Dr. Bourell Receives Lockheed Award for Excellence in Engineering Teaching

     Dr. David Bourell credits his intriguing research, along with his sense of humor and genuine caring about students, for winning the Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems Award for Excellence in Engineering Teaching.

     Bourell, Temple Foundation professor of mechanical engineering in The University of Texas College of Engineering and a researcher with UT’s Texas Materials Institute, has managed to do an excellent job of balancing teaching and research during his 20-year tenure at UT. He has received three major teaching awards, been named a fellow of the American Society for Metals and received two other fellowships while earning 14 patents for his research into selective laser sintering.

     Selective laser sintering uses a computer and a laser to fabricate an item, typically out of metal or plastic powder.  Fabricated objects run the gamut from plastic replicas of human hands to titanium missile tips. Sintering has been used to scan an amputated limb and make a custom prosthesis and to create products that could never be molded, such as a set of intricately carved balls that fit inside each other. These products are constructed in the College’s Laboratory for Freeform Fabrication, where Bourell is a charter member.

     Bourell often brings in hands-on examples of his research to class. That combined with his easy-going, humorous personality are integral to his success in the classroom, a success evidenced not only by his latest teaching award but also by comments he receives on his student surveys. “Awesome and interesting,” “genuinely cares about his students,” and “the best teacher I have ever had at The University” are typical comments.

     Bourell feels that real-life examples are important in capturing student attention. “The mechanical behavior of materials tends to be a very abstract topic in materials science. I feel real-life examples are very important,” Bourell notes. “For instance, if we’re talking about fatigue, I’ll bring in a big chunk of propeller that broke when somebody was flying. Then I’ll jump into a total mathematical treatment of it.”

     Engineering Dean Ben. G. Streetman notes that Bourell is an excellent example of why there is no conflict between teaching and research. “ Our teaching mission here in the College of Engineering benefits enormously from our state-of-the-art research. The opportunity for our students to learn with professional engineers, contributing at the very forefront of their fields, provides students with an experience they will never forget.”

     “Excellence in research and teaching are not opposites,” agrees Bourell, who has published more than 100 articles on mechanical behavior of materials and who spent a year at Germany’s Max Planck Institute in 1991-92 with a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship. “Research is a vehicle for impacting society and culture through advances in knowledge. Teaching is a vehicle for impacting society and culture one life at a time. Research improves humanity, whereas teaching improves humans to in turn make their mark on humanity, ” he explains.

     Bourell credits a high school counselor in Dallas for pointing him toward engineering. “She asked me what I was good at, and I said ‘music.’ She said ‘you’ll never make a living at that. What else are you good at?’ I said ‘ math’ and she said ‘you’re going to be an engineer.’ And that’s what I did,” says Bourell, who was a Texas High School All-State Orchestra member and who now plays bass guitar in a band on the side. After A&M, Bourell went to Stanford University, earning his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in materials science.

     His efforts to make classes interesting, humorous, and relevant have not gone unnoticed by his colleagues and students. His other teaching awards include the American Society for Metals International Bradley Stoughton Award for Outstanding Young Teachers of Metallurgy in 1986 and the Halliburton Award of Excellence at UT in 1992. The Lockheed award, which he received April 21, is given to a teacher “who has dedicated time and energy in abundance to teaching undergraduate and graduate students, leaving a mark of excellence on the entire College of Engineering.”

     Awards aside, for Bourell, a sense that he reaches students makes it worthwhile. “What I enjoy the most are the occasional letters I get from a former student who gives me the best of all compliments: ‘I used something today in my job that you taught me.’ The most rewarding aspect of teaching is a feeling that I’m making a difference in other people’s lives and careers.”