Turbo Lab professor who helped build program retires after 40 years

The Turbomachinery Laboratory at Texas A&M boasts one of the nation’s top degree programs and research facilities.

But, when Dr. Gerald Morrison arrived in College Station to teach in 1977, the Turbo Lab was housed in an old World War II airplane hangar with a leaky roof and no heating at what is now A&M’s RELLIS campus. Morrison retired on July 31. During his more than 40 years with the school, he helped get the program out of that leaky hangar and into a top-of-the-line research facility, while also helping build the Turbo Lab’s graduate program from scratch.

“We all worked our backsides off getting the Lab together,” Morrison said. “It was difficult to get going, and we sacrificed a lot — a lot of time and effort, but it’s totally different now.”

During his career at A&M, Morrison brought in more than $12 million for research projects, published 67 referred journal articles, 140 conference papers, received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Worthington Medal in 2014 and led the development of the Fluids Lab. Morrison said that the accomplishment that he is most proud of, though, are the 100-plus graduate students he has been able to graduate.

“To me, what it’s always been about is education and the students first,” Morrison said. “I came here to be a teacher. I didn’t come here to be a researcher. I did it because they asked me to and I was capable, but it’s always about the students first.”

Turbo Lab director Dr. Dara W. Childs says that Morrison’s absence will be felt throughout the program. Childs praised Morrison’s integrity and contributions to growing the Turbo Lab program.

“Dr. Morrison was always the best engineer and mechanic in the facility,” Childs said. “He could make and design stuff and it worked and he could do it all himself. I always needed a support engineer for my projects, but he didn’t.”

Morrison’s goal with his students was to produce well-rounded engineers who were ready to make contributions in the industry. His students took the lead on research projects and he made sure they knew the ins and outs of how things worked.

“There is a demand for my kids because of that,” Morrison said. “They’re not just a number or a mathematician or whatever. They have to end up learning to do plumbing, some learn to weld, run the machine shop and build all of the stuff that we build out there. All of that stuff was at least assembled, if not built, by my students out there in my facilities.”

One of Morrison’s first graduate students, Jonathan Demko, is currently a Mechanical Engineering professor at LeTourneau University in Longview. Before his first day of teaching five years ago, Demko found some old class notes from Morrison’s Mechanical Engineering 344 — Introduction to Fluid Mechanics class and used those as a basis for his own teaching materials.

“I can’t believe that I found them 30 years later,” Demko said. “I would say that I am trying to emulate his teaching style. I loved his notes. I loved the way he taught. He was very thorough. He gets you going and keeps up with you as you’re doing the work.”

Morrison has never been one to “mail-it-in.” Despite his continued love of teaching, Morrison said his health has forced him to consider how much time and effort he can put into his lectures and research.

“I always swore to myself that I would not be one of those old farts who came in and mumbled in the room and walked off, gave you take-home tests, didn’t care and gave you a grade,” Morrison said. “You never learn anything from that.”

“ I’m going out while I am still on the top as far as my teaching goes.”

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