Prof. Dr. Jean Meyer: workaholic, heart and soul
A portrait of the Robotics programme director
© Simone Friese
Jean Meyer lives for his work. He is deputy dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and programme director for the new Robotics degree programme, which he helped to develop. As a Bavarian by choice, he found his professional happiness in Schweinfurt and no longer returns to his home state of Schleswig-Holstein.
At first glance, Jean Meyer seems like a decent bloke. Not young and wild, but not stiff either. His side parting sits properly, a perfect fit. Even so, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jean Meyer doesn't give the impression of a professor, but rather of a teacher. A very dedicated teacher, because one thing is immediately obvious: he loves his job. As programme director, he helped to develop the new Robotics bachelor's degree programme which started at FHWS in Schweinfurt in the 2020/21 winter semester, the first bachelor's degree in Robotics in Germany. The question of whether this degree programme is almost his “baby” draws a grin from him. “Perhaps not entirely my baby,” says Meyer. “A whole range of colleagues actively contributed to the project. But I put a piece of my heart and soul into it.” Jean Meyer seems to put his heart and soul into most things that he works on. “Even if it's a bit unpopular,” he says with a bashful smile, “I am a workaholic in my heart and soul.”
‘AI key player’ at FHWS
At the beginning of the year, Jean Meyer was also appointed to the expert committee for the “2020 Bavarian AI Competition”. This determined where 50 new professorships for artificial intelligence should be located throughout Bavaria. The AI centre in Munich and the three hubs in Ingolstadt, Erlangen and Würzburg got the most acceptances here. The new professorships are located at universities and at universities of applied sciences. An important and promising task which Meyer sees less as a personal recognition: “The appointment to the expert committee was related to my role as a so-called AI hub spokesperson. Würzburg is one of four AI hubs in the Bavarian higher education landscape. Accordingly, the appointment should be seen more as institutional recognition of FHWS as one of the ‘AI key players’ among the greats.” Aged less than 40, although he is not the youngest member of the committee he does pull the average age down.
Jean Meyer speaks almost without an accent, but you can hear a little of the far north here and there when he talks quickly. Born in 1982, he grew up in Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein, but Jean Meyer didn’t really feel at home there. When his physics teacher asked his pupils after the general higher education qualification what they planned to do next, he was one of only two who wanted to do military service. The teacher was perplexed: he was such a good student. Jean Meyer laughs. “Then, as today, the Federal Armed Forces has an unsavoury taste in people's minds.” Nonetheless, Meyer got his camo uniform and studied aerospace technology at the Bundeswehr University in Munich in 2004 after his basic training. He is a classic “12-Ender”, signed up for 12 years with the military. He graduated there as well, at the Institute for Materials and Operating Materials in Erding. Here, Jean Meyer came into contact with robots for the first time. “They fascinated me, these robots as a universal tool which can be used for a huge variety of tasks.” His enthusiasm for this topic is clear to see. “It’s a bit like earlier with Lego Technic, when you connected something and then something moved.”
Teaching as a calling
When Meyer left the military in 2016, he wanted to finally be the “author of his own happiness”. He weighed his decision for a long time: private enterprise or the path to higher education institutions. He had already discovered, during various in-house training courses, that he was good at imparting knowledge. He thus took up a teaching post at FHWS in Schweinfurt, and was appointed to a professorship in the 2017 winter semester. “I find it very satisfying to captivate people with my topics.” It is immediately clear when talking to him that Jean Meyer is capable of this. He is passionate about his topics. So much so that he is almost a little embarrassed by it: “Sometimes I genuinely have to ask myself: Is what I do just a job or is it a hobby as well?” And then the slightly suppressed grin that makes laughter lines appear around his eyes is back.
During his time in Erding, Meyer also met the woman who is now his wife, likewise an engineer but in the chemical sector. He commutes to Düsseldorf every weekend for the relationship. “I don't find it so bad,” says Meyer with a grin. “I am a keen driver, particularly on the Autobahn.” Accordingly, he doesn't think much of the speed limit. “We don't have any children yet, so it works. But if the distance becomes a problem then my wife would definitely have to come to Schweinfurt because I am in no hurry to leave,” he says and grins again.
There is nothing left to draw him to the north. “I am Bavarian in my heart and soul,” he says. “If I fall and bleed, then I bleed blue and white.” That he has already upset some of his Franconian colleagues with this does not bother him. “Franconia is intrinsically also Bavaria,” Jean Meyer says, and potentially only knows to some extent what parochial conflicts he provokes by doing so.
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