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Marsha and Wallace Fowler Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship

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A Star Among Teachers:
Dr. Fowler Focuses on Student Learning
Story and Photos by Tara Haelle

Dr. Fowler was recently honored with the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award and is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor.
Dr. Fowler was recently honored with the Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award and is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor.

With his bright blue eyes sparkling, Dr. Wallace Fowler shows off one of his favorite toys: a gyroscope he uses to exercise his hands. It sits on the same shelf as a triangular puzzle of golf tees and a game that requires the user to pop a small metal ball into a groove inside a clear plastic box. And these are just a handful of the knickknacks on his bookshelves, equally packed with tomes on engineering mechanics and space mission planning, Dr. Fowler's primary area of research. In an office with nearly many toys on the shelves - from Marvin the Martian to a space cadet Smurf - as teaching awards on the walls, it's not hard to see why Dr. Fowler ranks among one of alumni's favorite professors in the aerospace department.

"Teaching is probably more important to me than research in a lot of ways," Dr. Fowler said. "Some people think teaching is the cross they bear to get to do the research they want, but I'm on the opposite side of that."

Fowler's success as an educator doesn't go unnoticed. Already a University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Fowler was recently honored with a 2010 Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, reserved for faculty who demonstrate extraordinary classroom performance and innovation at the undergraduate level. One of Dr. Fowler's most popular classes is definitely innovative: his senior design course on spacecraft and mission planning requires students to plan challenging space missions in teams. Projects from this semester's students include designing a communications system to communicate from under the ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa and an exploration mission that can withstand the harsh, toxic environment of Venus.

"I really enjoyed my undergraduate experience in his class," said Brent Minchew, a graduate student who earned both his Master's and Bachelor's in Aerospace at UT. "He's always this bundle of energy, always happy, smiling and encouraging. Dr. Fowler really loves this stuff and is really interested in his students, and I think that shows."

Dr. Fowler works with a group of students while they build rockets.
Dr. Fowler works with a group of students while they build rockets.

Dr. Fowler's history at UT goes way back to his undergraduate years when he earned his BA in math at UT in 1960. He continued on at the University to earn an MS in Engineering Mechanics in 1961 and a PhD in Engineering Mechanics in 1965. Arriving on campus the same year that Darrell Royal came to coach the Longhorns, Dr. Fowler witnessed the Royal era from end to end. With the endowment of the Marsha and Wallace Fowler Scholarship in 2002, his legacy will live on into the future of UT as well.

"We seeded the endowment because students need support," Dr. Fowler said. "When I was a student, I needed support every now and then too."

These days, he supports his students with more than scholarship money as he uses his gift for communication to enliven class and teach students to apply their math and design skills to real-world problems.

"If you're able to teach and communicate well, it's leverage," he said. "I can go and do it myself and be a party of one, or I can send out an army."

If you want to let Dr. Fowler know the impact he's made on your life, please consider making a gift to the Marsha and Wallace Fowler Scholarship. You can make a gift online or by contacting Amanda Brown at 512-471-4046 or amanda.brown@austin.utexas.edu

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