Q&A: Terry Hart, 2020 commencement speaker


Terry Hart

Terry Hart, ‘68, a professor of practice in the department of mechanical engineering and mechanics, was announced as the class of 2020 commencement speaker on Feb. 26. As a former NASA astronaut and U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Hart can speak on his experiences and successes. As a former student and current professor, he can also discuss how Lehigh shaped him and how campus has changed over the years. The Brown and White conducted a Q&A with Hart to learn more about his life and his thoughts about being commencement speaker.


Q: What was your time at Lehigh like? What were you involved in on campus?

Terry Hart: I was a typical engineering student. Worked hard, played hard. I was in a fraternity, in Delta Upsilon. I was on the golf team. And, other than that, I had a good time with my fraternity brothers, played a little golf and studied hard.


Q: What did you do after graduating from Lehigh University?

TH: I went to grad school when I went into the Air Force for four years. Then, when I came back from active duty on the Air Force, I was still flying on the weekends with the New Jersey Air National Guard out of Atlantic City Air Defense Fighters. Then, I was working at laboratories in New Jersey. And, that’s when in 1977, NASA was inviting people to apply because they were just starting to build the space shuttle, and they hadn’t hired any astronauts since the Apollo Program in the early ‘70s.


Q: What was your time at NASA like?

TH: It was fascinating. We started working in 1978 at NASA, in our training program. And part of the training is you work on developing procedures for, in this case, the space shuttle coming online. We were there for three years before the first launch of the space shuttle, helping get the crews who were going to fly the first two missions ready and develop the procedures and so forth…I was one of the capsule communicators, in mission control–that’s the astronaut that talks to the crew during the mission. I was CapCom for the first three launches. 


Q: What was the most fulfilling part of your career?

TH: It’s right now — it’s teaching at Lehigh. I love teaching. I’ve been a teacher for 12 or 13 years now, so I love that. It was exciting at NASA, of course, and my time in the Air Force. I flew for four years, I flew fighters on active duty, and then I flew for another 17 years in the Air National Guard in New Jersey and in Texas. So, those were all exciting aspects to my career. Although, in my heart, I’m an engineer, so I enjoy technical things, and I enjoy teaching the aerospace things that I do right now very much. 


Q: Were you honored to be asked to be the commencement speaker?

TH: Yes, very much so. President (John) Simon called me back in January and asked me if I would do it, and I said of course. It’s a great honor. I mean, it’s the honor of my life, really, to have been selected to do that.


Q: What were you planning on speaking to the class of 2020 about?

TH: It’s a combination of reminiscing about what Lehigh was like 50 years ago and how it evolved to the school it is today. And lots of stories about NASA and the Air Force, and different things in my career that I thought were interesting stories that also have a moral to them or a purpose to them. So, I kind of weave together a lot of those things in about a 12- or 15-minute speech — not too long. 


Q: Is there anything you would like to say to the class of 2020?

TH: Sure, I mean a lot of it is just being thankful that we all have such a good school, in your case, to go to, and in my case, to have a place to teach. It’s such a wonderful experience to be associated with a school like Lehigh. And, beyond that, I’ve got a whole bunch of things I say in my speech that are maybe things to think about, given the history of our country and about how we’re moving forward, hopefully, during this difficult time. 


Q: How has Lehigh changed since your time there?

TH: Lehigh has grown a lot — that’s one of the points I make. It was a wonderful school, back when I was a student, but it was all guys back then, and it was only half the size it is now. It was pretty much dominated by the engineering college, although the other two colleges were always good. Now, over the last 50 years, the school has really grown to be a wonderful university, with a nice balance, gender-wise, but also in terms of the degree programs, we’re a very well-balanced university now.

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