One of Mercer University’s original engineering faculty members, Jack Mahaney, will retire in June after serving as an associate professor of mechanical engineering for 30 years.
In spring 1985, Mahaney saw an ad from the university that they were trying to hire a founding dean for its new engineering school.
At the time, Mahaney had just wrapped up his Ph.D. work at Old Dominion University in Virginia, and he was in need of a job. He realized he was unqualified for the dean position but decided to go out on a whim and submit an application for a faculty position.
Soon after, Mahaney was called in for an interview and offered a job on faculty.
Since the engineering school didn’t have a building, engineering classes were held in the Medical School.
“It was all a big scramble, and when the 10th of September happened, we all started teaching,” he said.
Mahaney said he remembered the first engineering class size ranging from 15 to 20 students. Also, at the time, only three types of engineering majors were offered to students: mechanical, industrial and electrical.
During his first year at Mercer, Mahaney worked long hours — typically from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. After work, Mahaney drove down to the Warner Robins Air Force Base to teach evening classes.
In the 30 years since, Mahaney said Mercer has changed dramatically, in infrastructure as well as curriculum.
“We now have six engineering programs instead of three. We have three non-engineering programs — industrial management and technical communication.”
But Mahaney said that one thing about Mercer that hasn’t changed is its emphasis on undergraduates.
“What I like, and liked, about Mercer was its focus on undergraduate education — what I call the ‘care and feeding of undergraduates.’”
Mahaney said that the main reason why he’s retiring is because he would like to have time for things he’s passionate about, such as boat sailing and playing the bagpipes.
“Everything I do from middle of August or finals in May revolves around my teaching schedule,” he said. “It started to annoy me that there are other activities I want to pursue because I have to be here.”
Although Mahaney said he’s looking forward to some time to pursue these hobbies, he’ll miss being in the classroom.
“I’m not quitting because I’ve burned out on teaching by any means. I love teaching. I love going into the classroom. I love my students,” he said.
Although Mahaney’s contract ends in June, this fall semester will be the professor’s last at Mercer. Last May, Mahaney contracted pneumonia and spent three days in the hospital.
He recovered from pneumonia, but the doctors soon discovered something wrong with one of his ribs from an x-ray.
“They found something funky from one of the ribs in my back,” which is where he had been having occasional mild back aches, he said.
The doctors learned that Mahaney had bone cancer. In early August, the engineering professor started a chemotherapy regime. So far, the treatment is going exactly how Mahaney wanted it to go. The cancer is going away, and his bones are healing.
But Mahaney will have to have a bone marrow transplant. This January, he’ll be at Northside Hospital in Atlanta for three months to receive treatment. Mahaney still has plans to return to Mercer in the spring if everything goes well.
Looking back on his time at time at Mercer, not one memory sticks out in Mahaney’s mind.
“Mercer has been my life. It has been my career. I’ve been here since 1985. That’s half my life I’ve spent at Mercer. That’s the memory right there.”