CAMPUS

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CAMPUS Closeup: Ken Culp

Texas native Ken Culp (Mathematics and Computer Science) retains a detectable Southern accent despite spending the past 14 years as an Upper Peninsula resident. His path to NMU involved a series of coincidences. Culp earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in his home state and fell short of completing a doctorate when he joined the U.S. Navy. After his stint in the service, he had trouble finding a job with a four-year-old degree. He worked with semiconductors for Texas Instruments, then computers before managing software development teams for a company that specialized in automated systems for dental offices. Culp delivered and installed the software.

“One of the dental offices happened to be in Marquette,” he says. “I married the office manager a few years later and took her back to Texas. We returned in 1999 via motorcoach and parked it in the back yard of her son’s house. The software business was dying so I spent a year with the iEconomy startup. However, their business model evaporated with the dot-com failure. I called the department head at Northern a few times about teaching, but didn’t hear back. I sat next to Andy Poe (Mathematics and Computer Science) in the Marquette Choral Society and acted with him in the boathouse play Haywire. The rest, as they say, is history. The Lord put me in the right place at the right time. That connection led to a teaching job.”

Culp began as an adjunct instructor in 2001, has had term appointments in recent years and plans to apply for a continuing appointment now that he’s eligible. He recalls that his mother offered to pay for him to complete his doctorate when he started teaching.

“I didn’t want to give up two years of my life for the dissertation. Everything is built around that and you have to focus exclusively on that. There was too much else I wanted to do. Northern offered the best of both: I could teach, but without the pressure of having to finish my PhD. I don’t do it for the money; I enjoy making a difference in students’ lives. The number one objective is to help them succeed in life. The classroom is secondary. If I do the first, they’ll achieve the second.”  

Recognizing that students in his beginning statistics classes have a hard time visualizing computations and probability distributions, Culp developed NMU Stat-Help. It gives students a variety of options for inserting values and obtaining a visual representation of the data. Culp has made his program easily accessible, with both a downloadable and a Web-based application. This effort helped him earn a faculty Technology Innovation Award in 2010-11.

Outside of work, healthy activities dominate Culp’s free time. He can be seen regularly at the PEIF donning a leather weightlifting belt for strength-training sessions. He also has started running. Culp eats plenty of fresh produce or canned goods he and his wife, Gloria, harvest from their garden. Even the church where he serves as an elder nurtures the body as well as the spirit, with health-related talks and vegetarian potlucks.

“I also read a lot because I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that way and changed who I was. I couldn’t stand to live with the person I was 15 years ago. I was nerdy and negative. Reading self-help books on thought patterns and motivation by authors like Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey helped to fix my mindset. An old salt once said, ‘If you think you can or think you can’t, either way you’ll be right.’ I’ve gone out of my comfort zone and done public speaking on time management, health and attitude. The human brain responds to what we think. A can-do attitude can be seen immediately on an MRI.”

Culp applies that can-do attitude to construction projects, which he describes as cathartic. He built the couple’s country home southwest of the Grove Restaurant while they lived in a local apartment complex. Because the house was beyond the reach of NMU’s WiMAX signal, he also dug a square hole 7-feet deep to serve as the concrete base of a telescoping ham radio tower he erected to pick up the signal through a WiMAX receiver mounted on the tower (pictured). He gets Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service through the system as well.

“Life is a hoot right now, both personally and professionally,” Culp says. “I just turned 69 and I don’t plan to retire until I look out in the classroom and the students give me a blank look. I get paid to do what I enjoy and it’s fun.”