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Retired Astronaut, Engineering Educator to Lead Aerospace Engineering Program

By: 

Toby Weber

Who better to lead an aerospace engineering program than a retired astronaut with an engineering Ph.D. and a passion for education?

That’s a very brief resume of Bonnie Dunbar, a veteran of five space shuttle missions, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, head of the UH STEM Center and now the new director of the college’s Aerospace Engineering Program.

 “We are thrilled that Dr. Dunbar has agreed to lead the Cullen College’s Aerospace Engineering Program,” said Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell Dean of the college. “The program has been an important source of talent for NASA and the region’s aerospace industry for years. I have no doubt that under her leadership it will continue to thrive and help meet the workforce needs of one of Houston’s most important sectors.”

Dunbar, who earned her Ph.D. in mechanical/biomedical engineering from the Cullen College in 1983, has spent her entire professional career in the aerospace field, including stints at The Boeing Company and the Rockwell International Space Division. She joined NASA as a payload officer/flight controller at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1978 and was selected to be an astronaut in 1980. She flew on five space shuttle missions, logging more than 50 days in space. She also had two turns at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C., one as the first deputy associate administrator of the Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications.

After her last flight in 1998, Dunbar served as an assistant director at NASA Johnson Space Center for university research and as an associate director for space and life sciences, followed by five years as president and CEO of the Seattle Museum of Flight.

In 2013, she returned to UH to lead a new STEM center (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) dedicated to improving STEM education and literacy and encouraging more young people to study these fields in college.

In her newest role, Dunbar will work to grow enrollment in the Aerospace Engineering Program, which offers both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. She will also seek to establish research collaborations with other organizations and institutions and encourage more research in the field.

 “It’s no stretch to say that aerospace engineering has been vital to humanity’s biggest accomplishments and it will continue to be so. The Aerospace Engineering Program at UH is an important source of talent to this field. I look forward to helping it reach new heights,” said Dunbar.

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