Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Incredible Scholars: 2015 Heritage Scholarship Winners

As soon as the spring commencement ceremony closes, we at LETU begin anticipating the next academic year and the students it brings. One group that will be joining us in Fall 2015 is the latest Heritage Scholarship Competition winners. These are students who have shown exemplary academic standing through GPA, SAT and ACT scores. They submit an essay and video and then undergo a rigorous interview process with faculty. The ten winners of the competition are awarded over $100,000 in scholarships. As we look forward to the 2015-2016 school year, we'd like to take a moment to introduce you to three of these incredible students who have won the prestigious Heritage Scholarship Competition:

Noah Bronner of Thompson Falls, Montana plans on studying Professional Flight, Maintenance Concentration. Our favorite quote from Noah: "I hope I can gain a strong foundation of understanding and knowledge so I can ask and learn to ask intelligent questions." 

Ian Fore of Stillwater, Oklahoma will pursue a degree in Computer Engineering. Our favorite quote from Ian: "I seek to build a network of peers and professors who are not only interested in my academic and career progression, but also my spiritual growth and well-being."

Kristen Villareal will study Engineering, Materials Joining Concentration. Our favorite quote from Kristen: "The party don't Spock til I Vulcan." (Ok, she doesn't actually say it in the video, but it's there.) 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

LETU's Remotely Piloted Aircraft (Drone) Programs: The Future of Aviation

This week, LeTourneau University's Dean of Aviation, Fred Ritchey, is traveling to Austin, Texas, to testify before the Texas State Senate in regard to HB2167, a bill that clarifies the use of remotely piloted aircraft in Texas for a number of purposes. Dean Ritchey is testifying about LETU’s new program and the need for our faculty, staff and students to be able to operate drones legally and safely as they train for their degree completion. 

When R.G. LeTourneau was alive, back in the 1950s and 60s, the world was filled with fantastic visions of the future. These dreams included flat-screen televisions built into walls and cars that zipped around quietly and without pollution. We are truly living in the Jetsons' world today. One of the most vexing challenges for technology, though, exists in the constraints placed on us by that ever present physical force: gravity. We haven’t beaten it completely, but with the advent of improved battery technologies, the GPS satellite system and radio control technologies, we are ever closer to seeing skies filled with new and exciting unmanned aircraft. 

Drones rose to prominence, as many technologies do, in the military. But the invention of smaller drones, sometimes called quad-copters or hexa-copters (depending on how many rotors they have), is taking the aviation world by storm. It is estimated that in the next ten years, the remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) industry will grow by more than $82 billion. This industry is expected to create more than 100,000 new jobs. And that’s where LeTourneau University steps in. LETU has been on the cutting edge of aviation training since 1956. Just a few years ago, we were the first university in Texas to offer FAA-approved training for students to become air traffic controllers. Today, our aviation programs continue to excel in every way. And we look to the future of aviation as we step into the world of remotely piloted aircraft. 

Beginning this Fall, LeTourneau University is offering a Bachelor of Science degree in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems with pilot, technician and electronics concentrations. What could graduates do with this degree? Those 100,000 expected jobs will certainly include fantastic opportunities in agriculture, search and rescue, aerial videography, inspection of oil refineries and power lines, police work and firefighting—and even commercial delivery of products as companies like explore that potential. LETU alumni are already pioneering this new field of aviation at industry leading corporations including Textron Systems, UA Tacsolutions, Neany Inc and UAV Aviation Services. Our Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems instructor and LETU alumnus, Ruedi Schubarth, worked for a defense contractor operating unmanned aircraft systems in support of training and contingency operations in the U.S. and overseas.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to date, has expressed concern over flight safety when drones are flown in the same air space as commercial and private planes. Stories about close calls with commercial aircraft are making the news almost weekly. The FAA’s regulations continue to build and evolve over time. This shouldn’t be viewed as a limitation to the future of unmanned aircraft, but in fact a great opportunity for LeTourneau. It is anticipated that drones used for commercial purposes will require certified pilots to fly them. As both federal and state legislators thoughtfully consider the legalities of these new technologies, LETU is at the forefront of the conversation, and we look forward to seeing our own Dean Fred Ritchey advocate on behalf of our new program this week in front of the Texas Legislature. 

For more information about LETU's exciting new program, click here

To learn more about the proposed legislation in the Texas Senate, click here

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Incredible Students: 2015-2016 Student Body President Morgan Weaver

Jenna Pace is a writer for LeTourneau University and took the opportunity to meet with 2015-2016 Student Body President Morgan Weaver. Weaver has previously been involved with LETU Tennis, served as YAC Coordinator and team member of Themelios Cabinet, and recently received the R.G. LeTourneau Legacy Award. He has an palpable dedication for LETU and serving its students. 

