When you figure out what it is that makes you get out of bed in the morning, that's what you have to do.

Julia Cole

With a love of space exploration and an aptitude for engineering, Professor Julia Cole thought she wanted to be an astronaut. But then she found something that suits her better: Helping to develop those same passions in others.

As an undergraduate student, Cole took a four-year, project-based course on flight vehicle design and fabrication, where she fell in love with the world of aircraft and aircraft design. She also discovered her love of teaching.

"I was a TA for that course, so I was part of the leadership for the class, and I loved it," Cole says. "I really felt like it was my niche. When you figure out what it is that makes you get out of bed in the morning, that's what you have to do. I like helping people. I get satisfaction out of helping people understand complex concepts in a way that sticks."

As a professor, Cole remains a proponent of project-based education. She prefers giving students opportunities to learn by presenting them with a real-world problem, such as designing and building a robotic car, where there are tangible consequences to right and wrong answers.

"You can see the wheels turning in students' minds when they realize that they have to do a good job on the design and drawings or it's not going to work," she says. "If you can formulate a good project, it makes a difference in how they learn and retain the material, and it makes it more fun."

Cole completed her master's degree in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech, taking a wide-angle view of systems and systems of systems, then focused on modeling in the applied aerodynamics lab while pursuing her doctorate at Penn State. Her current research involves leveraging the interaction between propellers and wings to create more efficient aircraft designs.

"It's really important because 2 percent of all man-made carbon emissions are attributable to aircraft. That's a pretty sizable impact, so we need to find ways to make aircraft more efficient across the board," she says.

Posted Oct. 6, 2017