Combustion and Commitment
For Dr. Dale R. Tree, a nearly 40 year career focused on thermodynamics began with a gradeschool interest in math and science, and has brought him to his current position as the chair of the Brigham Young University Mechanical Engineering Department.
Dr. Tree’s undergrad roots trace back to BYU, where he received his BS in 1986. A focus on Mechanical Engineering and the transition to grad school shifted his interest from friends and sports to energy and thermal science.
“As an undergraduate you take econ, and you take humanities, and you take thermodynamics and you get introduced to all these topics and they change the way you view the world,” Tree said. “But I was just checking off boxes until I went to a conference where people had all these questions and interest in my work...and I realized that what I’m doing really goes beyond the room that I’m sitting in; other people are interested and it can impact other people.”
Throughout his career Tree has worked on reducing the negative impact of energy use, specifically from engines and fuel emissions.
“We all like our car or our truck or a train, but then we don't like the negative impacts which are the pollutants it produces,” Tree said. “Everyone needs and benefits from that kind of technology and everyone would benefit from cleaner air and a better environment. I think that’s a natural thing to gravitate toward, being able to contribute.”
Over 90 scholarly articles have resulted from his extensive thermodynamics research, but eventually Tree ended up in the classroom teaching; a place he said he hadn’t ever seen himself when he was in school.
Despite the unexpected career shift, Tree shared that teaching has become his favorite thing about his job. He will go to any lengths for the sake of his students, leaving his comfort zone and thinking outside the box to help make class fun and ensure their success.
“I like to do something totally out of my character called the thermo chant...when there's a bored or tired day in class, I look at the students and tell them ‘It's time to do the thermo chant,’ and you just say thermo and get louder and louder and faster and faster and at the end you cheer,” Tree shared. The students seem to have fun with that. 10 years later they’ll come back and say let's do the thermo chant.”
As the man at the front of the classroom, he works to help students feel less intimidated by him and other faculty members.
“Students should not be afraid of faculty members; it's your mom, it's your dad that you’re talking to. It's normal people.”
Outside of the office, Tree will stop at nothing to explore the world, often taking road trips to see something historical, beautiful or interesting. He and his wife Karen have been married for 37 years and have six children and 12 grandchildren.
During his time at BYU as a professor and department chair, Tree said that the most important thing he’s learned is that service to others creates a far bigger impact than anything else one can do.
“I came here thinking I was going to contribute to the world by reducing pollutants in engines,” Tree said. “And that’s really good and it's important, but I think that what you find over time the things that are the most meaningful are the students or the faculty that you’ve worked with and the relationships that you have.”
Of all the things one can learn at university, Tree feels the most important lesson for students goes beyond the classroom.
“It's not the knowledge or the A or the scholarship,” Tree said. “In the end it'll be your integrity and how you feel about yourself and your ability to help other people."
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