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Uniting Learning and Faith: Celebrating the Career of Dr. Brent Webb

Read his story!

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This summer, we’re celebrating Dr. Brent Webb, who is retiring after nearly 38 years as a professor at BYU.

Dr. Webb received his bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from BYU where he was first introduced to academic research. After completing PhD studies at Purdue University, Webb was named a Presidential Young Investigator by the National Science Foundation, which sealed his entry into academia. Webb made his return to BYU in 1986 where he was one of only 13 or 14 ME faculty members.

In addition to his long run of teaching and research at BYU, Webb served in several levels of administration, beginning with 3 years as the executive director of BYU's Office of Research and Creative Activities. “I was ready to come back after,” Webb reminisced, until he was approached to serve as the associate academic vice president for Research and Graduate Studies. After seven years, he was then offered the job of BYU academic vice president, a position he held from 2011-2017.

During his time as academic VP, Webb oversaw several construction projects, including the Engineering Building, and he also led the hiring and retention of “really great faculty.” By the end of his term, Webb reflected that he must have known most of the 1000+ faculty members by name. He also appreciated getting to learn from the examples of Presidents Samuelson and Worthen and seeing the love and support the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invests in BYU.

On returning to teaching and research in 2017, Webb says “I’ve enjoyed it since I’ve been back like I’d never had before.” Known by students as the long-running Thermodynamics teacher, Dr. Webb has been specializing in heat transfer for nearly 40 years. He has authored or co-authored over 200 papers, lectured extensively to audiences across the world, served on several prominent scientific committees, and edited for two technical journals.

One of his most notable research pieces was the development of new modeling approaches for predicting heat transfer in high temperature gases, methods now in use worldwide. “I’ve done a lot of interesting things research-wise,” he acknowledged, “But none of that would be possible without students... I give full credit to my students.”

"I deal with the finest students on the planet, not just academically, but good right to the sinews," claims Webb. "I love my students because I know who they are, and because they know who they are. That can't help but change how faculty interacts with students." The divine identity of faculty and students is something Webb has found particularly strengthening in his time at BYU. "Whatever significant accomplishments come out of my lab haven't come despite our faith but because of it... I am unapologetically, fiercely committed to the unique mission of the university: uniting learning and faith."

Webb's membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has always been the central focus of his life and career. “As much as I love my work, as much as I have a passion for teaching and research, my service to the church is everything to me. My family is everything to me.” Webb’s service in the church has included 9 years as a stake president, 4 years in the MTC with his wife, and several other demanding callings in addition to raising six children.

"It's been a busy couple of decades," Webb reflected, "But I don't have any regrets." His dedication to the church and his family is obvious in his plans for retirement, which include spending more time with grandkids and serving as senior missionary along with his wife Amy Jo Barker.

Webb's final advice for students? Take advantage of your time at BYU. As he posed in his 2023 devotional Where else but at BYU? "Here in this gathering of disciples, it is our opportunity and charge to seek ‘the full realization of human potential.’"

"You'll never have these opportunities again,” says Dr. Webb. “Don't just come to research; come to grow, learn to learn. Heavenly Father cares about everything we do-- there's no reason for BYU if it isn't to build up students.”