A Diplomate since September 2006, Dr. Terry Howell is the Research Leader and Supervisory Agricultural Engineer at the Conservation & Production Research Laboratory for the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Bushland, Texas.
Most fun class while in school:
Besides PE or recess, I'd guess trigonometry in High School and fluids in college. I recall seeing movies (before the video era) of hydraulic jumps for open channel flow that clearly illustrated two solution flow depths for open channel flow.
Most fun project you worked on:
A sprinkler irrigation design team project.
An item you always wanted:
This is tossup between my senior boots or Aggie ring. I actually had enough college credit hours to order my ring (and receive it) a semester early. Next was a Post Versa Log slide rule (I finally bought a used one my sophomore year).
Favorite song & artist:
Little Deuce Coupe by the Beach Boys (really dates me though)
Classic was Hud (staring Paul Newman); recently Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood)
Dr. Howell answered some questions we had for him recently in an online interview:
Can you share with us on where you grew up?
TH: I grew up mostly in Richardson, Texas. My father worked for a company that designed, serviced, and sold mainly oil field equipment (he mainly was in sales except one year when he was the service manager in Houston) so we moved many times. I attended school in Wichita Falls, Richardson, and Houston before we moved to our farm in East Texas in 1963 where we lived near the town of Edgewood in Van Zandt County.
What was it like for you growing up there?
TH: Typical boyhood in the 1950-1960s era. We rode bicycles and played sports almost every day that it wasn't raining. You never went to school without your baseball glove in the spring. After we moved back to the farm, it revolved around farm work (cattle) and haying. In a much smaller High School than Richardson High School, I was involved in almost everything at school from Senior Class president to school newspaper editor to yearbook editor to sports (football, basketball, and baseball).
When did you know and why did you decide to study agricultural engineering for all of your degrees?
TH: After we moved to the farm, my father became a John Deere dealer. So I became familiar with almost everything green and yellow. He also sold sprinkler irrigation systems through the former company he worked for. I got a deep appreciation for the fundamentals of basic mechanics, especially engines and hydraulic systems. Helping my father install irrigation, I learned some 'practical fluid fundamentals' like centrifugal pump suction lines can't have any air leaks (or they will not prime) and the power of pressure and how drainable pipe gaskets worked. I also learned that moving sprinkler pipe wasn't fun. I really learned some engineering from an aerospace engineer customer that brought in a broken part. He explained it failed in tension as the metal at the end had rough fragments and not in shear that would have smoother ends. Another engineer had a tractor that throw a rod and knocked a whole in the block. He just pulled the piston down and 'hay wired' the rod so the crank shaft cleared it and kept on raking hay with it. When I read through the Texas A&M college catalog, the agricultural engineering major kind of stood out to my interests in farm machinery and irrigation.
How did you like attending Texas A&M University and were you a big Aggies fan? Did you ever get to see an A&M and University of Texas game in person?
TH: I was in the Corps of Cadets, so that mostly answers everything about my undergraduate attitude about Aggies and the second oldest public college in Texas in Austin. Yes, I saw every A&M and University of Texas (or U. of T. to the Aggies) football games when in school, but I only saw one Aggie victory in that era. The Corps always had two 'Corps Trips' each fall. The year we played in Austin was always a Corps Trip and we would march down Congress Avenue in Austin before the game. I was an Aggie fan before I went to Texas A&M, but at A&M you just live for every game. Then Texas A&M was in the old Southwest Conference, and I arrived for my freshman (fish) year with a new head coach for football, Gene Stallings . My junior year (1967-1968), we won the Conference and beat the 'hated' Longhorns and Alabama in the Cotton Bowl in 1968. I was likely a bigger basketball fan then. A&M actually played decent basketball under Coach Shelby Metcalf often winning conference championships. The A&M basketball coliseum, G. Rollie White Coliseum, was nicknamed the 'Holler House on the Brazos.' I believe I might have heard the loudest noise in that building.
Which would you say, you had the most fun times or found most enjoyable? During your undergraduate studies, graduate, or doctoral research?
TH: Well it's hard to say life in the Corps was always fun, especially the freshman or fish year. But the bonds you made with divergent students remain strong to this day nearly 45 years (really just 44) later. In my class (1969), we were the first A&M class where the Corps wasn't required (still no girls then, though). My outfit was known for many things but seldom for our scholarship or military achievements. Despite that, many from my outfit have achieved many distinguished military honors and professional achievements. In graduate school, it was more focused on things of immediate interest, for the most part. Since I just attended one University, my Ph.D. courses were more diverse into other engineering areas- operations research in Industrial Engineering and water resource modeling in Civil Engineering.
You seem very well-traveled; having been invited for so many lectures and presentations. Which city(s) or places are some of your favorite and most memorable for you?
