For the past five decades, Professor Wallace Fowler has shaped his legacy as a distinguished and highly regarded educator at UT Austin, turning out hundreds of outstanding aerospace engineering graduates, a task he has called his highest achievement.
On Jan. 26, the community showed their gratitude with a mini symposium and cake celebration to honor Fowler’s retirement and over 50 years of service to the university. Fowler has been part of the Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM) department since 1965 and has left a positive impression on his students and colleagues.
Symposium speakers included alumni such as former NASA astronaut, Paul Lockhart and leader of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, Alan Stern, who spoke about how Fowler shaped their success.
Lockhart read a thank-you note aloud, thanking Fowler for being there at critical moments on his journey toward becoming an astronaut.
“Yours is a legacy of hand-on instruction, of encouragement to each and every student, of advice given with a dose of humor, of willingness to devote yourself to the cause of space exploration,” Lockhart said. “To close my long, overdue note to you, and to thank you greatly for all you’ve done for everyone who has come to rendezvous with you, it is my pleasure to say, in-person, thank you for this time.”
Stern talked about how Fowler encouraged him to take risks and embark on new opportunities, such as founding a commercial spaceflight company and going on an expedition to the South Pole.
“He was all about telling his students to try it, just try it, you can do anything, and go, and experiment, and see what you like doing best, you know, poke your nose into this and try that,” Stern said. “That’s been a major hallmark in my career.”
Other speakers included former students who had gone on to successful careers such as Emergent Space Technologies, Inc. founder and president George Davis, Ames Research Center director of engineering David Korsmeyer, author and former NASA Johnson Space Center space flight instructor Robert Mahoney and NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center ISS payload operations director Carrie Olsen.
Fowler first became interested in airplanes as a child in the 1940s, watching B-36 bombers on training flights in Greenville, Texas. He went on to obtain a bachelor's in mathematics and a master's and doctorate in engineering mechanics — all at UT. After graduating in 1965, he knew he wanted to stay on the Forty Acres, so he joined the ASE/EM faculty where his research has focused on design methodology, the modeling and design of spacecraft and planetary exploration systems.
“Wally is nothing less than the heart and soul of aerospace engineering program at UT,” said Noel Clemens, ASE/EM department chair, at a special dinner that evening following the symposium. “Throughout his career, Wally’s primary focus has always been to educate and mentor the next generation of aerospace engineers, both undergraduate and graduate.”
Fowler’s many awards — the UT System Regents Outstanding Teacher Award, the Texas Exes Excellence in Teaching Award, and the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation Teaching Award, among others — were mentioned at the dinner, but stories about Fowler as a teacher stole the night. In preparation for the event, the department sent out a request for memories about Fowler, and Clemens shared some of the responses that flooded in.
One former student, Bekah Siegfriedt, said that, during her years at UT, she thought of Fowler as her stand-in grandfather. “He added a level of humor to the department that made you hope you would run in to him every day so you could get your daily dose of Fowler laughter in,” she said.
“Although it may seem ironic, major research universities like UT are not always as appreciative as they probably should be of master educators like Wally,” Clemens said. “But let me say loud and clear that Wally, your colleagues recognize the critical role that you played in making us a great aerospace program over the past 50 years, and for this we are truly appreciative.”
If you want to let Dr. Fowler know the impact he's made on your life, please consider making a gift to the Marsha and Wallace Fowler Scholarship. You can make a gift online or by contacting Bliss Angerman at 512-232-7085 or firstname.lastname@example.org