Dr. Jeff Hill was half a mile away when he helped set off a half a pound of high explosive for a work experiment that bent the grass waves as the shock rolled toward him. This kind of high impact in both engineering and people is Dr. Hill’s focus as the newest faculty member in the Brigham Young University Mechanical Engineering Department.
When he was a cub scout in Mesa Arizona, Dr. Hill’s uncle worked for Motorola and took the scouts on a tour of their factory. From that moment on Dr. Hill decided he wanted to be an engineer.
This experience led him to graduate with a bachelor’s and master's degree from BYU in 2004 and 2005, then a doctorate from Pennsylvania State University in 2011.
After graduating, Dr. Hill spent 10 years researching high velocity impact for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. His work included protecting the electronics in rockets that are being sent through concrete, and can now be expanded to making cars more crash worthy and making phones drop proof.
“That’s really where I like to focus my research is that high energy impact -— breaking things and then figuring out how to make sure they don’t break in the future,” Hill said.
The high energy work doesn’t stop when Dr. Hill clocks out and goes home. He and his wife Jenny (whom he met on a blind date while attending BYU) have five sons and two daughters who keep them on their toes.
“I’ve always thought if we could capture the energy from little kids, that would be the ultimate renewable energy source,” Hill said. “They’re all great kids, and they’re all very different from each other which was a little surprising to me. I thought with my first one ‘I’ve figured it out now, as an engineer I can optimize the next ones;’ but they’re all unique.”
For Dr. Hill, it’s important to have a separation between quality time with his kids at home and his work. Outside of work he is building robots, playing football and backpacking with his family. He also used his passion for woodworking to build all the cabinets, dressers, and beds in his house.
“Work is very important, you need to work, it’s an essential part of life, but I go to work and then I come home to my life...I don’t have a ton of free time, but what I do I like to do with my kids,” Hill said.
His fathers position as a professor in the BYU school of family life is what first got Dr. Hill interested in teaching. “Very similar to engineering - it’s family engineering,” Hill joked. He loved his work at Sandia, but it was this passion for teaching that brought Dr. Hill back to BYU.
Though this is his first academic teaching position, Dr. Hill spent years instructing an early morning seminary class in Albuquerque, where some high schoolers came as early as 5:15 a.m. He learned quickly how to keep students engaged and awake.
His main reason for being at BYU is the students, and they have quickly become his favorite part of the job.
“I love interacting with the students and seeing them change from not knowing anything to being able to solve problems and know what they want to do with their lives,” Hill said.
After his time in the industry, Dr. Hill feels that one of the greatest things you learn as a mechanical engineer is how to solve problems.
“In engineering there’s really no problem where you can just sit down and solve two equations and be done in five minutes. They’re always very long, complicated problems, that, just like life, you have to eat one bite at a time,” Hill said. “That can help with mechanical engineering, but it also helps with business and with life."
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