November 17, 2010

Hover Inspires Students, Cracks Jokes in ‘Last Lecture’

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“What in the world is there to teach about [concrete]?” asked Prof. Kenneth Hover Ph.D. ’84, civil and environmental engineering. Rather than divulge, he doled out advice and cracked jokes during his “last lecture” on Wednesday evening.

Hover spoke to a packed Uris Auditorium as part of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society’s “Last Lecture” series, which invites professors to prepare remarks each semester as if they were giving a farewell address.

Hover regaled the crowd with personal stories of his “10,539 Days at Cornell.”

More than 400 students and faculty attended Hover’s lecture, according to Matt Grosshans ’11, president of Mortar Board at Cornell.

Hover graduated with a Ph.D. from Cornell in 1984 and has taught at the University since. He is also the president of the American Concrete Institute and one of “the top 10 most influential people in the concrete industry,” Grosshans said.

Before Hover, “there hasn’t been any representation from the engineering school in the ‘last lecture’ series,” event organizer Jon Fingado ’11 said.

Hover began his talk by introducing the subject he studies: concrete. He soon caught himself, labeling concrete a “social killer.”

“We are on the brink of a perfect storm … it’s both late in the day and a fundamentally boring topic,” he said.

Hover alternated between the comical and the sincere.

“I’ve learned one thing a day since arriving in early January of 1982 … Regardless of the current weather — it can always get worse,” he said, as pictures of a snow-covered campus flashed across the screen.

“Yet it never rains on graduation — a Day Hall heavenly connection,” he said.

Hover’s concrete work has not been confined to Ithaca.

He worked in Haiti following the January earthquake, conducting structural analysis of damaged concrete buildings.

President Skorton asked Hover to go to Haiti immediately as part of a Cornell-led delegation.

“‘I want you on Bill Clinton’s plane,’” Hover quoted Skorton as saying.

Hover spoke to the importance of people and relationships over things and situations.

“The real issue was the people who were there in that unfortunate situation … I got ready to give assistance and answer questions,” he said.

Hover extended this example to the Cornell experience.

“There’s no Cornell if there are no people there … no memories,” Hover stated as he uploaded pictures of Cornell architecture and landscapes in which no people were present.

“Nobody will look at that picture and cherish it. There’s nothing in those empty seats [of Schoellkopf Field]. But when we fill those seats — that’s Cornell, our friends and support structure,” he said.

Hover dedicated most of the lecture to Cornell’s role in developing intellectual and personal growth.

“We all live, work, and participate in an idea-development institution … Ideas are fragile — don’t drop your ideas. Keep them and cherish them,” Hover said.

Hover tied in the intellectual idea-inspiring atmosphere on The Hill back to Cornell’s founder.

“Ezra did a marvelous job to prepare us to be a decision-maker. We were the first university to have an elective choice — that students can chose their own classes,” he said.

Original Author: Max Schindler