Schnell Appointed to New Chair Position

Geb Thomas

Today, Dean Scranton announced that Tom “Mach” Schnell, professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and director of the Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL), a research unit of the UI Center for Computer-Aided Design (CCAD), has been named The Captain Jim "Max" Gross Chair in Engineering.

Dr. Schnell is the founder of OPL. In his research, he specializes in human factors and ergonomics. He is also a commercial pilot, research test pilot, and flight instructor with helicopter, jet, and glider ratings--and he performs at air shows. He has made numerous life-saving contributions that have advanced his field.  For example, the OPL team, under his leadership, has developed a Synthetic Vision System aircraft cockpit instrument suite, which has been commercialized and flies in thousands of aircraft cockpits, preventing controlled flight into terrain. His team has also designed and developed a human workload measurement system called the Cognitive Assessment Tool Set (CATS) that measures the mental workload of a person in real time

His research focuses on sensor fusion systems, pilot spatial orientation capability, assessment of operator performance in flight, air warfare systems, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). He has authored or co-authored 40 peer-reviewed journal papers, 98 conference proceedings papers, and more than 30 technical reports. He also displays outstanding grantsmanship, as evidenced by an impressive history of receiving more than $23.5 million in external research funding as the sole principal investigator.

Tom's contributions extend far beyond research as he also excels as a teacher and mentor. His impeccable organization includes an on-line "data hub" that includes a syllabus that lays out the class expectations and assignments, as well as other support materials including lecture notes, assignments, video demonstrations, etc. He has been a remarkable mentor who has produced well-prepared graduates who are in extremely high demand.

The Captain Jim "Max" Gross Chair is funded through a very generous gift from his widow, Donnita Gross.  The late Mr. Gross was an accomplished pilot and flight instructor with American Airlines for many years, especially test flying the Boeing 777 aircraft. Captain Gross had so many type ratings in various aircraft, that the list did not fit on a standard FAA pilot license.  The grandson of C.S. O'Brien, the founder of the renowned Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Iowa, Jim originally worked for the Walt Disney Company as an accountant as well as teaching flying lessons. Subsequently he was hired by Lear Jet as a flight instructor and accountant.

Our department is delighted to see this well-deserved recognition for Tom and his work and the legacy of Mr. Gross.

Dr. Thomas Schnell