Walter (Wally) Peters, Ph.D.
When he's not floating ping-pong balls to demonstrate drag force in his undergraduate engineering classes, experimenting on systems design and complexity with colleagues or collaborating with graduate students on research projects, you're likely to find Wally Peters, USC professor of mechanical engineering, tooling around Columbia on his Harley.
"USC is such an exciting place to be," says Peters. "I love teaching, creating classroom presentations, interacting one-on-one with students and getting involved in the experimental research we do here."
After growing up in Mobile, Alabama, Peters received both his bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering at Auburn University and served in the Navy ROTC as an undergraduate. Following a Vietnam-era active duty stint as a reserve officer, Peters headed to Virginia Tech for his Ph.D., where he joined the faculty and also completed just over a year of experimental research as a visiting scientist in Freiburg, Germany.
When an engineering colleague invited him to visit and lecture at the University of South Carolina in 1980, Peters found his future academic home. "I really wanted to be at USC because it was a small program where I would get to do everything — identify my own teaching topics, define my research areas and explore all aspects of engineering. Even before I knew about Harold Geneen's Theory G, which recommends putting yourself in situations where you need to learn everything you can about a topic, I was excited to discover all I could about the engineering field."
In 1997, Peters was instrumental in launching USC's Laboratory for Sustainable Solutions and continues to encourage students to explore innovative solutions to real-world problems — everything from the energy-saving value of traffic roundabouts as road intersection replacements to the mechanical failure of automotive parts, cyber security, military strategy and procurement, nuclear terrorism, medical device development, the biomechanics of retina reattachment surgery and reverse-engineering the human brain, among many others.
Winner of USC's 2002 Amoco Teaching Award, Peters knows the greatest benefit he can offer students is to help them develop their critical thinking skills. By learning to synthesize information and make connections to the physical world, engineers will be able to help develop innovative approaches to humanity's challenges. To that end, Peters prompts his freshmen engineering students to broaden their perspectives by participating in department and university activities that take advantage of USC's quality liberal arts offerings.
Ultimately, Peters sees his engineering graduates go into practice locally and worldwide at companies such as Michelin, Boeing, BMW and the industries that support them. Others begin careers in the oil and chemical industries, while some continue their professional education in law or medicine.
"The University of South Carolina is a special place," says Peters. "And I'm just taking the advice I give my students — find a job where you think you're playing and it won't feel like work. That's what I like about USC. Every day I'm in the classroom or the laboratory with my students, I'm having so much fun!"