Kevin Skenes builds electric guitars in his spare time, a natural hobby for someone who plays the guitar, bass guitar and mandolin and who has spent his life building things. As a boy growing up in Augusta, Georgia, he took apart watches, radios and old record players, then put them back together. “I really enjoy building stuff and taking it apart, seeing why it doesn’t work anymore and trying to make it better,” said Skenes. “You can have the coolest design for a rocket ever, but if you don’t know how to build it, it’s just a drawing on a piece of paper or pixels on a screen.”
As an undergraduate at Georgia Institute of Technology, he pursued a degree in mechanical engineering while swimming competitively. At 6’5”, the budding engineer competed at the U.S. Swimming National Championships in 2008 before earning his doctorate and joining The Citadel faculty.
In May, Skenes, who also serves as the mechanical engineering department head, received the James A. Grimsley, Jr., Award for Undergraduate Teaching Excellence, an honor voted on by the senior class. Senior mechanical engineering major Cadet Cameron Graham was not surprised that Skenes was chosen for the award. “He’s an outstanding professor and an expert in his field,” said Graham. “He is relatable, reliable and always willing to put forth his best work to help cadets advance their careers.”
When Skenes joined The Citadel in 2014, it was the first semester mechanical engineering was being offered, and he was excited about being a part of the new program. “At its fundamental core, we teach you how to solve problems,” said Skenes.
Teaching at a military college, Skenes discovered, has its advantages. The focus on developing cadets not only as students but as leaders prepares them for challenges outside the classroom and makes the college uniquely suited for helping engineering students succeed. “I love it because when you go into a class, they’re talkative, they’re engaged, they’re paying attention and offering input,” said Skenes. “Knowing how to be an engineer and knowing how to be an engineer who communicates well are two very different things. There’s a level of charisma that you don’t necessarily see in engineers elsewhere.”
In class, Skenes makes a point of showing his students the real-life successes and failures of mechanical engineering. “The failures are usually really fun because they involve things breaking or blowing up,” said Skenes. They also show that a mistake can be dangerous. “The lesson drives home the point that this is serious business, and if you screw this up, there will be consequences.”