Professor James Guo looks back on his career
Q: How long have you worked for the college? Did you anticipate this being where you would spend your career?
A: In 1982, I drove my old wagon from Champaign, Illinois to Denver, Colorado. On the way through Kansas, I had many thoughts for my future planning. But it was clear and firm that I should work in this CU Denver position as my first and last job because I wanted a career in higher education in the city of Denver. At the same time, I also made a promise to make a contribution to the state of Colorado if I adopted it to be my home. In 2020 I am retiring as a full professor. I have served the University of Colorado for 38 years, and I have made significant contributions to the State Flood Mitigation Program by writing chapters and sessions in the Colorado Urban Storm Water Design Criteria Manuals, published by the Mile High Flood District.
Q: What has been your favorite thing about working at CU Denver and the College of Engineering?
A: I have several pairs of “father and son” in my class. I often recognized the sons after their fathers graduated 20 some years prior. Similarly, I have produced several pairs of “husband and wife” in the BS and MS programs.
Over the years, CU Denver offered me public exposure, and so I served on state and city engineering committees and produced many graduates serving in the public works. Whenever I visited the city and state engineering offices, I would run into my former students. Once time the chair of a state drainage engineering conference asked the audience if they had taken Dr. Guo’s classes before—three quarters of 300 some drainage engineers shouted “yes”.
Q: What is your best memory as a faculty member?
A: In 1994, my research project on a set of engineering software developments ran into a budget crisis. I volunteered to finish the project and donated all the products to the city, county, and district’s websites for free download. Today, those computer software carry the CU Denver logo and are standard tools for engineering design and planning.
In 1996, I submitted my application for full professor. I was so disappointed when my case ran into an impasse. With senior professor’s advice, I agreed to focus on my publications. From 1997 to 2000, I experienced a growth in academic publications. In 2006 and 2017, I won the ASCE Best Paper Awards twice.
Q: Was there a particular student or experience that made a lasting impression on you?
A: In early 1980s, Jeff Chen came to my office because he had no direction in his study. I laid out a 12-yr plan for Jeff to work with me towards his PhD. He graduated with his PhD in 14 years.
John Clark in 1984 came to my office because he was injured as a carpenter. I helped John through his BS and MS studies. Now he is a state engineer in the wildlife department.
From 1994 to 1996, Mr. Chen sat in my classes as an auditor, when in 1996 he returned to China. In 2000, I received a phone call from Mr. Chen, and for the first time I realized he was director of public works in the city of Shanghai, China. When I went to Shanghai to give a talk, I had 170 Chinese engineers in the audience.
In 2010, I led an international delegation to visit the Denver Wastewater Reclamation District. As soon as I arrived, I was surprised with the warm welcome until Mr. Castro, the director, showed up. He was my former student and a top notch director.
Tim Ho came to visit me at the age of 37. He was frustrated with his career in Taiwan. I gave him a plan as to how to rebuild his career with graduate study at CU Denver. He sold his house in Taiwan and brought his family to become my neighbor. Approximately 15 years ago, Tim graduated and passed his license exam. Now Tim has a MS degree in hydrology and hydraulics and works at the Mile High Flood District as a project engineer.
Over 38 years in this campus, I, as a faculty member, do change student’s life and give them hope.
Q: Throughout your time at the college, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen?
A: The management of the college has been well institutionalized to provide better services to the students and faculty members. The former dean in 1984 asked me how he should evaluate my performance of three ASCE journal papers in a year. Today, junior professors in the college have built their careers with the college through their academic research.
Q: How has engineering education stayed the same and how has it changed throughout your career?
A: In my teaching of civil engineering, the gravitational acceleration is the only thing that stayed the same. Over the last 28 years, I’ve revised my class notes almost every year. I wrote several books to point out the impacts of the automation and AI that will change the civil engineering in the near future.
Q: What are your plans for retirement?
A: In 2016, I was invited to give a talk in an international conference held at the city of Beijing, China. I was surprised to know my books and papers that have been translated and used in the higher education. My plan for the next five years is to convert my books into Chinese.
Q: Any advice for faculty who are just getting started?
A: Do not give up if the administration does not understand it. Help our students at all times and by all means. Publish your research work as often and as quickly as possible. Focus and deepen your research in a few subjects or small areas.