Murphy Award winner: Kathleen Howell

April 16, 2014  

Kathleen Howell

Kathleen Howell, the Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Five exceptional teachers have been selected as recipients of the 2014 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. This week, Purdue Today will feature a profile on each of the recipients. This profile focuses on Kathleen Howell, the Hsu Lo Distinguished Professor of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

For Kathleen Howell, using visualization in her teaching -- from digital 3-D models to interactive movies -- is key.

After all, the more students can see physical representations of the concepts taught in her aeronautics and astronautics classes, the more they can digest them, and the more they can connect their classwork with real-world applications, Howell says.

"I am personally a visual learner, so I appreciate visual thinking, visual learning and visual communicating in this discipline," Howell says.

"Also, the more I can demonstrate to the students that they are learning about 'real' things -- that what they learn is truly applicable to their future careers in aerospace engineering -- the more they realize that they can be the engineers who solve the next generation of problems in our field. That kind of realization often leads to a long-term commitment to and interest in the subject."

This focus on visual learning, Howell says, creates clarity about difficult topics -- such as the three-dimensional motion of a space vehicle -- beyond information conveyed solely through lectures, equations or static images. It also helps students become more effective communicators and collaborators.

In addition to using high-tech visuals in her classes, Howell uses computer models of actual spacecraft from missions with which she's been involved to underscore the academic material's relevance.

Howell also discusses her involvement in ongoing space missions, including serving on the mission design teams for several NASA projects. They include ongoing missions to study the moon's interaction with the sun and the Martian atmosphere.

Howell's interactions with researchers in the discipline yield ideas to share in class and prompt timely discussions with students, she says.

She keeps in close contact with organizations and engineers seeking qualified students for summer or permanent job opportunities. She also stays abreast of the industry's current job market.

In this way, Howell helps her students come full circle, she says.

"I really enjoy interacting with my students," she says. "For me, my biggest achievements are watching students understand a concept, realize its applicability in the real world and then prepare themselves to become the next generation of outstanding engineers. "

Writer: Amanda Hamon Kunz, 49-61325,

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