Where Matt Shuman is today has a lot to with his family — most of them attended Oregon State University, and they have also influenced the direction of his career.
“My mom is a teacher, and my dad's an engineer, so if you merge those two together you get an engineering teacher,” he says.
His grandparents were also instrumental in convincing him to stay in school and get as much education as possible. So far that has meant bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering, and he is currently working on his MBA.
Shuman says that the basics of engineering were handed down to him by his father (a civil engineer) and grandfather as he worked with them on projects around the house and the family farm. And even though his career appears very different from his grandfather’s, who was an agricultural extension agent, he sees many parallels.
“My grandfather used his extension agency position to teach farmers how to become profitable, and I view my role as being identical, but for a different era, teaching electrical engineers how to be profitable in industry,” he says.
In World War II, at the age of at the age of 27, his grandfather was one of three officers on a small ship in the Mediterranean, commanding 21 younger enlisted men. The parallel in Shuman’s life was reviving the OSU Robotics Club at a similar age, and leading the younger students to win the 2008 University Mars Rover Competition.
“It is a different time than what my grandfather experienced. We had the luxury of doing something fun instead of going to war,” he says.
As a teacher, Shuman likes to give students the experience of creating a finished product.
“I’m a proponent of being able to go all the way from the brain storming stage to the actual robot or circuit to understand the entire process of designing and making a product. You might not be doing that in a job where you stop at the design stage and hand it off to a technician. But if you understand the entire process you will be a much more valuable asset because you know what challenges the technicians will face,” he says.
In his applied robotics class he endeavors to make the process fun by challenging the students with a project like building a robot to play shuffleboard. As extra motivation, the class culminates in a rousing competition.
Shuman also enjoys woodworking, a hobby he shares with his father and grandfather, and a skill he is passing on to others through teaching at the OSU Craft Center.
“Woodworking is engineering done somewhat quickly, with tangible outputs,” he says describing how he transformed a rough board into a snowboard rack ready to mount on a wall in just three hours.
Fortunately, he has a great source of wood for his projects. His grandfather converted the family sheep farm to grow trees that are harvested for lumber. Shuman harvested an oak and a maple tree which he hauled to a miller to cut into boards, and then on to his house where he is working on building furniture.
“Woodworking is a satisfying hobby where I can leverage equipment and skills from my father and grandfather to make a beautiful present for somebody that I want to feel special. I really enjoy making something unique and then giving it away,” he says.