Bob Schureman: An Innovator and Educator — On the Leading Edge

submitted by Samanthi Martinez

Life-long model builder, educator, and Renaissance-man Bob Schureman has a priceless observation for model makers “of a certain age”: You sure have accumulated a lot of knowledge – with most of it useful and quite often acquired the hard way! Bob is now 87-years-young and he is still very much involved in sharing his knowledge and skills as a teacher for 52 years – with 45 of those years at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.

“My modeling skills go back to my school days,” says Bob, “when I built a lot of flying models using balsa wood strips, glue and tissue paper.” He says the challenge was not only to build a plane but to make it look good and take pride in the quality workmanship. Bob and his brother would compete to see who could build the best-looking model.

“In those days (late 1930s and early 1940s), we didn’t have pre-cut kits so for our solid models, we would have to carve and shape them.” He says that the best part of this was that they learned to use simple tools but concentrate on quality work. Bob remembers that it was a good feeling to do great work while learning about time and patience.

During high school, Bob took several shop classes that taught him how to use wood working and metal-working tools. Even at that age, he learned the value of “measure twice and cut once” plus the realization of “Wow, look what I made!”

“There was a sense of pride,” reflects Bob, “and most of you model makers know exactly what I mean.” He calls himself a hyperactive person and even as a kid felt constantly challenged and interested in new and exciting materials and equipment. This carried over to his professional life when Bob started a plastic fabrication business in 1956.

Long before CNC milling, they had a couple of large engraving machines and started to do 2D milling with these machines. Bob also built several models for big companies and military industries, which were major challenges. One of his greatest challenges, says Bob, was to make half-scale models of the new Telstar satellite. He even made one with solar cells that transmitted a signal. Bob also did projects for Jet Propulsion Lab, Aerojet Industries, and Douglas Aircraft Company. In the process, he learned a lot about military specs and quality control.

“Because of my plastic fabrication background, I started contacting people about teaching plastics,” explains Bob, “and sure enough I hit the right people.” A couple years before the movie The Graduate, with its iconic line, “There’s a great future in plastics…”, Bob set up his first full curriculum plastics program at Estancia High School in California. Most model makers would have loved this program, Bob muses. He introduced students to injection molding, vacuum forming, fiberglass, and plastic sheet fabrication. He had a 20-ft spray booth and a chopper gun for working with fiberglass.

“My philosophy was that it was one thing to teach a student to be a machine operator but if you taught them to do tooling, you opened up a profitable future for them,” says Bob.  Being near the Pacific Ocean, the big demand was for boats, surfboards and cars. Tooling for the large scale fiberglass projects was fun but messy, recalls Bob, because most of their bucks or plugs were made from plywood frames covered with chicken wire and burlap then coated with plaster of Paris and sanded. Bob recalls how exciting it was for a high school student to build a canoe, a kayak, or a ski boat. The addition of multicolored metal flake made their projects pop!

After Bob retired from the high school plastics program, he became chair of the Plastics program at California State University at Long Beach where he worked for 8 years. Being an inquisitive person, he soon became involved with CNC milling and 3D modeling. With the dawn of new techniques in model making, Bob’s students didn’t take long to realize the great potential.

Bob’s good friend Bruce Meyers had just designed and developed a cute and practical vehicle meant for running about the beaches of southern California – called the Dune Buggy – and he taught Bob how to use polyurethane foam in a plywood frame for the beginning of some fantastic student models and parts. It was a whole lot cleaner than the plaster!

“One of my students designed and built a Formula One race car out of foam that won a state award,” recalls Bob. After being featured in several auto magazines, the car caught the eye of famous car designer, Gordon Buehrig, who taught at the Art Center. Buehrig asked Bob to show him how to build a 5th scale car model out of foam. This was the first time this technique had been used at the Art Center. When Bob finished, Buehrig asked him if he’d like to teach a class at the Art Center. “I told him: Wow! Yes, I would!” says Bob.

This next chapter was the beginning of many adventures with design students and model making. He carried the latest techniques and materials over to the Art Center and in 1993 set up and ran the Technical Skill Center. He retired after 3 years but continued to teach his Materials and Methods classes. Soon, he was asked to set up a Design, Modeling and Prototyping program at Irvine Community College, called ATEP, which is still an ongoing program.

After more than 45 years at Art Center, Bob says that creative designers and fantastic modeling skills continue to make his life interesting. These days, Bob teaches three courses a week at the Art Center and has a new adventure he is developing – involving designers with scientists and engineers and using some of the more exotic materials and processes like graphene, carbon nanotubes, electronic sensors and the many computer control systems. He’s calling it Research Design and Development (RD&D) and hopes to get it established by 2017.

And, yes, Bob still makes a lot of fun models, large and small.

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