TH: This is especially difficult to narrow down. I was in the USSR (Soviet Union) in 1988 (when it was still a communist nation) as one of the first American scientists over there in that period. That (experience) was a real eye opener to see how they (the natives in USSR) thought and approached engineering solutions. I really marveled at ancient engineering in Egypt, especially the Pyramids and the dams and water structures on the Nile River and the irrigation canals. Recently, a trip to Israel to the Technion at Haifa was highly interesting. Likely because it was one of the very few foreign trips my wife was able to attend, too. She's a teacher (now a curriculum coordinator for English and Language Arts), and her schedule was limited to permit her to accompany me on many trips.
Do you have a particular funny story or travel adventure(s) that was just too crazy or memorable that stand out? Can you share with us?
TH: Most involve Federal Employee Passport issues. Most are nail bitters. I got my passport for to the trip to the USSR in Kennedy Airport in New York from a fellow USDA colleague from Washington, D.C. on the trip just before the Moscow flight. Recently, for my Israel trip my passport arrived via Fed Ex at 10:30 am on Saturday for my 1:00 pm flight departure. In Australia, I didn't attempt to drive but often found myself walking to the right-hand side car door (our passenger door, their driver door), and my colleagues always gave me a hard time wanting to know if I was driving.
You are one of the founding D.WREs of AAWRE- what types of services or efforts would you like to see AAWRE pursue or do you envision?
TH: I think AAWRE is doing a good job. One thing might be to consider adding an on-line or video ethics class if you can't attend a EWRI conference in a given year. I think these ethics classes are valuable that certainly emphasize the importance of engineering ethics. Most states, like my home in Texas, require annual engineering ethics courses for your P.E. license renewal.
Why did you want to become a D.WRE- for you personally?
TH: As we all know, engineering has advanced and is always changing. I think recognition by AAWRE was an important career step. I was in EWRI leadership (as the Irrigation and Drainage Council vice-chair and chair) as Michael Ports was describing the needs for advanced accreditation for specialized fields to recognize professional contributions and certainly competence. That struck my interest in AAWRE as well as the caliber of the professional achievements of the first inductees.
You have been bestowed with some great Honors and most recently the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Heermann Sprinkler Irrigation Award and the John Deere Gold Medal Award in 2008- congratulations!
Of all of the honors that you have achieved so far:
Royce J. Tipton Award; being part of the Texas Environmental Excellence Award (for Agriculture) for Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission; Outstanding Reviewer Award from American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers; Irrigation Association's Person of the Year; Agricultural Engineer of the Year for Texas Section of ASABE; (or another honor not listed) which honor do you personally cherish the most and why?
TH: I have benefitted from belonging to professional societies both personally and professionally. The professional societies can make a difference in improving the quality of practice for this generation, guiding the next generation, and raising awareness of important issues that need to be tackled now and in the future. Working on committees allowed me to understand different perspectives, provided exposure to new techniques, and allowed me to see the larger picture. I feel that I take more in return from being involved in the volunteer activities relative to the time I put in. I look forward to the opportunities to serve on a future AAWRE committee.
Which aspect of the profession, would you say you enjoy most if you could only choose one: teaching, research, consulting, or writing? And why?
TH: These are each honors that I value. As a research engineer, I live mostly through publications. So I highly regard awards for outstanding papers. The three from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and two from American Society of Civil Engineers/Environmental Water Resources Institute are important to me.
You seem to very much enjoy the research and writing aspect of your job and profession... is this correct? If so, what are the aspect(s) that you enjoy most about doing researching and writing?
TH: Yes. But I'm also a Research Leader and now an Acting Laboratory Director that gets me more involved in team building and leading besides other issues like budgeting and personnel management. It is exciting to see colleagues work together and challenge themselves on interesting research topics to solve problems of national importance. I have a few hours less for my personal research and I find it hard to set fixed times for writing, but I spend more time in reviewing colleagues papers and trying to improve them.
Are you still serving as an adjunct professor at University of Nebraska and Texas A&M University? What do you enjoy most about being an adjunct professor and dealing with students?
TH: Yes, and I'm on Ph.D. committees at each university. I think graduate training and mentoring are the keys to maintaining a strong core of our next generations of engineers and scientists.
Can you share with us on your favorite hobbies or interests?
TH: My main hobbies were golf and some stained glass, but neither gets much attention currently. I enjoy hunting and fishing, but even these are taking back places to family and especially grandchildren now. I did just install a turkey call app for my iPhone that I'd like to try out next turkey season.
What would you like to see yourself doing, 5 years from now?
TH: Five years is critical time interval in USDA-ARS as our projects are usually written for a five-year interval and we do our personnel classification (at my grade) at a five-year interval. I will likely be nearing retirement by then. I hope to remain active in the profession through consulting and/or a part-time assignment somewhere. Most of our kids are further south in Texas, and I own part of my family farm in East Texas. So we'll likely attempt to resettle somewhere near our kids or my home place. But it will be hard to think of the higher temperatures and higher humidity; although I may not need my snow shovels.