Head of aerospace engineering chairs industry’s largest R&D forum

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) needed someone to take the lead on organizing the society’s premier gathering of aerospace researchers and technologists in 2015­ -- the world’s largest event of its kind -- they called up George Lesieutre
, professor and head of aerospace engineering at Penn State.

“Lesieutre was a natural choice for us,” said Sandra Magnus, executive director of the AIAA, who picked him for the job “in recognition of his proven leadership skills, his commitment to aerospace education, and his knowledge of aerospace technology and innovation.”

The event in question was AIAA’s Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (SciTech) 2015, held Jan. 5-9 in Kissimmee, Florida. This conference was the second of a new series. The inaugural event, SciTech 2014, was conceived as part of AIAA’s “new event model” as a way to co-locate many individual technical conferences in five major forums that strengthen AIAA’s technical role while becoming more relevant to a larger segment of the aerospace community.

As general chair of the multi-faceted event, Lesieutre had to wear many hats.

“It’s both an honor to be asked to do this, as well as a significant service and commitment of time,” Lesieutre reflected. A member of AIAA for 35 years, he considers the organization his “home” technical community. “The AIAA staff and society leadership were great to work with,” he enthused, “as well as the army of volunteers it takes to pull something like this off.”

Lesieutre worked with an executive steering committee to identify forum themes, as well as a list of dynamic, high-level plenary speakers to match. Resultant topics included science and technology policy; international aerospace; the future of design; diversity and inclusion in the aerospace workforce; and entrepreneurial aerospace.

For the technical conferences, a major part of SciTech, Lesieutre worked with several technical chairs to oversee abstract submittal, review, and paper submission; construction, scheduling and room assignments for technical sessions; and student paper competitions. AIAA also recognized many members of the community with technical excellence awards at two special luncheons, and hosted professional development opportunities for students, young professionals, and women in aerospace.

Finally, Lesieutre helped organize special “Forum 360” sessions, which offered in-depth panel discussions on timely topics relevant to aerospace R&D, from climate change and national security to big data analytics in aerospace and advanced manufacturing and its impact on the design process of the future.

AIAA Executive Director Sandra Magnus was particularly interested in Lesieutre’s commitment to the next generation of aerospace engineers. In 2000, he was presented AIAA’s Abe Zarem Educator Award in recognition of his ability to mentor and guide graduate students through their academic careers.

“With more than 1,000 aerospace students and young professionals in attendance,” Magnus noted, “one primary focus of the SciTech Forum writ large is to inspire and instruct the next generation of the aerospace community.”

While Lesieutre was perhaps the most visible Penn State representative in attendance, many more participated. His department faculty and students alone presented about 20 papers. Aerospace engineering professor Mark Maughmer was tapped for a plenary session on design. Meteorology professor David Titley played a significant role on a Forum 360 panel championed by Lesieutre on climate change and national security. And Lesieutre hosted a reception for Penn State aerospace alums at the event that attracted some 50 people.

“Lesieutre’s leadership of the Aerospace Department at Penn State has produced outstanding engineers and scientists,” said Magnus. It’s the kind of leadership she said is crucial for success.

“Hosting a conference with more than 3,400 attendees is a tremendous amount of work,” Magnus concluded, “We couldn’t have done it without George’s commitment and leadership at AIAA SciTech 2015’s helm.”

Last Updated February 04, 2015