Professor Tom Danaher to Re-Engineer Programs at RCC

When there is a construction project or technical problem that needs solving in the real-world, companies and organizations bring in engineers. Folks with skills in math and science, knowledge of electricity and other forces of nature can step into a situation and plan a solution. In a way, this is exactly what Rappahannock Community College has done with Professor Tom Danaher, who is bringing over two decades of nuclear and mechanical engineering experience into the classroom.

Danaher, who lives in Gloucester, is now at the controls of RCC’s Engineering program, and has big plans for both what he will be teaching in class, but also for what his students can achieve after they graduate.

“My goal is to create a program that produces students who are employable, and is readily available to the service region as possible,” says Danaher, whose straight, no-nonsense style will appeal to those who desire to learn from someone who has “been there.”

For over 20 years, Danaher served in the United States Navy, working on nuclear-powered vessels. He served onboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise, as well as the guided-missile destroyer Oscar Austin. He has over ten years of experience in the construction and repair of surface ships, aircraft carriers, and submarines.

“I am a topsider for sure,” Danaher jokes, as all of his deployments were on surface ships.

While he was in the service, Danaher earned his undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering technology, his Master’s degree in mechanical engineering and later achieved an Educational Specialist degree from Liberty University.

All of this knowledge made Danaher the perfect person to teach, which he did at several stops in his tour of duty.

“I had the opportunity to teach while I was in the military, so I knew that I enjoyed working with students and helping to get students to be successful,” says Danaher. “It was a natural transition for me to pursue something that was gratifying and that I enjoyed when I retired.”

Now that he’ll be at RCC full-time, his experience and knowledge will be available to any student in the program. Danaher recognizes that many students would rather — and in some cases — must take classes online. He’s crafted a program that will allow for that, with a few exceptions.

“With the second year of the program, classes will be a highly technical,” he says. “Students will have to travel to campus for the hands-on aspects, like the labs for the classes.”

Those hands-on lab classes will be at the Glenns Campus and New Kent Site locations for now, with the idea being to expand to the other RCC locations as the program grows.

With both the Associates in Applied Science Technology degree and as well as the Pre-Engineering Transfer program, Danaher expects that his students will come out ready to move onto the next level, whether that be a transfer to complete their degree at a four-year institution, or to start their career. A phrase that he uses a lot to describe completers of his programs is “well-rounded.”

“I’m looking forward to creating an opportunity for the students in our area — a high-tech, hands-on, highly employable associates degree engineering program,” says Danaher.

“Students are going to have a degree of expertise in electronics, some degree of expertise in fluids, pneumatics, and hydraulics,” he says. “They are also going to need exposure to that automation piece of the program — controllers, computer programming and the ability to monitor those mechanical and electrical systems through a PC-type interface.”

While these skills may help a graduate get into fixing problems with electrical switches and sensors, automatic doors and other related tasks, there is a larger world that is just starting to take off — automation. Many companies, like Amazon and Wal-Mart, already use robots and other devices to streamline repetitive tasks and save the customer money. While some view this as a bad thing or the end of certain jobs, Danaher views this as an opportunity.

Somebody has to fix the robots.

“Folks with those types of skills are in demand, and they are hard to find,” says Danaher. “If we can produce graduates with those types of skills, they will be highly employable.”

Danaher views himself as a “rigorous” and “fair” teacher, whose office door is always open to his students, whether they need help with engineering concepts or the mathematics that support those ideas.

“I’m a demanding teacher, but I am fair,” says Danaher. “I am always open to my students to help them be successful. I will work as hard as they will to make sure that we get that positive outcome.”