After 52 years with Virginia Tech, Joseph Schetz, the Fred. D. Durham Endowed Chair in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, has announced plans to retire this summer.

Throughout his distinguished career, Schetz has provided outstanding editorial work, exceptional service through professional societies, and notable service to civic organizations and Virginia Tech student organizations. He is a preeminent scholar and an internationally recognized member of the aerospace and ocean engineering community.

“For more than 50 years, Virginia Tech, and especially the aerospace and ocean engineering department, have been the beneficiaries of Joe Schetz’s vision, initiative, scholarship, and service,” said Robert Canfield, interim department head. “A myriad of students, faculty, and professional colleagues have been directly impacted by his leadership and his guidance, and he is widely recognized for his contributions made to Virginia Tech and the aerospace and ocean engineering community.” 

Schetz started his professional career in 1961 at General Applied Science Laboratory in New York, performing innovative analyses and experiments on the new concept of supersonic combustion ramjets. In 1964, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland as an associate professor. In the same year, he began work as a consultant for the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. During this time, Schetz made a number of important contributions to high-speed aerodynamics and combustion.

Schetz officially joined the Virginia Tech community in 1969 as head of the aerospace engineering department, a position he held until 1993. Under his leadership, the department saw a rapid expansion and a new emphasis on research and graduate study. He also spearheaded the addition of ocean engineering to the program, beginning in 1972 with the introduction of ocean engineering courses into the curriculum. 

“As a mentor, Joe demonstrated how to be successful and led by example, serving as department head for 24 years while also managing a world-class research program,” said Eric Paterson, executive director of the National Security Institute and former department head of the aerospace and ocean engineering department from 2012-21. “He encouraged faculty to participate in professional societies, elevating the visibility of the department throughout the world. He was truly living the Ut Prosim [That I May Serve] model and dedicated his life to this institution.” 

Schetz’s research interests cover all aspects of aircraft aerodynamics and design and experimental and theoretical fluid dynamics, with a particular emphasis on high-speed flows and propulsion. The quality and breadth of his academic contributions are clearly reflected in more than 360 referred papers and in major textbooks on boundary-layer theory. 

Additionally, he has provided many years of dedicated service to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), including almost 20 years as editor-in-chief of the AIAA Education Book Series. The series publishes books that are adopted for classroom use in many of the top undergraduate and graduate engineering programs around the world. In addition, aeronautics and astronautics professionals who want to expand their knowledge and expertise refer daily to these important texts.

A number of his former PhD students returned to celebrate with Joseph Schetz at his retirement celebration in May 2022.
During his time at Virginia Tech, Schetz has had 77 students complete their doctoral degrees under his supervision. A number of them returned to Blacksburg to celebrate his retirement in May. Photo by Jama Green for Virginia Tech.

Since stepping down as department head, Schetz has continued to teach, conduct research, and advise graduate students, with a current total of 77 Ph.D. students and an even larger number of master’s students completing their degrees under his supervision. These former students now hold a wide variety of influential positions in industry, government, and academia, both in the U.S. and overseas. 

One of those former students is three-time Hokie Ryan Meritt, who earned degrees n 2009, 2010, and 2013 and is founder and current president/chief scientist of Ahmic Aerospace. Throughout his early career as a lead systems engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and since the founding of his company in 2014, Meritt has continued to publish papers and collaborate with Schetz on a number of research projects.

“At this point, I’ve known Joe for half my life,” said Meritt. “He’s been there for every significant part of my professional career: as a mentor, as a voice of reason, and someone I could always call and talk to about work or life. It's hard to sum up the full impact he’s had on all of his students’ lives, but what I can say is how grateful we all are that he believed in us, fought for us, gave us an opportunity to succeed, made us into better engineers and scientists, and pushed us to be the best that we could be.”

Schetz has received numerous awards over the years, most recently the AIAA Award for Sustained Service, the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Service from the College of Engineering, and the department-level Distinguished Faculty Award. He is a life fellow of the AIAA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Schetz earned a bachelor’s degree from Webb Institute of Naval Architecture and a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Princeton University. 

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