Greetings from Switzerland
ASU alumnus Robert Moody reflects on his Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering experience and his international industry career
After coming across one of his articles online, spending more than thirty years working in industry, Arizona State University alumnus and Hitachi Energy Failure Analysis Engineer Robert Moody reached out to Terry Alford to thank him for being a role model as a Black engineer. Moody has spent more than 30 years working in industry and never forgot the lessons he learned as a ASU engineering student. Alford, a professor of materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, mentored Moody more than 20 years ago while he worked to earn his master’s degree in semiconductor manufacturing from the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, and currently serves the school’s interim director.
Moody shares his engineering journey and inspiration for budding engineers at ASU.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
M: First, I should provide some background in order to give a good answer. I am an African American and the first person in my family to attend a university. In many ways, my journey to become an engineer was improbable, considering that my mother was one of 11 children raised in extreme poverty. In fact, she was placed in foster care for many years when my grandmother could not afford to provide for all of her children. I never met my grandfather and only know that he wasn’t present. My grandmother was a domestic worker for most of her adult working life, and as a youngster, she did sharecropping with her siblings. Even though my family history was difficult, there seemed to be a striver mentality that was passed down to my sister and me. As a youth, I was expected to succeed in academics and obtain employment. Engineering was naturally a major that provided a secure path to my goal of a good, financially stable job.
Why did you come to ASU? How did you select your major?
M: After my military service in the U.S. Army and finishing my undergraduate BSE in electrical engineering degree at California State University, Los Angeles, I was fortunate to start my engineering career with Motorola’s Semiconductor Products Sector, which brought me to Phoenix. After working for a few years, I wanted to further my education and obtain a master’s degree. ASU had a great program where I could continue to work full time and pursue my degree part time. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the time flexibility support I received at my job from my managers so I could attend courses during work hours. ASU also initiated a program where classes were delivered via video link at the downtown Phoenix campus, which was convenient to avoid the parking situation on the Tempe campus.
Was there a particular “aha!” moment when you knew you were on the right path?
M: I felt like an advanced degree was necessary for job security and to provide an advantage when seeking new opportunities I wanted to pursue. Even though my undergraduate degree was significant, I felt that a graduate degree was necessary for continued success.
How was Terry Alford instrumental in helping you grow as a student and in what ways did he impact your success?
M: Dr. Alford was a huge source of inspiration for me as I worked toward my graduate degree at ASU. Dr. Alford was a professor in one of my initial graduate courses, Material Science in Semiconductor Processing. Having an African American professor absolutely inspired me to work hard and believe that my goal of graduating was possible. This may sound a bit dramatic, but it gave me a belief that the Divine placed Dr. Alford in my path to internalize that I would succeed with enough dedication to my goal. When I was at ASU more than 20 years ago, I remember only one other African American student in all my courses. Naturally, that can bring about feelings of isolation and doubt as to whether I could successfully meet my goals and pass each of my courses. I’m not sure if [Alford] knows it, but just his presence on campus, as well as his encouragement, were key components in my success. I salute you, Dr. Alford!
How did the Fulton Schools prepare you for your career at Hitachi Energy?
M: The Fulton Schools definitely prepared me for my career as a failure analysis engineer at Hitachi Energy. Here at Hitachi Energy, we primarily fabricate products for industrial high-voltage and electromobility applications. My duties involve analyzing new products, production defects and process development for the factories. The background I obtained from my studies, especially in semiconductor processing, provided me with enhanced insight into potential root causes of failures and ways that various fabrication processes affect materials.
In your professional career, you’ve had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of companies. Do you have any insight to offer students about how to find a field that best suits them?
M: I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve received in my career over the years. I feel like the highlight is occurring now, even as I head into my upcoming retirement in a couple of years. I’m lucky that my career in engineering allowed me to live and work in Switzerland for most of the last 10 years. None of this would have happened if I didn’t have an inspirational person like Dr. Alford as a shining example that my career can be limitless. I’ve had such super cool experiences here in Switzerland and central Europe, including mountaineering and summiting Mont Blanc, completing the hut-to-hut Haute Route Skitour in the Alps, enjoying an opera performance at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy with my wife, strolling on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France and a host of other amazing memories.
I guess I can offer insight to students by stating, “Don’t put limits on your desired career.” At least in my experience, engineering can provide worldwide opportunities.
Any other advice you would give to current Fulton Schools students?
M: I am a pretty humble guy and don’t know if I am qualified to give advice. However, one ideal I stuck to during my studies was to work hard. I wasn’t gifted with a strong scientific background, but I knew if I could work hard enough and put in the hours I would succeed in my courses. This state of mind was one of my personal keys to success.