Published: April 24, 2020 By

 My PhD is ultimately a path back to teaching. The three years I taught at West Point were the most rewarding years of my military career.

Veteran will apply skills from PhD research to mentoring West Point cadets.

For PhD student Brodie Hoyer, the opportunity to instruct and mentor cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is well worth the rigor of getting his PhD in three years. 

Having attended West Point himself, he wanted to return to share with students what he learned during deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and various locations throughout the U.S. 

After receiving his master’s degree from Stanford University in 2013, Hoyer taught at West Point for three years. Soon, he’ll be returning with his mechanical engineering PhD and tons of research experience. 

“My PhD is ultimately a path back to teaching,” Hoyer said. “The three years I taught at West Point were the most rewarding years of my military career.” 

Associate Professor Mark Rentschler, Hoyer’s PhD advisor, said he recognized a sense of purpose in Hoyer from the very beginning. 

“Brodie’s goal was clear in that he wants to be an instructor,” Rentschler said. “When you’re committed and know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’ll make it happen.”

He said there are no shortcuts to receiving a PhD at CU Boulder. Hoyer is doing what most do in about half the time.

Bill Doe, a research development officer with the College of Engineering and Applied Science, went through a very similar program 30 years ago and also graduated from West Point. He said Hoyer is a clear leader among his peers, an intelligent, diligent and humble engineer of deep character.

Hoyer’s research investigates how microtextured surfaces interact with soft tissue, particularly useful in improving the efficiency of medical robots inside the gastrointestinal tract.

“Imagine treads on a small mobile robot,” Hoyer said. “We’re trying to predict what qualities those treads need in order to move efficiently and without damaging tissue.”

The lab group aims to model how these treads create traction, so they can predict how a robot will move inside the body.

“It’s always energizing to be in an environment where people are excited to come to the lab and are passionate about their research,” Hoyer said.

Medical robot
A scaled-up prototype of a medical robot in the Rentschler Lab.

Many skills Hoyer acquired as a leader in the military translate well to his research.

“Being a leader in the military generally entails being confronted with vague or poorly defined problems that can change rapidly with potential for catastrophic consequences,” Hoyer said. “I think leaders develop a sense of when they have enough information to make the best decision possible.”

Hoyer said there is a saying that a 70 percent solution now is better than a 100 percent solution later.

Hoyer said he also believes the military does a good job in helping leaders and soldiers develop their ability to express themselves confidently and clearly in speaking and writing, a skill that will continue to impact his teaching career to come.

“Whether it’s briefing your soldiers on a combat mission or teaching beam theory to a classroom of cadets, there is a common need to speak clearly and concisely, understand your audience and encourage active listening,” Hoyer said.