These are familiar faces. You recognize them. You know their names. Or their works.
But… did you know these 9 celebrities were also engineers?
Bill Nye, The Science Guy
The “Science” in Bill Nye’s background is actually mechanical engineering. He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1977. After graduation, he headed to Seattle to work for Boeing (jobs) where he developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor still used in the 747 (and starred in training films).
He told the St. Petersburg Times in 1999 that he was always fascinated with aviation and space, and applied to be a NASA (jobs) astronaut every few years, but was always rejected.
During his time in Seattle Nye entered a Steve Martin look-a-like contest that eventually led to his dual careers: An engineer by day, stand-up comic by night… though he would ultimately give up his day job to write comedy. In a few short years he began appearing on Saturday Night Live and later on Comedy Central, and “Bill Nye the Science Guy” was born.
Dolph Lundgrun, Actor (Rocky IV, The Expendables 2)
Before you knew him as Rocky’s 6′ 5″ opponent, Ivan Drago (Rocky IV), Dolph studied chemistry and chemical engineering. Not just once, mind you – Dolph actually holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in Chemical Engineering and was studying at MIT on a Fullbright Scholarship before he decided to quit and pursue acting.
- Field: Chemical Engineering
- Schools: Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden (Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering) and University of Sydney (Master’s in Chemical Engineering)
Tom Scholz, Guitarist for Boston
Before Tom Scholz founded the rock band Boston, he received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT. While he was a student at MIT he made his own pedals for his electric guitar and experimented with sounds. His first job out of college was as a senior product designer for the Polaroid Corporation, where he received his first of many patent credits. From his bio:
This meticulous songwriter, producer, sound technician and inventor has nearly three dozen patents to his name. Some were from his inventions working, and some were awarded for creating the Rockman line of guitar amplifiers and effects boxes. His innovations came from the need he had to capture the sound in his head, on tape, or on stage. To develop and market the Rockman line, Tom formed Scholz Research and Development (SR and D) in the 1980’s, a business that at one time employed 70 people. He still swears by the analog method of recording, in this digital-everything day and age, saying, “Wherever there’s a microprocessor, there’s trouble.”
Tom Landry, NFL Coach (Dallas Cowboys, NY Giants)
Tom Landry received his degree in industrial engineering from the University of Texas (where he played football) and the University of Houston, graduating in 1952. From The University of Houston’s Parameters (2003):
How successful was this UH engineer turned pro football coach? Between 1966 and 1983, the Cowboys advanced to the NFL playoffs 17 times in 18 seasons, appeared in five Super Bowls and won two world championships. Landry, now deceased, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is widely recognized as one of football’s greatest innovators of all time.
Did Landry make use of his engineering education as Cowboys head coach?
“I think there’s no doubt about it,” says Landry’s son, Tom Landry Jr., from his office in Dallas. “That was his answer. That was how he analyzed the game—as an engineer. And he said so many times.”
After his days at UT, Landry came to UH and graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. At that point in Landry’s life, he was playing professional football in New York and preparing for a career in engineering.
“He was working for Cameron Ironworks when we were living in Houston, and he was getting his degree in industrial engineering in connection with that job,” says Landry Jr.
Between 1950 and 1957, the Landrys lived in Houston in the off-season and in the Bronx during the football season because Landry was an assistant coach with the New York Giants. In 1957 Landry moved from Houston to Dallas, where he sold insurance in the off-season before accepting the head-coaching job with the expansion Dallas Cowboys Football Club in 1960.
“In those days, football wasn’t a year-round job,” says Landry Jr. “It didn’t pay very much and there wasn’t much future in it.”
- Field: Industrial Engineering
- School: University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston
- Former Employer: Cameron
Rowan Atkinson, Actor (Mr. Bean)
The British comedian, actor and writer obtained his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Newcastle University in 1975. Afterward he continued his studies, ultimately obtaining the degree of MSc in Electrical Engineering from The Queen’s College, Oxford.
