Jim Huffman, associate professor of professional practice in engineering at TCU, and founder of Beyond the Light Project, originally started out as a French major. When he began his undergraduate studies, he wasn’t quite sure which direction he wanted to go. But through some trial and error, Huffman shifted his studies to electrical engineering and found that he not only had the skills, but more importantly he had a passion for it.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Texas A&M University, he moved on to earn his master’s and doctorate in physics from the University of Texas at Dallas. Throughout various careers in engineering and teaching positions, Huffman realized that his passion is to help others.
When he first started his career as a professor, Huffman found the position challenging. He wasn’t quite sure that his teaching would resonate with his students, but once he started to slow down and see the growth of his students, he realized that this was a career that he was meant to be in. Huffman thinks back to one particular student as a testament to the motivations of being a professor. While teaching at El Centro Community College he had a nursing assistant student in his class. This student made a 100 on every exam but she felt like she could only go so far in life; she felt that completing associate’s degree and becoming a nurse assistant was it for her. Five years later, Huffman ran into this student and she updated him that she was studying to get a doctorate in microbiology. “Little things like that make a big difference,” said Huffman, “that was a real moment in my career that made me realize the impact of education. It’s not about proving what I know. It’s about the impact that you can make on students’ lives.”
In addition to teaching, Huffman runs the non-profit organization, Beyond the Light Project, which is dedicated to providing electricity to areas with limited or no access to it. Huffman’s wife is also a professor at a university and spends her free time working in clinics in Nicaragua. When Huffman would accompany his wife on these trips, he realized that schools, clinics and even homes there didn’t have electricity, and he could help fix this.
Thus, Huffman found the inspiration to launch the Beyond the Light Project. However, simply delivering the technology to bring electricity to these villages isn’t all there is to the work Huffman does. According to Huffman, “to really make an impact it’s not just a one-time thing. You have to have a certain amount of dedication and be willing to train local people to sustain. Very simple things can make big impacts.” Huffman adds that it’s important to be dedicated to a particular area because you have to monitor the ideas and technology that you introduce and be willing to work hard long-term.
Huffman is excited to start this year as a professor at TCU and has more planned for his classroom than just teaching, “there are so many opportunities for research and development by incorporating what I do with my organization—or even similar projects—into the classroom.” Huffman has many ideas for how his organization can be incorporated with students at TCU, from work-study programs to prototyping new technology that can make a sustainable difference in people’s lives. “This is about inspiring the next generation of engineers. When you’re making a sustainable impact on people’s lives, you have to be willing to fail a bit before you get it right. I want to show students that what they learn can be translated into real life projects and accomplishments.” These ideas can extend beyond engineering, even beyond the College of Science & Engineering, and can be incorporated in many different colleges at TCU, and Huffman would love to see the community work together.