Jim Bernard was chair of Mechanical Engineering for seven years, then founding the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology (now the Virtual Realities Application Center).
Jim Bernard was born in 1943 to Nicholas (deceased) and Gayle Bernard. He grew up in Royal Oak, Michigan, near the Detroit area, surrounded by “automobile people,” as he described them. That fueled Bernard’s love for cars and the start of his career in automobile handling, during which time he examined vehicle models using computers to predict the outcomes of various situations.
Bernard earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics from the University of Michigan in 1966. He married his wife Mary in August of the same year. They have four children—Jim Jr., Susan, Jen and Jay—and 11 grandchildren.
His master’s and doctoral degrees were also earned in engineering mechanics from the University of Michigan in 1968 and 1971, respectively. Upon graduation, Bernard worked at a research institute at the university before joining the mechanical engineering faculty at Michigan State University in 1976.
He was hired to the Iowa State University faculty in 1983 when he became chair of the mechanical engineering department, a position he held until 1990. After that, Bernard helped found and became the first director of the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology—now known as the Virtual Realities Application Center (VRAC). Bernard was the director until 2003, when Jim Oliver took the position.
Amazed with the fast evolution of technology in the 1980s and 1990s, Bernard became fascinated with virtual applications and computers. Beginning with simple animations, Bernard and his colleagues at VRAC started creating animations for engineering purposes, like assembly lines. Those animations became the strength of the center, drawing in students and people from all over the country.
Bernard was also part of the group that created the virtual reality graduate program at Iowa State called human-computer interaction (HCI) in 2000. The HCI program helped establish VRAC as its own center, which took on a different purpose than when it was started as the Iowa Center for Emerging Manufacturing Technology. Now, VRAC is a growing part of Iowa State, and it has been the beginning of many new companies started by Iowa State alumni and faculty alike.
Three companies with roots in VRAC had founders closely tied to Bernard, and he has served all of them on each of company’s Board of Directors. He was with Engineering Animation Inc. from 1989 to 1995, and continues to serve Mechdyne since he started in 2003 and Demonstratives Inc. since 2008.
Meanwhile, Bernard continued to hold various positions at Iowa State. He was the interim director of the Computation Center from 1995 to 1997, interim dean of the College of Engineering from 2008 to 2009 and an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering from 1999 to 2010. He is currently adviser to the CEO of WebFilings, another VRAC spinoff company.
Bernard has a long list of achievements, several of which come from Iowa State and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a prestigious membership organization founded in 1880 with more than 130,000 members worldwide. In 2001, he was named Iowa State’s Mechanical Engineering Professor of the Year. In 2002, he was named an ASME Fellow, presented with the ASME Distinguished Service Award and given the Iowa State Mechanical Engineering Best Teaching Award. He received the Iowa State College of Engineering Dean’s Leadership Award in 2006.
With such a long career and so many opportunities at Iowa State, Bernard has no regrets and is thankful for every opportunity he was given. Being hired as a department chair at such a young age was an honor for Bernard. His favorite part, though, was working with graduate students and knowing he helped form their careers. He felt lucky to work with the smart, talented people each year.
Since retiring in 2011, Bernard has kept busy with the companies he’s been a part of for many years, but he also enjoys the outdoor life with his family in Colorado. He skis and hikes whenever he has the chance and stays involved with technology. He comes back to Iowa a few times a year to visit VRAC, spend time in the WebFilings and Mechdyne offices and play racquetball with his friends at Iowa State.
Upah, Eleni. College of Engineering News, “Professor Emeritus Jim Bernard continues work after retirement” December 5, 2013. https://news.engineering.iastate.edu/2013/12/05/professor-emeritus-jim-bernard-continues-work-after-retirement/
Iowa State University profile: https://www.engineering.iastate.edu/people/profile/bernard/