Printed on: April 24, 2014

Wearing many hats

Former NASA and INL engineer turns to teaching

By KIRSTEN JOHNSON

Over the years, proud University of Idaho "Vandal" Dennis Keiser has worn many hats.

As a young college grad, he was one of the first engineers to work on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo program, which took men to the moon and back. Following Apollo, he forged a 30-year career at Idaho National Laboratory before retiring in 1995.

He's held other noteworthy positions, including director of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory Research Center in the late 1980s, manager of INL's Science and Technology Department from 1988 to 1992 and CEO of Intrepid Technology and Resources from 2001 to 2008.

In 2009, Keiser retired. But not for long. Only months into his retirement, he accepted an offer to teach at UI's Idaho Falls campus.

Today, the 75-year-old Keiser is still teaching.

He is a part-time faculty member and research assistant at UI-Idaho Falls, where he leads 15 to 20 students each semester in an engineering management course. This semester, his course is entirely online. He also conducts research at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, where he's studying ways to make dairy operations more profitable.

"I've had aerospace experience, lab experience, prior-industry experience and, now, teaching experience," Keiser said. "And teaching kind of brings it all together."

Keiser, originally from Ashton, earned his bachelor's degree in engineering at UI's Moscow campus in 1962. Shortly after graduating, he joined the Apollo program, where he was involved in the design of equipment associated with the spacecraft's command module. As part of his work, he had direct contact with astronauts such as Neil Armstrong.

"There weren't many engineers around at that time," Keiser said. "Because there weren't a lot of people in management, they gave you these really responsible assignments -- that's when I really learned to appreciate the art of being a manager."

As a teacher, Keiser's students are most interested in his Apollo experiences.

"It's funny, people want to know what happened in the Apollo program," he said. "That's the response I get from most students in my class."

He was called out of retirement by UI-Idaho Falls Associate Vice President Bob Smith. Smith said he's known Keiser for more than 20 years -- they worked together at INL.

"I've said a number of times that if I had a department full of faculty like Dennis, we could solve a lot of the educational problems that we have in the state," Smith said. "He's certainly dedicated to the University of Idaho ... (in his) instructional role and ... an avid supporter of the athletics programs and other things we do at the university."

Keiser's assignment is just part time, but he happily puts in more time than required. He gives his cellphone number to his students and makes himself available just about any hour of any day.

"It makes me feel good to transfer my knowledge to students who are new in management," he said. "I provide them with experiences of what I had and what I think are important ... for managing people. And then, I have this dialogue with them for what they think are good management practices.

"Just being around the dialogue that goes on in the university environment, the creative thinking that people express and the interaction with really smart people -- I wish I had joined the university years ago."

Keiser isn't sure how much longer he'll continue, but he'd like to teach at least another three years.

"My wife would really like me to retire and stay retired," Keiser said. "But I think I'd like to do this as long as my health is good and my brain continues to work ... I'm very, very grateful: I think the variety of experiences I've had -- as an engineer, as a scientist, a manger and a business person and of course, as a professor -- have allowed me to experience a whole and prosperous life."