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Ron Hofmann’s Generous Soul and Tinkerer’s Mind

Wednesday, July 26, 2017
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Ron Hofmann leaves a lasting mark as he retires. For 17 years he set up, taught, tuned and tweaked. Read about the changes he’s seen and his post-Rose plans.

Behind every successful engineer is an array of instruments and tools and the know-how to use them. Then, there’s the expertise that keeps everything on-line and calibrated. That truth is a constant, even as the tools evolve at an ever-faster pace. “I’ve seen [the switch] from the slide rule to the calculator,” says mechanical technician Ron Hofmann, who retired July 7. “Now, I don’t even think the students carry calculators. They carry cell phones.”

Hofmann has ridden those changes and made things happen for thousands of students in his 17 years at the institute. He played a key role in creating Rose-Hulman Ventures and in developing medical instruments used in inter-cranial surgery and breast biopsy. Hofmann has supported diverse competition teams for many years, including the Human Powered Vehicle Team that took top honors in a regional competition this year before competing in Australia.

Hofmann’s most lasting legacy, however, may be in giving students the hands-on, real-life experiences that put flesh on the bones of their academic work. Since joining staff in 2000 after a successful career as a mechanical designer and tool-and-die maker, he has managed and mentored student interns developing prototypes and new product designs.

As the student body and curriculum have grown, so has the challenge of providing the lab setups and kits they require. “The variety of his skills is amazing,” said Ryder Winck, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering. “The balancing act has grown over the years.” Winck noted that Hofmann may help students set up for a robot project one moment and a wind-tunnel test the next. “He has to make sure that each day the proper equipment is in there and it’s working.”

Hofmann enjoys the constantly changing challenges. “Students can break about anything,” he said, “and downtime can throw the whole course off.” Keeping everything running has called on all his training and experience. In retirement, he plans to keep busy in his home machine shop and woodworking shop. “I have a well-equipped garage,” he said wryly. “I like to stay home and tinker.”