JP: What made you want to run for Student Body President?

Morgan Weaver
MW: I got to see the job when I got involved in student life on YAC. It was cool to see their passion for what they do and it really appealed to me. When I checked my motivations, I didn’t want to do it to for a resume builder. I just wanted to do it for the job. I feel equipped and it’s something I’ll enjoy. I’m excited about it.

JP: What are some plans you have for next year as Student Body President?

MW: We’re going to have one morning every week that I can meet with students over coffee – free coffee – where they can come and share their ideas. I’m going to be intentional and ask lots of questions. It’s probably what I’m most excited about.

JP: What is the main goal you'll be working toward next year? 

MW: I want to listen and see in what ways I can get involved in students’ lives and create open lines of communication. It's not something that just happens; you have to be intentional about it. I want to see this school grow.

JP: How has being at LeTourneau shaped you as a person?

MW: When I graduated high school, I originally wanted to go to a big state school, but God brought me to a small, private Christian school, and I’ve been humbled a lot. I’ve learned about how strong Christian community can be and just how much I’ve needed to learn and grow before I go out into the secular world. I’ve also learned that ministry is wherever you are.

Stay tuned next year to learn more about the work Student Government will be doing! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Never Again: One LETU Student's Efforts to Rebuild Rwanda

100 days. 1,000,000 dead. It’s been only 21 years since one of the bloodiest events in human history. The Rwandan genocide began swiftly, and in three months, an estimated one million Rwandans were dead.

Rwanda’s ethnic tensions had been high between the Hutu and minority Tutsi communities for decades. Conflict came to a head on the evening of April 6, 1994, when Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down and he was killed. While those responsible for the president’s assassination remain unidentified, the extremist Hutus blamed the Tutsi people and the genocide began that night.

Radical Hutus targeted the Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Neighbors killed neighbors, friends killed friends, and husbands killed wives. Citizens reported that the Hutu-run government threatened to kill its own Hutu people if they did not kill the Tutsi themselves.

Charity Mutesi
The murders were brutal, chaotic and constant for over three months. BBC reporter Lindsey Hilsum, in Rwanda at the time, said “I’ve seen some of the most terrible things today that I’ve ever seen. It’s been absolutely horrific.”

Rwandan Charity Mutesi was two years old at the time of the genocide, but it still affects her and millions of others two decades later. She is frank in describing her fellow Rwandans.

“People are still broken.”

Soon after the genocide began, Mutesi, along with her parents and siblings, were among those fortunate enough to escape to nearby Uganda.

“We only know that my uncle died fighting. We don’t know where or even if he’s buried. I wish I’d met him.”

Mutesi and her family returned to Rwanda once it was safe. Two decades later, she is now a business student at LeTourneau University, but more than that, she is an advocate for her country that is now home to an overwhelming population of orphans and widows of the genocide. 

“I have grown up in a country with broken people. There are very, very many orphans and widows. It breaks me seeing people being hopeless,” she said.

And it does break her – there is a distinct urgency in her voice as she explains the plight of the Rwandan people, especially women. Most are unable to find employment and are left destitute.

“To me, I see women being unable to work as being the main reason there’s a lot of poverty. If a woman can work, there can be a lot of change,” she said.

According to Mutesi, many African women have only one option for survival: to get married.

“That’s not what I want for women. I don’t want them to look to a man and say ‘I want a man to be my everything.’ I want husbands and wives to love each other but I also want women to be independent on their own.”

Mutesi took that desire to Senegal, where she interned with the United Nations in December 2014-January 2015. When she was initially told she would be filing and making coffee, she approached her supervisor with a petition to do more extensive work. Her request was granted, and she approached her time there with the goal of furthering independence of women.

During her internship, she traveled to villages to research women’s need for work and met with banks and beneficiaries to study how microfinance institutions could help African women be gainfully employed. At the end of her time there, she presented her findings to the UN.

Her internship was not the beginning of her work to aid victims of the genocide. She spent her youth working with Never Again, a human rights organization born out of response to the genocide that aims to build peace in Rwanda through its citizens. Mutesi was president of the chapter at her school, where she worked to educate young Rwandans about the genocide.

“Our main idea at Never Again was to keep young people from growing up with an ideology of hate. Some youth have too much hate in them; they are broken. We were being an impact on them.”

With Never Again, she also took part in fundraisers for orphanages and spent time with children who were left orphans from the genocide. She recalls one particular girl with fondness: “When we used to go to the orphanage, I would feel like I wasn’t doing enough, so I ‘adopted’ one girl. I worry for her like I’m her mother. I hope to go home soon and see all the girls again.”

