Dr. Rich Kelnhofer
Play bass guitar in a band? Or study to be an electrical engineer? Dr. Rich Kelnhofer chose both, but it’s not something he necessarily recommends.
“It took me six years to get my undergraduate degree and part of that was because I was in a band,” said Kelnhofer. “That is not a real good thing to be doing while you’re going to school.”
Besides mastering the guitar as a child, Kelnhofer also discovered he had a techy side. He liked those electronic project kits, and had a fascination for CB radios and wireless communication. When he got into his first band, wiring the sound system seemed exciting, too. It was a high school guidance counselor who would suggest engineering as a major.
Kelnhofer earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and then went to work for a small telecommunications company. In the evenings, he pursued his graduate degree at Marquette University. He then went full time to get his doctorate on a Department of Education grant as a GAAN Fellow (General Area of Academic Need).
“Aspects of that fellowship required us to go through seminars on educational effectiveness and teach different courses while being monitored,” he said. After earning his Ph.D. in 1997, Kelnhofer would continue to teach at Marquette University while working at Norlight Telecommunications.
Then in 2008, Kelnhofer joined MSOE as program director for the electrical engineering technology program. “It was a nice blend that played off my strengths from industry and education,” he said. Today, he's the electrical engineering program director.
Kelnhofer has attended KEEN National Conferences and is an active member of the Entrepreneurship and Engineering Division of the ASEE. As a CREATE Faculty Fellow, he is eager to see the concepts of the entrepreneurial mindset and servant-leadership implemented across campus.
“Entrepreneurial thinking is something that always resonated well with me,” said Kelnhofer. It goes back to what he learned in engineering education and what KEEN promotes in the three C’s: curiosity, connections and creating value. He would like to see those C’s promoted early in the curriculum at MSOE.
“I often teach the Senior Design sequences,” he said. “And some of the students have been conditioned with always coming up with the right answers—answers that are mathematically correct. But when they get to a design problem, there isn’t one answer. There are different solutions to create value.”
As for servant-leadership, Kelnhofer said he first learned about the philosophy while working in industry. “I was an awful manager my first year,” he said. “Then my boss sat me down and started bringing in this concept of servant-leadership.” Kelnhofer said he studied it and found it to be an effective form of leadership in the workplace.
Those kinds of real-world experiences or “war stories” are important to share with students, said Kelnhofer. “I think it helps ground what we teach for the students. It makes it real as opposed to something that’s just in a text book.”
While Kelnhofer enjoys his career as a professor, he’s still working the music scene. He plays for a band called Shut the Front Door and fills in for other bands, as well. He’s also the recording engineer for friends who write music.
“That was my midlife crisis,” he said. “I did not get a Harley-Davidson. I ended up buying a bunch of recording gear for the basement.”
Kelnhofer is married with two married children and two college-aged children. His oldest got her mechanical engineering degree from MSOE.