One glance at the office of Donna Gerren, PhD, and you get a good idea of what she’s passionate about. Photos and models of airplanes of all kinds grace the walls and bookshelves many are gifts from grateful students.
A senior instructor of aircraft design, Gerren has brought a breadth and depth of aerospace industry experience to her classes in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Science since 1996. She enjoys introducing her students to systems engineering, which she considers a good fit with the science-based research and in-depth, hands-on learning that take place in the department.
“Teaching is the hardest job, but the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” said Gerren. “There’s nothing like real-world experience. It validates that I have something to teach them that they can’t just get from reading a book.”
Gerren’s interest in aerospace engineering and flight began with a childhood love of planes. She has a pilot’s license and is active in numerous professional and flight-related organizations including Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Boulder Aeromodeling Society, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots.
During her career in industry, Gerren has served on many teams and understands the important role that teamwork plays in the success of an engineering project.
She worked at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, where she designed a large transport aircraft and performed simulator flight-test experiments using NASA flight-test pilots. As an engineer at Design, Analysis and Research Corp. in Lawrence, Kansas, Gerren helped develop Advanced Aircraft Analysis, an interactive computer program to perform preliminary design and analysis functions for fixed-wing aircraft.
Gerren participated in a variety of projects at McDonnell-Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, California, including a DC-10 noise certification program, two-dimensional transonic analysis of supercritical airfoil design, and the design and analysis of high-aspect-ratio transonic wings.
At Martin-Marietta Aerospace Division in Denver, she was a mass properties engineer on Titan vehicles and worked at LTV Aerospace in Houston as a technical advisor in the transcription of Apollo-Soyuz space mission tapes.
Since 1998 she has consulted for Kennedy Aeronautics Inc. Data she gathered on propeller blades were used in the textbook Aircraft Design: A Conceptual Approach.
Gerren understands the importance of assimilating topics from multiple sources to design a system, and she hopes her students will learn a broad understanding of the interrelations of aerospace disciplines and their impact on aerospace designs. She encourages her students to explore and expand innovative approaches to aircraft design.
Most importantly, Gerren wants her students to learn how to think ethically. “We are not teaching them to design washing machines. If an airplane breaks, you have a problem,” she said.
Undoubtedly, more photos and models of airplanes are destined for her office as she continues to guide, teach, and encourage her students.
“When they leave here, I want my students to have a better understanding of systems engineering and how all the pieces of the airplane work together,” said Gerren. “It’s a little bit of art with a lot of science.”