Ben Jordan was an esteemed professor for generations of Vanderbilt engineering students

Benjamin Thomas Jordan, Jr., 79, passed away Monday, February 21, 2022, at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville after a brief illness. Jordan, an associate professor of the practice of engineering management, was an active faculty member in the Division of General Engineering and had been teaching three engineering management courses this semester.

Ben Jordan

Jordan combined an extensive teaching career with a substantial career in business. His experience in higher education began at Methodist colleges and universities in Texas, Alabama and Kansas. After many years in education, he entered the business world with management training and development positions in entertainment, banking, engineering, technical services, and cable networks, including Opryland USA, Opryland Hotel, The Nashville Network, CNN, First American Bank, Comdata Corporation, and Applied Technical Services Corporation.

Jordan joined the Vanderbilt School of Engineering in 1988 as an adjunct professor. After retirement, he joined the teaching faculty fulltime as a senior lecturer in 2002 and in 2006 he was named associate professor of the practice of engineering management. He taught engineering management, ethics and communication for the last 34 years. His students relished his teaching style of blending academic discipline with real world stories and his focus on the importance of living a meaningful life.

An informal gathering of students, faculty, staff, and members of the Vanderbilt community to celebrate Ben Jordan’s contributions to our students’ lives will be held Thursday, March 3, at 4:30 p.m., Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium,  Featheringill Hall. Remembrances may be sent to Cards and notes to Professor Jordan’s family may be sent to:  Engineering Management, Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, PMB 351518 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37235-1518, c/o Tana Hoffman

“Ben began each semester with a statement and a question to his students, ‘You’re going to get fired one day. What will you do when that happens?’ It jars them every time, but it’s true. One has to have a plan,” said Chris Rowe, associate dean for external relations, professor of the practice of engineering management, and a long-time colleague. “This opener led to the perennial favorite, ‘Jordan’s Theory of Options,’ by which he explained as time progresses one’s options in life are inverse to one’s responsibilities. He used this illustration to teach the importance of goal setting and networking to his students.”

Rowe said students kept in touch with him years after graduation to thank him for showing them not only how to succeed in business but also how to succeed in life. They would tell him that all the crazy stories he told in class weren’t so crazy in the real world. Often, they would ask for advice on how to navigate a life problem, which he would gladly give while always emphasizing doing the right thing.

Jordan encouraged his students to read at least one book a week to broaden their scope and “become interesting people.” His student evaluations were consistently exceptional and are supported by enthusiastic feedback on the Rate My Professor site, which gives students a platform to write anonymous reviews of their professors’ performance. Here’s a sample from Jordan’s students:

  • If you take one class in college to be more successful in LIFE, it would be this one. I find myself referencing this class all the time in the professional world and name dropping the books we read.
  • He is funny, intelligent, and loves his students.
  • He tells the best stories in class.
  • Jordan’s class in one sentence: This class isn’t about being difficult, it’s about making sure you learn something you will remember 5, 10, and 20 years from now.
  • Jordan is the greatest professor I have had. It is full of life lessons you always wish someone would’ve taught you.

“Whenever you think of Ben, you think of his wonderful stories, and you still hear his laughter,” said Ken Pence, professor of the practice of engineering management. “He made the dysfunction of the world a little more tolerable.”

As an ordained minister in the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church, he began part-time pastoring in small churches in addition to his regular job. He was a compassionate and uniting minister, and parishioners returned his love in full measure, according to his family.

Jordan received a B.A. in History from Mercer University, an M.Div. in Social Ethics from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Ethics and Society from Emory University.

Jordan is survived by his wife, Ellen, a son and daughter and their spouses, and four grandchildren, a brother, sister, and a nephew and nieces. He was buried in Georgia in the family cemetery.

Contact: Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6314