Movers & Shakers: John Helferty

Courtesy Creative Services at Temple University John Helferty

There’s a lot a buzzing in the halls of the College of Engineering. Usually it’s about yesterday’s homework, today’s lab report or this week’s test, but occasionally, the word “cool” will be used in conjunction with research that professors are undergoing. Usually, that research has something to do with Dr. John Helferty, a professor in the College of Engineering’s electrical engineering department .

Helferty has had a long history with the research subject that draws the “cool” classification: rockets and NASA. Helferty is working on ways to integrate NASA-related fields into undergraduate engineering educational experience.

“Obviously, NASA is concerned with students entering science. There are problem schools where students don’t get exposed to science,” Helferty said.

One way is by developing the Student Space Exploration and Environmental Systems Laboratory. This laboratory would be a collaborative effort between other colleges and universities, NASA-associated research centers and local private industries to develop a laboratory that trains students in the scientific and technical skills needed to work in the space commerce and exploration industry.

He has worked with students in training workshops for high altitude ballooning and designing, and sending payloads on a sounding rocket to sub-orbital height out of NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Vir.

Helferty has also been doing volunteer work with the Philadelphia School District for more than 17 years. In the summer, he runs a course for high school students at Temple that is funded by NASA called “Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering.” In the class, students design and construct mobile robots.

He is also the executive director of the Temple University Scouts of America Engineering Explorers, in which high school students can work on projects in the School of Engineering. He has also been a team leader for high school teams that participate in the National FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, Robotics Competitions.

Prior to his arrival at Temple as a faculty member, he earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering technology in 1982 from the university. He received two American Society for Engineering Education Faculty Fellowships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., for his work with control-system design for NASA space probes and satellites.

Currently, he is working on NASA-funded projects for the design and production of autonomous mobile robots and rotorcraft that can perform coordinated tasks – like the Mars rover or the as-seen-on-TV Roomba.

“Without the help of a high school teacher, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now,” Helfterty said. “My goal is, with the help of NASA, to outreach to high schools and get them excited about science and engineering.”

Nadia Elkaddi can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. I was one of Dr. Helferty’s students (Class of 2005) and I can totally relate to this article on Dr. Helferty. He was actually my senior project advisor in FIRST robotics in which my Temple senior design team worked with high school students from the local area.
    Dr. Helferty kept the light on for me while I was in college and I am very glad to know he is still keeping it on for the generations after me!!!


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