T&D World Magazine

Howard Smolleck: Technical Detail

Howard Smolleck has always paid attention to technical details. As a child, he was always interested in the technical--in electrical and mechanical toys and objects. His father, an aerospace tool designer, had a “well-stocked” home workshop.

“Somehow my interest moved more to the electrical than my father’s woodworking and metalworking expertise, but I learned skills as a child that would carry me through life. With an interest in electricity, it just seemed natural to go into the electric power area, and I’m still satisfied with that decision,” Smolleck said.

Smolleck, a professor emeritus of electrical and computer engineering at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, has devoted his adult life to education in the electric power systems and related areas. He has developed and taught numerous university courses from the undergraduate to the doctoral level, as well as many short courses for corporate, government, and private-practice clients. The short courses have covered electric power system analysis, electric machinery, machine control, process control, and instrumentation. He stresses to students that careful attention to technical detail is important.

“Developing a sound background in technical fundamentals, with regular review as necessary, is one of the most useful things that any technical person can do,” Smolleck said. “This is why quality, in-depth refresher courses taught by experienced educators are so useful.”

Smolleck will be teaching a short course called “Electrical Substations: Living With the Old While Creating the New” on June 9-10, 2008, at the Denver Tech Center in Denver, Colorado. This new 2-day course, copresented with Gene Wolf and co-sponsored by the Burns & McDonnell Denver Office, follows in the tradition of the popular course “Life Extension of Substations: Replacement or Refurbishment” offered at New Mexico State University in 2006.

The new course will comprehensively address questions such as

  • Can yesterday’s substations meet today’s demands?
  • Should substation equipment be refurbished or should it be replaced?
  • What should it be replaced with?

The course will show how new advanced technologies, such as embedding intelligence in the power system, can improve efficiencies and increase the ratings of existing equipment and lines without adding facilities. It will speak to advanced technology’s impact on maintenance, and examine strategies for evaluating the condition of the equipment. New and advanced technologies of the Intelligent Grid will be developed as they relate to the bulk transmission system, the distribution system, and the customer connection.

The course structure is unique in that the electric power-systems concepts required for an understanding of the focus material will be summarized in sessions distributed throughout the course. Beginning with an introduction to the Intelligent Grid, intensive reviews of essential power calculations and simulation techniques will be presented as appropriate along with new concepts of distribution-system design and operation.

“There is a shortage of new electric power personnel just at a time when more experienced engineers are retiring, while at the same time the challenges of providing dependable and economical electric service with an aging infrastructure are becoming more acute,” Smolleck said. “This new short course will address some of these new technological advances while providing a solid grounding in essential fundamentals, and should be useful to both young and experienced engineers and technicians.”

Smolleck received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Arlington. From 1974-79, he was on the electrical engineering faculty at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. In 1979, he joined New Mexico State.

He developed an interest in teaching while in graduate school. “As a young university faculty member, I soon expanded my teaching to short courses for industry, with clients including engineers, technicians, scientists, and electricians,” he said “Working with these groups over three decades has given me a breadth of perspective concerning the needs of each of these widely different groups. As an emeritus faculty member, I now have more time to devote to the development of short courses.”

He also enjoys being “officially” retired because he can concentrate on the short courses without the administrative work and meetings. “Perhaps the worst thing is that I don’t get in front of a class of students every day as before, but I probably serve on more graduate committees than ever before,” Smolleck said.

His experience as a university professor and short-course instructor has taught him that there is no substitute for a qualified, experienced speaker in the classroom, as opposed to web-based courses. A classroom allows for interaction between students and teacher. “New web-based instructional technologies have their advantage in wide coverage and immediacy, but I prefer to be right there and interact with the students face-to-face. Having taught several hundred days of short courses in my career has confirmed the value of this perspective,” Smolleck said.

Besides teaching electrical engineering, Smolleck also teaches music and organ playing. He started attending and teaching in church-music symposia on a regular basis in graduate school. “For years, I have been very much involved in keyboard music as almost a second profession.”

He has been a church organist for more than 40 years and spends several hours a day in music research and practice.

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