Glenn Lightsey and students
Professor Glenn Lightsey is seen here with students who work on various projects in The University of Texas Spacecraft Lab.

When Professor Glenn Lightsey interviewed for a position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM) at The University of Texas at Austin, he had never stepped foot into the academic world before. But he knew two things: he loved teaching and he loved research. These passions manifested themselves through his hard work over the next 13 years as he distinguished himself as one of the university’s elite professors. Thanks to his outstanding teaching and unwavering hard work, Lightsey has been selected as a member of the university’s prestigious Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Established in 1995, the Academy of Distinguished Teachers comprises approximately 5 percent of tenured faculty at the university. Honorees are awarded the title of "University Distinguished Teaching Professor" and serve for the duration of their tenure advising the president and provost on matters related to the university's instructional mission and teaching effectiveness.

During his time at UT, Lightsey has become a pioneer for hands-on learning. In 2002, Lightsey founded the Texas Spacecraft Lab (TSL) and has directed it since its inception. The lab provides research opportunities for teams of undergraduate and graduate students working on projects that ultimately fly in space or the atmosphere.

More than 200 students from all types of engineering disciplines, as well as natural sciences and liberal arts have participated in these projects in the Texas Spacecraft Lab. Lightsey has been the advisor of record for more than 65 independent research projects – most of these involving teams of students.

“My experiences in the Texas Spacecraft Lab continue to provide a competitive edge in my career,” aerospace graduate student Henri Kjellberg said. “Dr. Lightsey has developed a program to add meaning and completeness to our degrees in an environment rich with research opportunities.”

In addition to his work in the Texas Spacecraft Lab, Lightsey has excelled in the classroom since he began teaching in 1999. He has taught over 850 students while receiving an outstanding 4.5 average instructor rating.

He has won many teaching awards including both the ASE/EM Department Teaching Award and the Cockrell School of Engineering Award for Outstanding Engineering Teaching by an Assistant Professor in 2003. He has also won the Student Engineering Council Faculty Appreciation Award (2006), Halliburton Young Faculty Excellence Award (2000), Texas Blazers Faculty Appreciation Award (2003), Big XII Faculty Fellow (2004), William David Blunk Award (2011) and the American Society of Engineering Education John Leland Atwood Award (2011). 

“Dr. Lightsey has substantially modified all the classes he has taught to improve their content and he has created three new classes which are highly rated,” ASE/EM Chairman Philip Varghese said. “Dr. Lightsey was a member of the Aerospace Engineering Curriculum Committee when the undergraduate curriculum was substantially changed for the first time in 20 years.”

Lightsey’s love for teaching and research has created a dynamic teaching style in the classroom.

“Research and teaching are intertwined,” Lightsey said. “You can’t separate them today. I try to teach through my research. But teaching is a part of who I am. I try to relate with my students about what I enjoy and why I enjoy it. I feel like if you can show people the excitement of what you’re doing, then it becomes contagious and catches on with them.”

Since Lightsey began working as a faculty member at the university, he has maintained a very high respect for the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. That respect has made this accomplishment even more meaningful.

“When I arrived at the university, one of the first people I met was a member of the academy, Professor Michael Starbird,” Lightsey said. “During my first meeting with him, I remember thinking what an honor that was. The people in the academy have always been my role models. So to receive this recognition is humbling and gratifying.”

The impact he has made on countless students has not gone unnoticed by his fellow faculty members. According to Professor Wallace Fowler, also a member of the academy, Lightsey is an extraordinary educator.

“Dr. Lightsey is an educator with vision, experience, imagination and tremendous talent,” Fowler said. “He has used student fascination with the glamor of space to create a highly motivational multidisciplinary learning environment in which students learn, teach and monitor each other while meeting exacting quality standards.”

Ultimately, Lightsey believes his greatest reward is not an award or a certificate, but the fulfillment he gets from being a part of his students’ futures.

“One of the greatest benefits of teaching is the sense of fulfillment I receive from giving something to someone else,” Lightsey said. “When students contact me after they graduate and tell me about their careers, it’s very gratifying to see students succeed and I feel so fortunate to be a part of that.”

Lightsey joins three other ASE/EM faculty who are also members of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers: Emeritus Professor Marc Bedford, Professor Wallace Fowler and Professor Philip Varghese. He will be honored at a special ceremony along with six other university faculty members in the fall.