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Around the Columns

Closing the gap

Craig Kleuver

Rocket man Craig Kluever. Photo by Nicholas Benner

Whether the professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering is lecturing to students on a Monday morning or playing guitar for revelers on a Saturday night, Craig Kluever has great chops for closing the gap between him and his audiences.

Kluever, a 16-year veteran teacher and researcher at MU, spent three years early in his career working at Rockwell International on the space shuttle program’s guidance, navigation and control systems. Although that experience is beginning to “recede,” as Kluever says, students like learning about his time there and on more recent NASA missions.

As a teacher, Kluever’s research and industry experience allow him to toss off an occasional tidbit that falls somewhere between cocktail chatter and “this may be on the test.” For instance, he tells his class how engineers at Rockwell designed and tested a space shuttle thruster only to discover later that it could deliver more than they thought. Rather than rewrite all the documentation, Kluever says, they just decided to call maximum thrust 104 percent. During a recent class, students chuckled at this quantitative absurdity, then Kluever got a hearty laugh from the pop culture corollary that came next. “It’s like in the movie Spinal Tap when the guitar amp goes up to 11."

Such references also seem to help Kluever connect with students. He walks the talk as a guitarist in the bands Celandine and Big Medicine. The groups play original music at gigs around Columbia, and he sometimes chats with his students between sets. “I don’t think of having a 20-year gap in age between me and my students. I share a similar sensibility in some ways, and the gap narrows at the gigs.”