The Friends of the Folsom Library have announced that the second Carl A. Westerdahl Forum, which has been rescheduled from the fall, will take place Wednesday, April 20, on campus. The program, titled “Aerospace and Rensselaer: Then, Now, and Tomorrow,” will highlight the role Rensselaer people and programs have played in the aerospace industry, from 1930s aeronautics to the space shuttle and beyond.

GerhardtThe featured speaker will be Lester Gerhardt, Rensselaer professor emeritus of electrical, computer, and systems engineering. Prior to his academic career, Gerhardt worked at Bell Aerospace on the Apollo Mission, including the visual simulation for the first moon landing of the lunar excursion module, which was used to train Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. He will focus on the early years of aeronautical engineering at Rensselaer, the careers of many of the outstanding graduates of the program, including visionary NASA administrator and former Rensselaer president George M. Low ’48, and Rensselaer-related research.

Joining him as panelists are Rensselaer Provost Prabhat Hajela and Jennifer (Parker) Keyes ’02, operations research analyst at NASA’s Langley Research Center, who will examine the post-Shuttle era, changes in the aerospace industry, and the continued preparation of Rensselaer graduates for careers in space. The host for the evening will be Institute Trustee Paula Simon ’68.

The forum will take place in the Russell Sage Dining Hall at 6 p.m., preceded by an hors d’oeuvres reception, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Immediately following the forum, participants may tour the George M. Low Gallery in the Low Center for Industrial Innovation.

Low Gallery

Following the forum, participants may tour the George M. Low Gallery in the Low Center for Industrial Innovation. The gallery, which is reminiscent of the inside of a space shuttle, includes items of personal and professional significance, such as historic NASA memorabilia, autographed pictures of astronauts, and Low’s Presidential Medal of Freedom. The collection was donated to Rensselaer by the Low family.

When aeronautical engineering began in earnest eight decades ago, Rensselaer was among its earliest participants and contributors. With Professor Paul Hemke as founding chair of the Department of Aeronautical Engineering in 1936, the discipline evolved rapidly, driven by the developments of World War II catapulting the field into jet aircraft and then spaceflight.

Members of the first classes to graduate from Rensselaer became aviation pioneers designing the X-1, the first airplane to fly faster than sound; the B-58, the first long-range aircraft capable of sustained supersonic flight; and the F-11 and F-16. They became test pilots, leaders of aerospace companies such as Bell Aircraft and General Dynamics, key NASA administrators, and astronauts.

The Carl A. Westerdahl Forum was established in October 2013 by the board of directors of the Friends of the Folsom Library in honor of Westerdahl, a longtime member of the Friends’ board who passed away in April 2013. In his long career at Rensselaer, Westerdahl served the Institute as dean of students, director of alumni and community relations, and director of constituent programs. Upon retirement in 1998, he volunteered as Institute historian. He was co-author of the history book, Rensselaer: Where Imagination Achieves the Impossible, and as a member of the Friends, had presented a popular series of luncheon presentations on Rensselaer history.

There is no cost for the event, but RSVPs are requested. For more information about the program, or to RSVP, contact Adrienne Birchler, Folsom Library, (518) 276-8329,

This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Folsom Library, and endorsed by the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway, the Rensselaer Alumni Association, the Rensselaer County Historical Society, miSci (the Museum of Innovation and Science), and the Dudley Observatory.