Robert Koester, director of the Center for Energy Research, Education, and Service (CERES) and professor of architecture within the Estopinal College of Architecture, has had a career spanning half a century at Ball State University.

It’s impossible not to be awestruck by the depth of his experiences and contributions. From his beginnings as an assistant professor in 1974 to his pivotal role in shaping the University’s response to energy challenges and beyond, Mr. Koester’s story is one of dedication, innovation, and commitment to academic excellence.

Mr. Koester’s journey began as a faculty member teaching architecture and technology integration. However, his path took a transformative turn during the rise of the solar energy movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Starting in 1982 as the founding director of the Center for Energy Research Education Service, Mr. Koester spearheaded initiatives to address the impact of the oil embargo and promote the use of solar technology for heating, cooling, and electricity production. His vision extended beyond campus borders, advocating for interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle pressing societal challenges in energy and resource utilization, exploring alternatives, and advocating for conservation.

“We had a very clear mission to reach across campus to work with faculty of differing disciplines to help them find ways to connect to those issues through their disciplines,” Mr. Koester said. “And then that transferred to the students. Of course, we created some class opportunities and hosted some conferences. We became quite aware early on that the University itself could be a model of how to engage in energy conservation and use of renewable energies.”

As the founding chair of the University-level Council on the Environment (COTE), Mr. Koester oversees campus-wide sustainability collaboration. Additionally, he co-founded the Greening of the Campus Conference Series, with its ninth iteration in March 2012 highlighting the unveiling of the University’s geothermal district heating and cooling system. He has also served as the University liaison for the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the Climate Leadership Commitment (CLC), and the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS).

Mr. Koester has witnessed monumental changes on campus, including McKinley Avenue changing from primary residences on its west side to a bustling landscaped thoroughfare with hybrid-electric shuttle buses and LEED-certified campus buildings, and the construction of several other structures on campus, including Worthen Arena and Shafer Tower.

Students have also changed. Mr. Koester acknowledges the profound impact of technology on their learning experiences. Raised in an electronic environment, today’s students have a different approach to education, with instant access to information shaping their learning habits. However, Koester emphasizes the importance of guiding students to navigate this digital landscape critically, ensuring the integrity and completeness of the information they encounter. Mr. Koester was quick, though, to highlight what has remained the same during his tenure.

“One thing that has not changed is the collaborative spirit of Ball State. It has always been easy to work with faculty across disciplinary boundaries and with the members of the upper administration. They all have been open, accessible, and interactive, and not isolated like you find in many universities. So, that spirit of collaboration and the ‘get it done’ attitude has been the watchword since I got here.” – Robert Koester

Beyond his administrative roles and academic pursuits, Mr. Koester’s favorite part of being at Ball State remains working with students. He admires their Midwestern work ethic and willingness to tackle challenges head-on.

Koester attributes his longevity at Ball State to its environment—a place that fosters growth and development and a commitment to excellence, collaboration, and adaptation in a rapidly changing world.

“I think the University is remarkably healthy, and that’s been true, not just for me, but also colleagues; it has been a nurturing environment for academic development,” Mr. Koester said. “I think that’s been really a positive thing. I came here for one year, but I stayed longer because it continues to be such a healthy academic community.”

When Mr. Koester retires June 30, he looks forward to finally setting aside time to delve into writing about and reflecting on his teaching experiences.

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