Engineering professor and TCC alumnus connects with students because he’s been there, done that

September 7, 2016
Professor Bill Simmons stands in his classrrom

When Professor Bill Simmons steps into a TCC classroom, he often feels as if he’s taken a step back in time.

“I started working as an electrician apprentice after high school. After six years, I recognized that I needed education to move forward in a career path,” he said. 

Simmons came to TCC to study engineering, first as an apprentice with Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and later as a full-time student pursuing an engineering degree.

Two professors in particular, Paul Gordy and Steve Ezell, made the biggest impact.

“Mr. Gordy was the best teacher I ever had,” he said. “Today I encourage my students to take at least one class from him.”

Simmons earned his Associate of Science in Engineering in 1991 and continued at Old Dominion University, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering.

He loves teaching so much he even took a pay cut to do it. “I worked in industry for close to two decades, but teaching is what I really wanted to do,” he said. “I found out early on that it’s not all about the money.”

Simmons credits his industry experience with making him a more effective professor. “I like my lectures to be conversational and packed with learning opportunities,” he said. “My students really perk up when I incorporate examples of my work, from programming a robot to designing a circuit to testing communications systems.”

While TCC’s engineering curriculum is challenging, Simmons said he doesn’t give extra credit or grade on a curve. “We know from our contacts at Virginia Tech, UVA and other top schools, that our students are well prepared for the work ahead, and that’s always our goal,” he said. 

The faculty advisor for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math club at Chesapeake Campus, Simmons said nothing is more rewarding than watching students excel as a team. Last June, TCC engineering students took first, second and fourth place in American Society of Engineering Model Design Competition

The goal of the competition is to give student teams an opportunity to use the engineering design process to build an autonomous vehicle to complete a specified task or to complete a specified track. TCC students competed against 16 teams during this national competition.

Simmons enjoys learning his students’ stories and sharing his own. “I’ve been where they are and that makes them listen a little better,” he said. “It’s all about going the extra mile -- even if it’s just having a student come to my office hours to do practice problems on the white board. Whatever it takes, we’re committed to success.”

Practical by nature, Simmons can be seen driving what he calls his “beater Volvo.” He also owns a fully refurbished 1997 black Corvette that he reserves for driving to the golf course and on weekends. 

Simmons and his wife, Beth, have a daughter, Lauren, a University of Virginia graduate who later changed course and came to TCC and Old Dominion University to earn a bachelor of science in nursing. She now works at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.