So I work hard. I believe that recognizing that you are among capable people, but feeling that you can keep up if you try hard is a helpful combination. Mix optimism with intense effort. Never rely on being smart.

I believe MIT is a reasonably gracious meritocracy. It can be a wonderfully powerful lever. For Margaret and me, the MIT community has been expansive and a great source of satisfaction.