Lifelong Nebraskan Tim Wentz retiring after 25 years, feels blessed for his unique career
Calendar Icon Nov 30, 2018 Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel RSS
Tim Wentz is a lifelong Nebraskan – born, raised and educated – and can’t imagine having lived anywhere else.
And as he nears retirement after “exactly 25 years” of serving in myriad capacities within the College of Engineering, the associate professor of construction management said he has been blessed to have done all that he has and knows how unique his career has been.
“In academia, you don’t see that many people staying in one place for that length of time, but it’s home and I love it here,” Wentz said. “When I graduated from high school and went to the University of Nebraska, I never could have imagined the career I’d have. It wouldn’t have occurred to me in 100 years. The fact that I’ve had this career at Nebraska is really special for me.”
Wentz’s roots are deep in the soil and history of the state. He is a proud, fifth-generation Nebraskan. His great-great grandfather settled near Weeping Water, on a land grant he received after the Civil War for fighting in the Illinois infantry. In 1908, his great grandfather started a Lincoln heating and plumbing business, for which Wentz worked after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a mechanical engineering degree in 1975.
He never expected he’d return to the university, let alone retire from the College of Engineering 43 years later.
“I had a professor call me out of the blue and ask if I’d be a guest lecturer in a class. I said, “Sure. How long do you want me to talk?” He said, “Class lasts 50 minutes.” I thought, “Oh, my word. How can anyone talk 50 minutes about anything?” I told him that. He said, “No problem. Do what you can and here’s the topic. It was exactly what I was doing in industry,” Wentz said.
“That first class, I started lecturing and the next thing I know the professor was telling me the class was over. He invited me back a couple more times. They asked me if I would teach a whole class here as an adjunct. I thought ‘why not?’”
But when a faculty member unexpectedly left before the spring semester 1994, Wentz agreed to join the college as a part-time lecturer.
“I started here with a full load and then some. I had never taught before and suddenly I had four courses. I was having so much fun as a guest lecturer that I wondered how much more fun I could have with a whole class, and I ended up having a great time.”
In his quarter-century in the college, Wentz has been recognized often for his teaching. He has been chosen three times as the Mechanical Contractors Association of America Educator of the Year, was awarded ASHRAE's international E.K. Campbell Award of Merit for educators, and has won numerous university and college awards.
Wentz said that work has been an “energizing” factor that has kept him anchored to Nebraska.
“The best thing about being at a university is being around young people. They bring energy to everything they do. It’s almost impossible not to feel the energy and absorb some of it,” Wentz said.
“The most rewarding thing is when I give a talk to industry professionals, and I look into the crowd and see so many of the students that I had in my classes over the years. It is really rewarding to see the number of young men and women who have gone into this industry and have become very successful.”
While teaching was an important part of his work at the university, Wentz also served the College of Engineering in many capacities, including as both interim department chair (2003-04) and interim program chair (2004-06) of construction management during the time it was moved into The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction.
One of the most important roles Wentz played was helping the college to stronger bonds with industry.
His work with the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is something that Wentz said afforded him “an absolutely amazing and very rewarding opportunity” to serve as both president-elect and president. It required taking a two-year leave of absence (2015-17) from the university, but helped open up a world of possibilities that Wentz said has made him a better teacher, professor, contractor and engineer.
“That allowed me to go all over the world, to places I’ve never been before or ever dreamed of going, meet colleagues in other societies and governments and learn that there’s a similarity of the problems we are all facing,” Wentz said. “It’s expanded my vision of the importance of our work in construction management.”
“Climate change, the resulting rising water levels and increased frequency of extraordinary (weather) events is impacting everybody,” Wentz said. “How do we use that information and how do we use our knowledge to craft a coordinated approach to reducing the amount of energy buildings use and at the same time keep the buildings healthy and comfortable? That’s really the mission.”
It’s also helping to influence the work Wentz plans to do after his retirement officially begins in January. Wentz will continue to do some teaching and lecturing, and he said there are no plans to stop working or learning.
“There’s still so much to learn, and the thing I’m so excited about in retirement is for the first time in a long time I can really focus on those areas of learning that interest me the most that I haven’t been able to pursue because of all my other duties and responsibilities,” Wentz said.
“This semester I’ve had a little time to write a paper – it’s on human behavior and its energy impact in buildings – for a conference in Italy. I’ll also be doing a keynote at an exhibition and conference on energy efficiency in Pakistan in February.”
Retirement will also allow him to keep telling people why he loves his university, his home.
“Part of the joy when I was ASHRAE president, I put a little Nebraska into all of my speeches. I was introduced as an associate professor at the University of Nebraska. That gives you a chance to go to countries all over the planet, from China to Lebanon, and talk about Nebraska.”