Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Rocky Top Experience Fuels Colwell’s Lifetime of Learning

photo of gene colwell and his wife

Gene (Tom) Colwell (BSME ’59, MSME ’62, PhD engineering science ’66) remembers a time during the Great Depression and World War II when ration books were used to purchase food and the world was filled with uncertainty, disruption, and fear.

“I was eight years old when World War II ended and I remember it well,” said Colwell. “Somehow the world had largely recovered by the time I entered college.”

When Colwell stepped foot on UT’s campus for the first time in September 1955, he knew how lucky he was for the opportunity to receive an education. He didn’t realize at the time how life-changing his time at UT would be.

Colwell was amazed at the resources available to him as a student. He had wonderful professors in math, science, and engineering as well as humanities, which helped balance his education and opened his mind to literature, art, and music.

“My days at UT opened professional and mental doors for me, and I have been able to, as a result, have a life that I would not have dreamed of as a young person,” said Colwell.

He still remembers an impactful lecture given by then Dean Nathan Dougherty.

“The lecture was intended to impress upon us that education is a lifelong process and does not end with one’s formal education,” said Colwell. “I have made use of that lecture and am still a student today. I spend much of my time reading and writing about a number of topics that interest me.”

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Colwell went to work full time as a research engineer at ORNL. While working there, he took night classes at UT and completed his master’s degree. Shortly after that, he left ORNL and started working at UT as a full-time instructor. He taught at UT for over three years, and during that time he completed his PhD in engineering. He went back to work at ORNL as a design specialist for a short time when he was finishing up his PhD.

The education and teaching experience Colwell gained at UT paved the way for what would end up being a long and successful career at Georgia Institute of Technology. Colwell joined Georgia Tech’s faculty as an assistant professor in 1966 and worked there until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1995.

“My positions at GIT have allowed me to associate with brilliant and very productive professors and students,” said Colwell. “I was able for many years to travel internationally around the world, graduate several MS and PhD students, write many publications, and consult with numerous organizations.”

Since retirement, Colwell has written three books that tell about his lifelong interests in the interconnections among philosophy, psychology, basic science, cosmology, and religion. He’s currently writing another book about how people view their last time on earth.

“I have been blessed with great flexibility to do pretty much what I please since I gave up teaching,” said Colwell. “My wife, Peggy, and I have traveled a lot to many interesting places, and I have several friends I play golf and tennis with. But what I have enjoyed the most about retirement is my continuing freedom to study and write in areas that I have had an interest in for many years.”

At age 84, as Colwell reflects on his life, he is happy and plans to be a student as long as he can.