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Classroom calling
Engineering professor wins statewide teaching honor

One camera focuses squarely on Kent Lawrence as he lectures to 20 students in Nedderman Hall 109 and another dozen who watch on computers off site. A second camera zeroes in on his desk where, this spring afternoon, he works equations for his structural dynamics class.

Professor Kent Lawrence
Kent Lawrence is the eighth UT Arlington faculty member to win the Piper Professor teaching award.

Such distance education methods were unfathomable when Dr. Lawrence came to Arlington State College (now UT Arlington) in 1961. His willingness to embrace change is one reason the mechanical and aerospace engineering professor recently received the prestigious Piper Professor teaching award.

“I committed myself to ensuring that our students were kept abreast of technological developments,” he said.

Lawrence has not only adapted, he’s been a trailblazer. In 1986 he established the computer-aided design lab in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“It’s a great honor,” he said of the award. “I feel as much a representative of all the faculty who work hard at this profession as anything else.”

Each year the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation presents 15 awards to Texas professors for superior teaching. The roster of Piper Professors includes outstanding faculty from two- and four-year colleges and universities, public and private.

Lawrence is the eighth UT Arlington professor to win the award and the first from the College of Engineering. The others are George Wolfskill, 1959, social science; Luther Hagard Jr., 1963, government; Cothburn O’Neal, 1966, English; Mary Lynn Crow, 1975, education; Allan Saxe, 1977, political science; Andy Anderson, 1983, art; and Robert Francis, 1995, chemistry.

Lawrence received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Tech University and his Ph.D. from Arizona State University. He had no plans to become a professor when he started college. Then he developed “a deep appreciation for the vast and fascinating field of engineering” and found that he also loved the learning process.

“By the time I had completed requirements for my master’s degree, I found myself, chalk in hand, in front of a classroom and committed to a career of teaching.”

A new College of Engineering and a location conducive to professional advancement attracted Lawrence to the campus 45 years ago.

“When I was a young faculty member, I worked in the industry in the summers. The rich engineering community in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was a tremendous benefit to me.”

Richard Alexander, head of the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M University for the past 10 years and a faculty member there for 28 years, credits Lawrence with shaping his career. Recent students heap similar praise.

“Professor Lawrence has an exceptional understanding of the concepts and the ability to convey these concepts and the problem-solving methods in a manner that is readily understood,” said Rick Scott, a senior mechanical engineer in the applied mechanics group for Raytheon, who took a class from Lawrence last fall.

How long will Lawrence continue teaching?

“I really don’t have any target for stopping,” he said. “Everyone says, ‘When you’re ready to retire, you’ll know it.’ I haven’t had that inclination yet.”

— Jim Patterson

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