Nor was her time at the UN the end of Mutesi’s work for the healing of Rwanda. She is resolute in her plan to use her business degree from LETU to start an organization that will empower women to be independent and propel them out of poverty.

Remembering genocide victims at the Walk to Remember
“I want to start my own orphanage or microfinance institution to help women and orphans. I want to be a voice to people who are helpless. It’s going to be hard, because people are still broken. I’m not sure exactly what path God will lead me to, but I just want Him to use me to help the hopeless.”

Her Excellency Prof. Mathilde
She already has support; during her internship, she made connections with people who want to help her start a microfinance institution. Presently, as a student at LeTourneau University, she recently organized the “Walk to Remember” that was held at LETU’s campus in Longview, Texas, on Saturday, April 11 to commemorate those lost in the genocide. This worldwide event was the first time LETU participated
 and featured Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the U.S., Mathilde Mukantabana, as a speaker.

Rwanda has, for more than 20 years, been a place of suffering, devastated from the genocide for the majority of Mutesi’s existence. Her desire to dedicate her life to help rebuild her home is palpable. When she speaks of Rwanda, it’s indisputable she feels the pain of the genocide victims, but her voice is also full of hope for a restored future. She is that future.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Incredible Explorations: Alumnus Discovers a First in Astronomy History

Dr. Sean Brittain has long had a penchant for new experiences. When he was 18, he ventured halfway across the country, from Virginia Beach to LeTourneau University, for the experience of being somewhere different. He decided to pursue astronomy during graduate school after receiving a  bachelor's in chemistry, a jump between relatively different fields. Now, he’s one of the first individuals in the world to observe and track the formation of a planet.

Brittain, a professor of astronomy and physics in Clemson University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, graduated from LETU in 1997 with a degree in chemical physics. Then, in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, he made what he refers to as “crazy shift” in areas of study.

He began working with faculty studying the organic chemistry of comets, which morphed into studying the chemistry of disks around young stars. The trajectory of his research did not, however, stop there.

“As projects do,” Brittain said, “our focus started to morph a bit, and my interest became in trying to answer the question: ‘how did the planets themselves form in these disks?’”

He and the Notre Dame faculty took their initial research and applied it to the theory that planets form from the disks around stars. Brittain explains that planets are formed by grain-like material that sticks together, eventually growing into a larger mass – like 'giant dust bunnies'.  

“If they get large enough, they collapse in under their own weight and start sweeping up gas out of the disk and start forming planets," he said. "That’s the idea, at least, but it hadn’t ever been observed before.”

Upon graduating from Notre Dame, Brittain was awarded the two-year postdoctoral Michaelson Fellowship – now called the Sagan Fellowship – with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). There, he continued his studies on disks of stars and monitored his observations long-term. 

NOAO's Gemini telescope
After years of ongoing research, Brittain and his team were given the chance to utilize NOAO’s Gemini telescope in Hawaii, which was no small feat in and of itself. NOAO telescopes are shared by multiple countries due to cost – typically $80-100 million to build one telescope. Not to mention, operation can cost up to six figures per night. In order to gain access to such a limited and sought after resource, research groups must submit proposals for approval to receive the opportunity to use it. Brittain was granted approval on multiple occasions.

Brittain explains how this led to a first in astronomy history, known as HD100546 – the first star to ever be observed forming into a planet:

“We made a hypothesis that this was a planetary-type orbit. By that point, the project had gone on for about a decade. We took our data and, sure enough, we had this gas that’s in a planetary orbit around the star. It turned out to be the size we expect for disks to be forming around planets. This is the first time we’ve been able to see a forming planet. The disk around it will eventually become its moon and, finally, it will be something more massive than Jupiter. It could be anywhere from five to 40 times the mass of Jupiter. It’s going to be a big thing.”

Brittain says this project took the ability to ask questions with confidence or, as he puts it, to “be curious and have that curiosity cultivated.” It’s a quality he says he gained as a student at LeTourneau and credits low student-to-teacher ratio.

“When you have small classes, you get a chance to interact with faculty, and the faculty get a chance to respond to you in a way they wouldn’t if you’re sitting in a lecture hall with 200 other people,” he said.

“I had lots of opportunities to do research early on at LeTourneau, so I came into grad school ready to do hands-on work. I took that with me when I went to Notre Dame, which prepared me to make the shift from chemistry as an undergrad to astrophysics as a PhD student. I had the confidence to do that. Even though I moved to a different area in my PhD program, the skill set that I gained at LeTourneau was extraordinarily valuable.”

Seeing the outcome of HD100546 would be phenomenal. The timeline, however, is currently estimated at one million years for it to become a full-fledged planet. For now, LETU is more than satisfied that one of its own accomplished such an incredible discovery.