While working towards his degree at Oxford Atkinson pursued acting on the side with a variety of clubs, including the Oxford University Dramatic Society and the Oxford Revue as well as the Experimental Theater Group. It’s here that he was bitten by the acting bug and decided to forgo his career as an engineer.
- Field: Electrical Engineering
- School: Newcastle University (Bachelor’s) and Queen’s College, Oxford (Master’s)
Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Jimmy Carter graduated in 1947 from the Naval Academy with a general Bachelor’s of Science (as was customary at the time for all Naval Academy graduates). He applied for the US Navy’s nascent nuclear submarine program run by CAPT Rickover, feeling it was his best route for promotion (he intended to be a career Naval Officer). But, because of his nuclear clearance and being stationed in not-so-distant Schenectady, NY, few know that Carter ended up being a part of early Nuclear History. From The Ottawa Citizen, January 28, 2009:
On Dec. 12, 1952, the NRX reactor at Atomic Energy of Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories suffered a partial meltdown. There was an explosion and millions of litres of radioactive water ended up in the reactor building’s basement. The crucial reactor’s core was no longer usable.
It was a very exciting time for me when the Chalk River plant melted down,” Jimmy Carter, now 83, said in a recent interview in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. “I was one of the few people in the world who had clearance to go into a nuclear power plant.”
With the Cold War then in full swing, and considering this was one of the first nuclear accidents in the West, the Americans took a great interest in the cleanup.
Mr. Carter was a young U.S. Navy officer based in Schenectady, New York, who was working closely with Admiral Hyman Rickover on the nuclear propulsion system for the Sea Wolf submarine. He was quickly ordered to Chalk River, joining other Canadian and American service personnel.
“I was in charge of building the second atomic submarine … and that is why I went up there,” said Mr. Carter. “There were 23 of us and I was in charge. I took my crew up there on the train.”
Once his turn came, Mr. Carter, wearing white protective clothes that probably, by today’s standards, provided little if any protection from the surging radiation levels, was lowered into the reactor core for less than 90 seconds.
”It was one of the few times I was actually inside a nuclear reactor when it was radioactive, so I learned the dangers,” he said.
During and following his presidency, Carter referenced his experience at Chalk River as having shaped his views on nuclear power and nuclear weapons, including his decision not to pursue completion of the neutron bomb during the Cold War.
Ally Walker, Actress (Sons of Anarchy, Profiler)
Walker went to college with the intention of becoming a scientist or a doctor. She attended the University of California at Santa Cruz and obtained a bachelor’s in biochemistry. But, while there, she worked in the labs as a researcher on a genetic engineering project.
During a semester abroad in London she, too, was bitten by the acting bug. Shortly thereafter she was cast in her first film (Aloha Summer) and her career in science was put on hold.
Herbie Hancock, Jazz Musician
Herbie Hancock attended Grinnell College and double-majored in electrical engineering and music. Though he was an accomplished musician before he even got to college, music was not his first draw. As NPR explains:
By the time Hancock entered Grinnell College in the late 1950s, he was not only an accomplished classical pianist, but also a formidable talent on the boards in jazz and R&B. Still, electrical engineering was the major that first drew his interest in higher education — it would later inform his experimentations in electronic jazz fusion.
Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert
Scott Adams is careful, in the bio on his about page, to clarify that he was never technically trained as an “engineer,” though “engineer” was on his business card. (He worked as a software / telecommunications engineer).
I moved from the bank to Pacific Bell, San Ramon, California, and worked there from 1986 through June 1995. I worked in a number of jobs that defy description but all involved technology and finances. The most recent job was in a network technology laboratory. My business card said “engineer” but I have never been an engineer by training.
From 1989 until 1995 I worked my day job while doing the Dilbert comic strip mornings, evenings and weekends.
Who Have We Missed?
Do you know of any other celebrities who were also famous engineers? Please drop a comment below and let us know.