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Oklahoma State University professor takes hands-on approach to teach about aerospace propulsion and power

OSU Research Matters is a bi-weekly look inside the work of Oklahoma State University faculty, staff and students.

Dr. Kurt Rouser graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1995. He immediately entered active-duty service as an Aerospace Engineer, where he worked on rockets and jet engines. After more than 20 years of service, he retired from the Air Force in 2016. His love of interacting with others and desire to share his real-world experience led him to becoming a professor in Oklahoma State University's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program, specializing in aerospace propulsion and power.

In this episode, Meghan Robinson speaks with Dr. Rouser on preparing students to enter the workforce with relevant knowledge beyond their academic needs.


Oklahoma State University
Dr. Kurt Rouser

ROBINSON: Dr. Kurt Rouser graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1995. He knew when he finished serving our country that he wanted to teach. Now, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, specializing in aerospace propulsion and power, he uses his real-world experience to better education his students.

ROUSER: I'm actually developing right alongside the students. I have a saying with my students that this is going to be a journey together of scholarship and discovery, so that I intentionally pick out material and subject matter and things to research that I don't know the answer to, so we're learning together. My experiences in the Air Force to help me prepare for that - I spent three years doing intelligence analysis. I won't say much more than that, but then I did three years of maintenance engineering. So, at Tinker Air Force, just down the road, I spent three years there trying to develop and call out repairs for engines, and then went off to Tennessee at Arnold Air Force Base, where we qualified engines for testing. And so, the first F-35 engine that was qualified for flight testing came through our jet engine testing stands out there. And so, I had to learn how to set up a test, how to reduce data from that in a real-world setting. And then I bring those experiences into the classroom.

ROBINSON: Dr. Rouser’s teaching is very hands-on. In fact, our interview took place inside a wind tunnel that he uses to simulate speed for aircrafts.

ROUSER: When you take a full-size aircraft and try and figure out how you're going to fit that in the wind tunnel - it doesn't work. But you can scale an aircraft down by a characteristic number that's called the Reynolds number, and it's basically a function of length, length scale. So, you can scale that down and then test it in the wind tunnel and learn about the basic effects that it's going to see in flight. Well, this one tunnel is good for that. We can get aircraft in there. Jet engines do not scale the same way because of combustion. The chemistry does not scale with just length, but propellers do scale like wings like aircraft. And so, we can test those in a wind tunnel as well. 

ROBINSON: The wind tunnel is one example of how Dr. Rouser gets his students involved in the research process, something that is very important to the professor. He compares it to the chicken and the egg – what comes first? The teaching or the learning?

ROUSER: Can I teach them in the classroom, give them learning they need, and then bring 'em into the lab and have them be effective in the lab and in actuality, both work. And so, in some cases I'll connect with a student in their freshman year. Get 'em involved in the lab first, get 'em exposed to how the lab operates, get 'em exposed to some of the basic underlying theory and then in their sophomore and junior years, try and get 'em connected with the research scholarship, give 'em a task, a question to answer. Develop how to how to identify what the challenge is, what the question is that needs to be answered and then develop an approach to answer that question. And then by the time I get 'em in their senior year in my class, they already have a lot of the foundational knowledge they need. So, it can start with research and then come into the classroom. Or in some cases I'll connect with a student in the classroom and then bring them into the lab. And in their senior year, when they do a design project, they're using the information that they got, the knowledge they got from my class. And they're using that to design an actual product.

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