image of Barry Barkel

In Memoriam- Barry Barkel

The former ChE lecturer, passed away on February 27, 2021 in Englewood, Florida. “He brought some real-life experience to the students and had a knack for relating to them.”

image of Barry Barkel

Barry Barkel, former ChE lecturer, passed away on February 27, 2021 in Englewood, Florida. Barry received bachelor’s degrees in both chemical and metallurgical engineering in 1965 from the University of Michigan. He was a chemical engineer at BASF of Wyandotte for 35 years.

As an engineering manager at BASF, he was a liaison from the company to Michigan’s Chemical Engineering Department. When he announced his retirement at BASF, then department chair Ralph Yang challenged Barkel to help move Michigan’s design program to a more “real world” model.  What started as a 2-3 year “hobby job” for Barkel turned into a second career.

“Barry contributed a great deal to the department,” Professor Ron Larson, former department chair, says.   “I had the pleasure to work with him for a number of years while I was chair.  He brought some real-life experience to the students and had a knack for relating to them.

During his time in the department, Barkel introduced significant revisions to both the process design and the process control courses.  He also developed the product design course

He worked with Professor Bob Ziff to improve the process control class, ChE 466. “Barry introduced students to the practical side of control theory — how to program and set up actual controllers, how to draw control diagrams and put safety features into it,” Ziff says. “It was an essential part of the course and provided a good counterpoint to the theoretical controls that we had traditionally taught at Michigan. He did it with enthusiasm and full of dedication to the students because he wanted them to have that knowledge for the design course he taught, as well as for their eventual careers.  He will be always remembered by me and the many students he came in contact with.”IMAGE:  Barry Barkel with ChE 487 mentors in training session in 2012. Johannes Schwank (behind Barkel) taught the course that year.

image of Barry Barkel and design mentors
Barry Barkel with ChE 487 mentors in training session in 2012. Johannes Schwank (behind Barkel) taught the course that year.

In 2011, he introduced the program that uses ChE alumni from industry as distance mentors and team leaders for student teams in the process design course, ChE 487. Barkel, who had assisted with the course since 2000, found over 20 ChE alumni to volunteer their talent and experience to assist. Barkel’s accomplishments were recognized when the ABET accreditation team named his product design course and the distance mentoring program as two of the department’s three major strengths.

Professor Johannes Schwank, taught the design course with Barkel for many years and says, “Barry mentored me and helped me gain an industrial perspective, making my design teaching more effective and realistic. Barry was instrumental in helping me restructure the course content, so that we could give the students the insight and techniques needed to succeed in an industrial career. I treasured his friendship and his deep, practical engineering mind.”

Barkel developed and began teaching a yearlong product design course (ChE 488/489) in 2008. Students enroll in the new course for two consecutive terms. During the first term, they learn the basic principles of product design and the required technologies their team will use for its projects. In the second term, the students learn the principles of directed research and economic analysis, and are required to implement their research and development plans in the lab.

“Barry was great at giving our students an exposure to real world problems and the students loved it. I took over the chemical product design class from him.  It became clear quickly that this was an addition to our curriculum that the students really liked,” says Professor Erdogan Gulari.

Barry embodied the best of our loyal alumni, bringing their career expertise back to help the department educate the next generation of chemical engineers.

Susan Montgomery

He was an active alumnus of the department and Barkel, Susan Montgomery, the department’s long-time Director of Undergraduate Studies and Undergraduate Program Advisor, and alumni relations lead Sandy Swisher, hosted a few alumni open houses before football games. One year, Barkel made his famous beef brisket to share with alumni and their families.

Susan worked with Barkel on many projects to update the undergraduate curriculum. “Barry embodied the best of our loyal alumni, bringing their career expertise back to help the department educate the next generation of chemical engineers,” she says. “Not only did he infuse many real-world elements into our design classes, such as environmental and safety reviews, he also strengthened the teaching of ethics in our curriculum and provided us with material to develop the peer evaluation system that we used for many years to help our students become better team members. I also incorporated the peer evaluation system in my Engineering 100, Introduction to Engineering, classes.  On the personal side, he helped many of us, both faculty and staff, get through difficult times, and could always be counted to make the time to mentor us through many challenges.”

As ChE Administrative Assistant Shelley Fellers notes, “Barry was such a caring person, inspiring me tremendously during my cancer journey. He and Audrey went through so many tribulations and he would share what he learned about them with me, while simultaneously sending me a raunchy joke to lighten the mood.”

Barkel is survived by his wife, Audrey, five children, ten grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions in his name may be made to Fisher House- VA Ann Arbor or to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Ann Arbor

More remembrances from students and colleagues

I was lucky to have Prof Barkel during my ChE 487 senior design course back in spring of ’07. I always thought he was extremely approachable and was a great mentor to all who were fortunate enough to have him as their instructor. I remember going to office hours one time to ask him something regarding some estimates I was struggling with in our design plan and he seemingly pulled an answer out of thin air. I said something to the effect of “We can do just do a guesstimate like that?” And he said “When I’m the project supervisor, we can do whatever we want.” I really enjoyed my time in the ChemE department and it’s entirely due to the people I had the pleasure of working with and being taught by. You will be missed Prof Barkel!

Brian McQuillan (BSE 2007)

“I remember Mr. Barkel well and am sorry to learn of his passing. He brought genuine enthusiasm to our senior design class and provided context for just how challenging chemical engineering in the real world can be, as opposed to only learning academic principles. To Mr. Barkel, educating the next generation of chemical engineers was a passion and a joy, and that positive energy was spread openly among both the students and faculty. In my career path, first as a practicing chemical engineer and later as a patent lawyer, I have striven to take a similar “real-world” approach as first introduced to me by Mr. Barkel by considering what may happen should ideal conditions, variables, and outcomes not be possible. This attention to detail, combined with flexibility, will allow practicing engineers to employ safe operational practices.”

Navin Bora (BSE 2007)

Barry will always be regarded by myself as a friend, undergraduate classmate (in the ChE department although we were on different tracks) and a passionate
professional Chemical Engineer. I got to know Barry as a true Professional Engineer as a guest mentor in the Chemical Process Design course that he developed for the department. Under his guidance, those of us mentors were privileged to be able to share our experiences in support of the next generation of ChE professionals that graduated from the U of M’s Chemical Engineering Department.

May his family be comforted in knowing that he shaped the lives of many students who were grateful for his knowledge, encouragement and support.

Don Ray (BSE 1965, MBA 1980)
Guest mentor in ChE 487

Thank you for bringing such a wealth of industry and real-world knowledge to the ChE department and my education, Barry Barkel. I was fortunate to be a student of your Product Design course (2010-2011, Wolverine War Paint), which gave me an alternative path into a career I really enjoy and gave me a taste of working on products, which has now grown into a passion for entrepreneurship. I’m sorry to see you go but will remember your influence in my education and career. Not only were you a great educator, but fun person to be around – you were nice enough to give us our own lab space, made class entertaining, and drove a quirky Toyota FJ Cruiser 🙂

Steven Sherman (BSE 2011)