• >Home
  • >News
  • >2024
  • >January
  • >Longtime professor, director John Wood remembered as tireless ‘icon’ who made an impact

Longtime professor, director John Wood remembered as tireless ‘icon’ who made an impact

January 17, 2024 - by Kim Delker

Photo: Thee Wood family
John Wood (center) with daughter Lindsay and brother Doug at the May 2019 ribbon-cutting for the Dana C. Wood Materials and Structures Lab.

John E. Wood, 74, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at UNM who also directed the Manufacturing Training and Technology Center (MTTC), died Jan. 6 after a lengthy illness.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20 at French's Funeral Home, 7121 Wyoming Blvd. Those who wish to share memories and stories will have an opportunity to do so. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Arapaho Educational Trust Fund, P.O. Box 920, Fort Washakie, WY 82514.

Wood retired from UNM in 2020 and was granted emeritus status in 2021. He joined UNM in 1992 from the University of Utah, where he was associate director of the Center for Engineering Design for more than a decade.

He was born in Washington, D.C., on May 2, 1949, and was an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. The family moved to Gallup in 1966, and Wood graduated from Gallup High School in 1967.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering design and economic evaluations at the University of Colorado in 1971 and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1976. After a postdoctoral research position at MIT and Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Wood joined the University of Utah in 1978.

He was selected as director of the Manufacturing Engineering Program in the School of Engineering in 2014. In 2010, Wood was appointed by then-Interim Dean Arup Maji as special assistant to the dean for special projects. That position included a variety of tasks, including working with legislative priorities, advocating for research centers, serving as a liaison with the UNM School of Medicine, as well as other duties around budget, equipment and policy.

Wood is remembered fondly by those who knew and worked with him.

“The department (and university) enters the new year with a sad loss. We not only lost a colleague but also an icon,” said Yu-Lin Shen, professor and department chair of mechanical engineering. “John's forward thinking, vast experience, tireless pursuit of excellence, attention to details, and relentless work ethic have made a big impact on people who have the privilege working with or close to him. He was no doubt an irreplaceable role model for his students and colleagues. We all miss him.”

John Russell, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Formula Society of Engineers (FSAE) program at UNM, knew Wood for more than 30 years and remembered him as a smart, savvy administrator and researcher who never gave up in his pursuit of funding, whether that was for the manufacturing program he led or other initiatives related to research for the School.

“John was truly a Renaissance man. He could speak to any topic!” Russell said. “His passing is a sad day — we have lost a giant.”

Some of his interests included Indy Car racing, Chaparral cars, working on his extensive train layouts, attending Rolling Stones concerts, weekend trips to Gallup and riding his bicycle on the Bosque trail.

Greg Starr, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, helped to get Wood to UNM from Utah, and remembers Wood for his dedication.

“Over the next two decades I had the pleasure of collaborating with him in robotics research, and I've never met a harder worker,” Starr said. “John was a true gentleman; he might occasionally seem brusque, but cared deeply about those around him.”

Others also shared remembrances of Wood:

Matthias Pleil, director of the Manufacturing Engineering Program and MTTC Cleanroom Manager:

“Dr. Wood has been an inspiration to me and the MEP/MTTC team; he has been a great support of our success as well as the that of the MEP program. He was an ardent supporter of student access to the cleanroom throughout the years. John and I started working together while I was still at TVI in 2003, on an NSF ATE Grant which was awarded in 2004. He has been a great mentor to me, always forthright and honest. His editorial and writing skills were outstanding and resulted in several successful NST ATE grants, as well as well-written educational materials. In 2008, he supported my transition to UNM. His continued mentorship allowed me to gain the skills and abilities to manage the MTTC cleanroom, and later become the director of ‘his baby,’ the MTTC and MEP program. These are huge shoes to fill. I already miss him. I enjoyed our conversations over the years.”

Svetlana Poroseva, professor of mechanical engineering:

“I was very sad to read this news coming back from travel. I appreciate very much his contributions to our department, students, and in my personal professional growth.”

Ron Lumia, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering:

“John started the MTTC from scratch. His proposal writing skills (by far, he was the best proposal writer I have ever seen) got the money for the building and his leadership kept it going. He was THE most honest person I have ever known. John will be missed.”

Among those Wood is survived by his include his wife of 42 years, Elyse Jones Wood; daughter Lindsay Wood; son Barry Wood; brother Doug Wood; and sister Charlene (Dolly) Delaunay.

John was preceded in death by brother Dana C. Wood, who died of cancer in 2013. In 2016, the estate of Dana Wood provided a $150,000 endowed gift to fund student scholarships in the School of Engineering. In 2018, the School of Engineering received $3 million from the Dana Wood estate to create lab spaces in the Gerald May Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and for the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (FSAE) program. It is the largest cash gift in the School’s history.