With 36 years separating their graduations, John Touchstone followed his father’s footsteps to the University of Georgia and a degree in engineering. While there have been many dramatic changes in UGA’s engineering program over those years, John and his father share many common memories of their times in Athens – including taking classes from the same professor.
When Mike Touchstone graduated in 1985, the department of agricultural engineering was still a relatively small unit of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. John will receive his degree in mechanical engineering May 15 as part of a graduating class of more than 300 new UGA engineers. And while Mike recently retired as Senior Director of Systems Engineering and PMO after a long career with Cox Enterprises, John will soon begin his career as a project engineer with Holder Construction.
There have been a few other father-son engineering graduates in the history of UGA but the occasion is still rare, so we asked Mike and John to share notes on their experience.
What does it mean to you both to have earned an engineering degree from UGA?
John: I’m proud to be graduating from UGA with an engineering degree but for me it’s especially cool because I had grown up hearing stories from my dad’s time at UGA. From taking Dr. Sidney Thompson’s class to studying with friends in Driftmier until late at night, I had a lot of the same experiences that my dad did. So I think it’s cool that we have a shared experience with UGA even though we attended roughly 35 years apart.
Mike: I’m very proud of his accomplishment. It also gives me a sense of legacy that continues into the future.
Were other colleges in the mix for John or was it UGA all the way?
Mike: He did visit the University of North Georgia that was nearer where we live, but his mind was made up to go to UGA while in high school. He liked the campus, Athens, and with the Hope Scholarship and Path 2 College 529 Savings Plan, the costs of either university were essentially the same. I also believe going to football games when he was very young made a positive impression on him. Go Dawgs!
John: While I looked around and toured a few other local colleges in Georgia, UGA is where I always wanted to get my degree from due to family ties and the football team that I’ve cheered for all my life.
Do you two ever compare notes about courses or other experiences at UGA?
Mike: We would occasionally talk about how classes were going, and I did notice that he had the same challenges as I did: managing his time and efforts as he made his way through the curriculum. Engineering is not an easy major, so it takes dedication to get through it for most students. I also encouraged him to get to know his classmates and work together to help each other. One of the unique shared experiences is we both had the opportunity to enjoy having Dr. Sid Thompson as a professor.
How well do you think your time in the College of Engineering has prepared you for the next step in your career?
John: I think the biggest way my degree helped me with my specific career choice was giving me background knowledge on how all the systems in a building work. Part of my job is to understand the systems going into a building and to make sure they’re installed correctly, so having the background knowledge of how these systems work really gives me a leg up compared to someone who might have received a non-engineering degree.
Looking back, do you have a memory about your time at UGA that sticks in your mind?
Mike: Several things come to mind, but the comradery with my classmates was very strong. I still stay in contact with several. Also, attending UGA football games as a student and watching the greatest college football player of all time, Herschel Walker, made for really fun Saturdays!
John: I have a lot of fond memories of Athens, from hanging out with my friends to UGA football games. As far as the College of Engineering goes, I think my fondest memories were Dr. Thompson’s class. Because Dr. Thompson taught my dad, he already knew who I was so he would cold call on me every day in class. While it wasn’t fun at the time, I definitely think it’s probably the reason why I say I learned more in his class than any other class. It was also just cool to have the same professor that I had heard my dad and his college friends talk about when they reflected on their time at UGA.
What do you think about the changes and growth that have happened in the College of Engineering since your graduation and during John’s time at UGA?
Mike: I think is a great thing that the College of Engineering was started. The growth of enrollment is proof that expanding the engineering program was needed. Every time I meet a UGA graduate and talk about our experiences while at UGA, it is always a happy conversation with good memories. John hasn’t regretted his choosing to come to UGA and the College of Engineering, and I believe he is well prepared to start his career.
As an alumnus and a soon-to-be alumnus, are you excited about the future of the engineering program at UGA?
Mike: Yes, I’m definitely excited about the future of UGA Engineering. The availability of all the different engineering curriculums lets students choose what they have a passion for while attending the university they want to attend. By broadening the offerings of majors and continuing to incorporate new advancements in the field and in technologies, students can graduate with a degree that is relevant and needed.
John: I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made as a college and I hope that growth continues after I leave. Engineering is a great program at UGA and I think it deserves more attention than it gets from the school and from the state of Georgia. I think UGA offers the best social and academic atmosphere for an engineering degree. Your peers are smart, social, and incredibly gifted individuals and the professors overall do a good job teaching the material and really seem to care about their students’ success.