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Majdalani receives international Atwood educator award

By Austin Phillips

Published: Jun 18, 2019 2:00:00 PM

Carlos Cesnik (left), aerospace design and structures director, Majdalani (center) and Nancy Andersen (right), integration and outreach division chief, at SciTech’19 in San Diego. Carlos Cesnik (left), aerospace design and structures director, Majdalani (center) and Nancy Andersen (right), integration and outreach division chief, at SciTech’19 in San Diego.

An Auburn University aerospace engineering professor has received the 2019 J. Leland Atwood Award, one of the highest honors conferred by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) in conjunction with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Joe Majdalani, the Hugh and Loeda Francis Chair of Excellence in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, received the educator award and medal at the 2019 AIAA Science and Technology Forum.  Endowed by Collins Aerospace, this annual award is presented to an aerospace engineering educator in recognition of outstanding contributions to the profession.

Emeritus professor Butch Foster nominated Majdalani for his “technical achievements in the field of propulsion and memorable student development experiences.” Several faculty members, professional associates and former students from Auburn, Marquette and the University of Tennessee supported his nomination.

“The Lee Atwood Award is a crowning achievement in Dr. Majdalani’s already movingly illustrious career as a premier leader of learning in engineering,” said Roy Hartfield, the Woltosz Professor and assistant chair of aerospace engineering. “His intrinsic ability to distill complex concepts into crystal clear ideas is truly exceptional.”

Established in 1985, the Atwood award was named after the distinguished engineer and former president of North American Aviation.  Atwood played a significant role in the development of aviation and aerospace technologies for more than 50 years and helped reshape and transform aeronautics and astronautics into the cornerstones of national security, transportation and global commerce.

The award is the latest for Majdalani, who has attracted several distinctions for his teaching and mentorship. These include the 2015 Auburn Outstanding Aerospace Engineering Faculty Member, NASA’s 2002 Higher Education Award and the 1999 and 2000 Outstanding Teaching Awards at Marquette University. Some of his other education-based accomplishments include both 2013 and 2018 Abe M. Zarem Educator Awards in Astronautics, the 2016 Sustained Service Award, the 2015 AIAA National Faculty Advisor Award and the 2014 Konrad Dannenberg Educator Award. 

In Tennessee, Majdalani had similarly accepted the 2013 AIAA Special Award and, from SAE International, the 2007 Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award in Aerospace Mobility.  Early in his career, he was recognized for being the first engineering faculty member at Marquette to receive the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

Majdalani has mentored seven graduate students who became faculty members and 10 doctoral students who were recognized as Outstanding Graduate Research/Teaching Assistants.  These include Timothy Marquardt and Robert Watson in 2016, Orie Cecil in 2017, Paul Kovacic in 2018 and Langston Williams in 2019.  Cecil, Kovacic, and Williams were each named the most outstanding Graduate Student of the Year within the Alabama-North Mississippi section of the AIAA. Williams went on to represent the United States at the International Astronautical Congress in September 2018 after capturing the national Zarem Award for Distinguished Achievement in Astronautics. Majdalani’s graduate students have garnered countless other recognitions leading to a total of 17 Best Papers and 14 Best Posters or Finish-in-Five awards in the past six years, both locally and internationally.

Majdalani started teaching in 1990, while serving as a graduate student, and then quickly advanced from assistant professor in January 1997 to a named full professor in 2003.  After 10 years of service as a professor and Arnold Chair of Excellence at the University of Tennessee, Majdalani joined Auburn in 2013 as the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council Endowed Professor and department chair of aerospace engineering.  In 2015, he was selected to launch the Auburn Global initiative in the hope of increasing Auburn’s international footprint. In 2016, he was appointed the Hugh and Loeda Francis Chair of Excellence.  He presently conducts research aimed at enhancing the stability and performance of rocket engines with special focus on the development of upper-stage cyclonic rocket engines as well as deep-space Nuclear-Thermal Propulsion systems.

Media Contact: Austin Phillips,, 334-844-2444

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