WHILE IT may not be the first thing someone thinks when they think of ‘Coffee County,’ the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) has been a part of the community for nearly six decades. In the years since its founding in 1964, UTSI has been working tirelessly to teach a growing pool of young engineers from across the nation. Recently, that growth has included a new executive director – professor and H.H. Arnold Chair John Schmisseur. Schmisseur has been a part of UTSI since 2014, and has many years of practical experience in aerospace engineering.
“I spent the first 23 years of my career working for the Air Force Research Laboratory, where I first did research and then later on was a program manager for all the fundamental science work – that’s primarily university work – that the Air Force sponsored in the area of high-speed flight and hypersonics,” Schmisseur said. “That made me a great candidate to be a faculty member.”
Schmisseur has been instrumental in growing the hypersonics program at UTSI, which he said has now become a program of national stature.
“I can hopefully… move from leading one group to leading the whole institute along the same trajectory that my group has experienced the last few years,” Schmisseur said.
While many of his goals involve research and the growth of UTSI, Schmisseur said there were many relationships he hoped to grow as well. UTSI works closely with the Arnold Engineering Development Complex, as well as several engineering focused businesses in Coffee County, and especially in Huntsville, AL.
“Our ultimate goal is because of that relationship,” Schmisseur said. “We would like to draw a lot of the industry that’s in the Huntsville area to think about having operations in Tennessee and ultimately have an economic impact for Southern Middle Tennessee.”
As part of teaching the next generation of engineers, UTSI has also participated in job and career fairs. Schmisseur said the people of UTSI want to be a source of inspiration to kids throughout the Coffee County educational system and show them that there is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to work in aerospace.
“Something that’s a reward to watch – just take a couple of women PhD students out and put them in the middle of a career fair and watch all the young ladies gravitate towards them and say, ‘I want to be an aerospace engineer,’” Schmisseur said. “We’d like to be a place that can both… create that spark that excites them about a future in aerospace and eventually contribute to their training and development as well.”
Despite all of this, Schmisseur would like for UTSI to be a greater part of the surrounding community. The mission of the University of Tennessee is to support the well-being of the people of Tennessee, and Schmisseur said he wants the space institute to be a resource to the region as well as an improver of quality of life.
“I think people here aren’t really familiar enough with UTSI, and the fact that the University of Tennessee has a campus here in Coffee County,” Schmisseur said. “We want to play a much bigger role in doing that, and that includes us revisiting how we can do a better job of contributing to the education of people in this part of the state.” GN