Eckerson brings funky fresh grooves to College of Engineering
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 09:12
The room of an engineering student would seem to be one that is kept tidy at all times, with any speck of dust or pile of discarded clothes quickly cleaned the minute its dirty surface touched the floor.
Walking into the room of mechanical engineering major Ben Eckerson, however, isn’t exactly the neatest of places. His tiny room in Collegiate Park is actually a little disorganized.
“Sorry about my room,” he said. “I haven’t had a lot of time this semester to keep it clean.”
But it’s understandable for an engineering major’s room to be neglected during a year of schooling due to the large amount of work and constant busyness that many in the difficult and time-consuming major undergo.
Eckerson, who spent most of his life living in Little Rock, was originally from a town outside of Columbus, Ohio.
“My dad worked at Nationwide Insurance as the lead programmer, and I grew up in the small community of Dublin. Eventually my dad switched jobs and we moved down to Little Rock,” Eckerson said.
His interest in math and science didn’t come from his father, however, but from his mother and her side of the family tree.
“That side of the family is all technical people, like my grandfather has a PhD. in physics, all my male cousins are engineers, both my uncles on my mom’s side are engineers,” Eckerson said. “So I come from an engineering family, on my mom’s side at least.”
Surprisingly, Eckerson’s interest in engineering came not from his family, although that definitely was an influence, but from a TI-84 calculator he used back in high school.
“I started programming on the TI-84 and really enjoyed doing that, and that led into computer science, which was a bit more conceptual than I had anticipated,” Eckerson said.
The 22-year-old’s programming abilities allowed him to create new programs in the calculator, including programs for the quadratic formula and the Pythagorean theorem. Eventually he got into creating 8-bit games and mini “films” as well.
“Initially I started playing the games, and then I thought ‘well how does this work,’ so I went in to the actual code of the game and I would look at what they did to make the games,” Eckerson said. “So eventually instead of playing games in class I was making them.”
His “crowning achievement” as he likes to call it was a remake of a popular online RPG called “Stick RPG.” Taking the basic design of that game, Eckerson made his own menu-based version of it, where the player could go to school, get an education, get a job, earn money and even get into bar fights.
Eventually, when it was time for the programming-enthusiast to select a college, he originally opted to enroll at Baylor University in Waco, Texas as a computer science major.
He was at Baylor for two years prior to coming to A-State, but his sophomore year at Baylor took a turn for the worst as the mathematics he was required to take for computer science became too much to take on.
“Part of me struggling in the classes was probably lack of motivation, but it eventually led me to losing my scholarship at Baylor, and Baylor isn’t exactly a cheap school,” he said. “So, without a scholarship there was no way I could continue going there.”
Eckerson was forced to try to find another school after losing his scholarship.
“I just kept praying to God asking ‘what am I supposed to do?’ and ‘where am I supposed to be’ and out of nowhere Arkansas State University came up. I had never even heard of it, and I’d never even heard of Jonesboro before then,” Eckerson said.
A-State became the first choice for Eckerson because of the quality of the professors and the price of tuition. He decided to switch to mechanical engineering after transferring to ASU as well.
Since coming to A-State, Eckerson has been involved in a number of organizations on campus, including the robotics club and a few research projects.
“I was working on a project this past summer on tire pyrolysis, which is basically a way of reclaiming energy from waste tires that come off of your car, semis and things of that nature,” Eckerson said.
He is also the president of the robotics club, which is currently building a miniature sumo robot to compete in a robotics competition. The competition works the same way a real sumo wrestling match works, with two competitors working to push one another out of a circular ring. An operator doesn’t control the robots, however; they are completely autonomous creations.
“You just place the robot down, push the button, and it goes.”
Besides building wrestling robots and recycling old tires, Eckerson also enjoys playing music. He has played classical piano since he was 4-years-old, and also plays bass guitar in the worship band at Central Baptist Church’s Wednesday night college service.
“Bass is probably my favorite instrument, followed by piano. As far as bass goes, I just really love the tone. It’s mellow as well as powerful, and also kind of funky,” Eckerson said. “It’s really easy to pick up and play, but it takes a lifetime to master.”