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Where Engineering, Entertainment, and Education Collide: Faculty Spotlight with Dr. Mark Colton

After working as an engineer on projects like the Jurassic Park Robots for Universal Studios and the synchronized fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel & Casino, robotics and mechatronics professor Dr. Mark Colton has found his calling in the classroom.

Dr. Colton chose engineering because of the combination of the creative and technical, and a tour of the robotics lab at the University of Utah when he was fourteen focused his fascination on that field. He enjoyed seeing things that mimic nature and humans, and the idea of making those things drew him in.

“I got a job in that very lab when I went to school at the [University of Utah] so it ended up working out rather well,” Colton said.

In addition to his contributions to robotics in the entertainment industry, his career has included making robots to help kids with autism. He also worked on prosthetic arms for his masters degree, and loved both the process and the impact of these projects.

“In robotics [and] prosthetics, you can really make a difference in the world,” Colton said.

The place that the seasoned engineer feels he has made the most difference is in the classroom. If given the option to change his career, he said he’d still choose to be a professor.

“Now it’s really about the students and helping them become robotics experts and mechatronics experts, so they’re the ones who can make a difference,” Colton shared. “I’m always trying to develop demos or new hardware to show the students; new labs to have them do and new competitions...it’s just a lot of fun.I haven’t looked back. If I had to do it all over again I’d still switch over to a teaching position.”

This passion for developing new ways to teach students has taken him to Europe multiple times, and while there he has investigated ancient engineering. Working with primitive items such as roman catapults, Colton is figuring out ways to use this early technology to help students learn and teachers teach engineering principles more effectively.

Despite having this and many other international experiences, the opportunity to head the Singapore study abroad trips is a highlight of Coltons’ career and something he is passionate about.

“It’s really changed my view because it’s with students...in a totally different part of the world,” Colton said. “Travelling as a tourist or living out of a hotel is a totally different experience than settling down in a country a little bit and getting to know the people...so Singapore has been really good for me.”

The University of Utah alum said that given the choice between his alma mater and BYU, despite the rivalry, he’d rather work at Cougar Nation. With four of his children accepted to Brigham Young University and three currently attending, more BYU blue is seeping into the family.

“I love everything [about BYU] honestly. And I love that the emphasis is on the student rather than the research. Even those who do a lot of research...we have this vision that it’s because we have students that we’re doing it...to me that’s really important.”

Work is an important part of Colton’s life, but given the choice between being at work all the time or being with his family, he’d choose the latter.

“I’m just a normal guy who likes to do things that are not at all related to work when I go home.

I remember distinctly as an undergrad, one of my favorite professors in a lecture one day said ‘so I was watching tv the other night…’ and I thought ‘wait what? Professors do normal stuff?’ He talked about watching some dumb show too and I didn’t think professors did that.”

When he’s not at work, the instructor of over 20 years can be found reading history or watching the Jazz game.

“That’s pretty much the only tv indulgence I have is watching every Utah Jazz game,” Colton said. “I’ve been a fan since 1984.”

Colton emphasized the value of hands on experience when entering the field of mechanical engineering.

“You can’t replace trying things and experimenting. That's about as good as it gets for learning. Get hands on experience...and be confident,” Colton said.

“Our graduates should be confident because they’re as good as any graduates in the world if you ask me. They are better than they think...they should expect to do great things.”