Encouraging the Stars
When Leverne Seversike wanted to get a doctorate in aerospace engineering in the early '60s, Iowa State University didn't yet have a Ph.D. program in the field.
Instead, Seversike earned his doctorate at Iowa State in electrical and computer engineering. The university added the aerospace doctorate program two years later in the midst of the country's race to space.
"That was Iowa State growing up," said Seversike. As an Ames native, three-degree graduate of Iowa State, and later professor of aerospace engineering at the university, he witnessed continued advancement at the land-grant institution and in human flight.
Seversike received his bachelor's degree at Iowa State in aerospace engineering in 1958, just a few months before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established. He continued his studies in Ames, receiving a master's degree in aerospace engineering in 1961, the same year President John F. Kennedy announced an American would land on the moon before the end of the decade.
Seversike wasn't just sitting in the front row of the changes around him, he was a participant. With his doctorate in hand in 1964, Seversike had job offers from Aerospace Corporation, Douglas Aircraft Company and General Dynamics. But he had his eye on another option — teaching at Iowa State.
He got the chance when his department chair sent a letter asking him to teach Iowa State's orbital mechanics courses. "They were going to pay me more than I was going to get at Iowa State," said Seversike of the private corporations. "But I was very interested in teaching. I really enjoyed the interaction with the students."
Set up in his new office in Building J, which was part of a group of structures north of Black Engineering initially constructed to house the influx of WWII veterans going to school after returning home from service, Seversike began a teaching career that lasted more than 30 years.
He spent the school year advising students, expanding course curriculum, helping groups such as the Iowa State Space Society and teaching. During several summers, he worked on projects such as NASA's Apollo program in Houston, where he helped develop the heat shield for the astronauts' Apollo Command Module. The heat shield protected the module from burning up from the 4,000-degree heat generated while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. He also worked for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, on an unmanned mission to Jupiter. "It was an interesting time," Seversike noted.
He brought his industry-knowledge back to the classroom, where he taught and inspired students such as Clayton Anderson ('83, aerospace engineering) who became an astronaut and spent time aboard the International Space Station. When Seversike reflects on his career, which included awards for teaching and advising, he says, "What I'm happiest about is not anything that I did, but what my students have gone on to do."
Now retired, he continues to inspire and support students through the Leverne K. and Carole A. Seversike Educational Advancement Fund and the Leverne K. Seversike Scholarship. He established the advancement fund through a cash gift in memory of his late wife, Carole, and it supports the College of Engineering's outreach efforts to K-12 students. Seversike also wanted to help Iowa State students majoring in aerospace engineering and used an insurance policy to help him do so. He donated a policy he no longer needed to the Iowa State University Foundation, which, in turn, surrendered it for its cash value to establish the scholarship fund. For Seversike, whose career paralleled the progression of space flight and of Iowa State University, helping students reach for the stars is a natural fit. "People are able to do things themselves if they really want to, but sometimes they just need a little encouragement."
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