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Longtime instructor crosses finish line of 30-year career

Rick Whelove talking to Monica Frank.

MAE retiring resident instructor Rick Whelove talks to Monica Frank, MU Engineering grants and contracts administrator, at his retirement reception.

As an undergraduate at the University of Missouri-Rolla, now Missouri S&T, Rick Whelove studied mechanical engineering. He served a tour in Vietnam in the United States Army before returning to school at University of Missouri to study technical education, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education in 1978 and 1981, respectively. His technical background, intuitive mechanical knowledge and a desire to teach launched a 30-year career with the College of Engineering, which he reflected upon as his time in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department (MAE) draws to a close with his retirement in August.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes while I’ve been here,” Whelove said.

Whelove will cap off his career with Mizzou Engineering in August, retiring from his position as a resident instructor. A reception celebrating his career was held in May at which Department Chair Yuwen Zhang reflected on Whelove’s contributions to the department.

“Rick was not only an instructor for our two graphics courses, but he also served as director of undergraduate studies for MAE,” Zhang said. “He helped us on summer welcome and advised over 100 undergraduate students every year. He always amazed us when he recognized every student who walked across the stage at convocation.”

Whelove was hired as a teaching assistant for the 1980-1981 academic year, while a graduate student at MU. Although a technical education major, Whelove’s passion for mechanical things allowed him to combine his knowledge of gadgets with strategies learned as an education student. By the mid-1980’s, the MAE Department was looking for another graphics instructor. Whelove fit the bill, and he joined the department full-time in 1985. During Whelove’s tenure, the college had six deans and interim deans and MAE supported seven department chairs.

In addition to teaching computer-assisted design (CAD), Whelove served as director of undergraduate studies from 2001 through 2007 advising about 400 to 450 students yearly, although he continued to advise approximately 150 students each year after. He served on many department, college and university committees working to improve undergraduate education. He also has assisted with summer welcome since its inception.

However, Whelove said his most memorable and rewarding experiences were being faculty adviser for the Formula SAE car team, from 1986 to 1991, and the Mizzou Solar Car team from its inception in 1990, through its transition to the Society for the Development of Alternative Energy, known as the Hydrogen Car team and now Mizzou Eco-racing.

Whelove accompanied the solar car teams providing logistical support and offering strategy advice to the teams during seven American Solar Challenge events from 1993-2005, culminating in a 2,500-mile race from Austin, Texas, to Calgary, Canada. As the team transitioned to hydrogen fuel cell technology, he traveled with Mizzou Eco-racing to five annual Shell Eco-marathon multi-day competitions.

Whelove recalled his memories about the department in addition to the academic and physical changes in the college.

“In 1990, this part of the building was renovated,” Whelove said, motioning around the MAE conference room in Lafferre Hall’s original 1893 building. “The dean’s office was originally down here.” The conference room where his retirement reception was held was a classroom and the MAE capstone lab, Whelove added.

“We looked at the proposed renovation plans for the department layout and said, ‘No. That’s not going to work,’” he said. “So I drew up some plans and submitted them to the architect for consideration. When they came back, the plans were exactly as I had drawn them, which included the creation of a lecture hall we all know as E1419.

“So I feel like I’ve left a legacy even if no one remembers me,” he said, jokingly.

Rick Whelove standing in front of a projection screen with a photo of himself displayed on it.

Rick Whelove stands in front of a photo of himself displayed on a projection screen. The photo is of him on a motorcycle and dressed in off-road racing gear.

Of course, retirement doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down. In Whelove’s case, it means spending more time doing the things he loves.

“Now, this is what I do here,” Whelove said, pointing to a photo of himself on a motorcycle dressed head-to-toe in off-road racing gear. Whelove has won 13 championships in his age class since 1992, four in 2014.

“I’ve been doing this [off-road racing] since I was 23 years old. I’m still pretty good at it,” he joked.

He said he still races, organizes and promotes off-road competition events. The sport allows him to continue to “toy with mechanical things.”

Whelove and his wife Barbara have two daughters, Ona and Asia. While they couldn’t be at the reception, Asia wrote to the MAE department to talk about her dad.

“Our dad has never ceased to give up on us,” said Asia, who has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in nursing. Ona earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from MU in bioengineering in 2008 and 2010.

Whelove will retire in August, but he will remain with Mizzou Engineering part-time through the fall, while he teaches MAE 1000.