[UTA Magazine]


At play with Arthur Reyes
Meditation and model building keep computer science and engineering professor grounded

Shake the box and it rattles just a bit. Now open it and examine the hundreds of tiny pieces. It’s an airplane model, much like the ones kids have glued, painted and decaled for years.

airplane model
In typical engineering fashion, Arthur Reyes intricately tracks each task when he assembles plastic models. The computer science and engineering professor's handiwork has won awards at local contests sponsored by the international Plastic Modelers' Society/USA. His favorites: airplanes and spacecraft.

But this builder is no kid. Arthur Reyes teaches at UTA, and he loves these intricately detailed beauties.

Dr. Reyes, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, builds all kinds of plastic models (whatever he can buy at a bargain), but his favorites are airplanes and spacecraft. A serious modeler, he belongs to the International Plastic Modelers’ Society/USA and acquires many of his kits at the Fort Worth chapter’s twice-yearly auctions.

“Most of the members are older men, and they amass ridiculously large collections of unbuilt kits,” he said. “Finally they realize that even if they drop everything they’ll never get to them all, so they sell some of them for significantly less than they paid.”

And Reyes reaps the benefits.

He began building models at about age 5, but his interest waned in high school. “A lot of boys start that way. But a few, after college, realize that they used to have some hobbies and they’re looking for a way to relax and have fun.”

Reyes returned to plastic models when he was in graduate school and continues to make time for them every week.

Professor Arthur Reyes in a meditative pose
Dr. Reyes credits his daily meditation routine with helping unclutter his mind. He advises UTA's Meditation Club, which begins each meeting with 20 minutes of Tai Chi.

“It’s very relaxing. Plus, I think it’s actually very primitive, this connection we have with our hands and our eyes and our minds. We have to build stuff. It’s part of us.”

However, this engineer doesn’t just throw plastic parts together in a random fashion. Calling on his computer expertise, he carefully monitors the progress of each project.

“My method is based on a software development method named Personal Software Process,” he explained. “I make a detailed plan using Microsoft Project, and I keep track of the actual duration of each task. I use these data to track my productivity. My goal in the hobby is to produce models that can win prizes in ‘stock’ contest categories (that is, build-the-kit-as-it-came-out-of-the-box) as fast as possible.”

According to his records, Reyes spends an average of 12 hours on each model. But he continually strives to work faster and better.

“My own challenge to myself is to be more disciplined and productive,” he said. “What’s important to me is actually completing a kit.”

The raw material varies from kit to kit. Some, Reyes calls “just awful,” while the precision pieces in others can lead to models of museum quality. Every kit requires an eye for painstaking detail and a painter’s steady hand.

Dr. Reyes is working to create a family legacy with his hobby, encouraging his two daughters to build kits and to create their own paint schemes. “My main goal in sharing this with my daughters is to teach them three things — follow instructions, calm down and work on a project to completion.

“I’ve actually been very surprised at how happy this simple activity makes me,” he added. “There’s a tremendous satisfaction in just finishing.”

Reyes also finds satisfaction in another calming activity, daily meditation, and he serves as faculty adviser to the UTA Meditation Club. The group meets weekly and begins each session with 20 minutes of the Chinese discipline Tai Chi.

“Then we sit down and we chant,” he said. “This is something foreign to Western culture, but it calms your mind and cuts down on the crazy jumble that’s usually running through your mind. Plus there’s evidence indicating that meditation offers a lot of health benefits.

“I just can’t get over how good it feels.”

He credits meditation with bringing tremendous benefits to his life.

“I stopped being a jerk. I used to insist on having my own way all the time. Living with that as your life goal is exhausting.”

How does he integrate his modeling hobby, meditation and an academic career with a busy family life?

“When I work on plastic models, they consume my full attention,” he said. “When I meditate, I empty my mind of everything else. When I’m at UTA, I give UTA my day, and when I’m at home, I give my time to my family.

“The thing that ties it all together is my desire for balance.”

– Sherry Wodraska Neaves

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