Meet an Innovator

  • John Heilmann

    John Heilmann gets excited talking about Bernoulli's principle and how to apply it. He can even sound cool talking about wing design and lift and how airplanes can fly. Maybe not the trendiest topic of teen conversation, but Heilmann's enthusiasm for his career brings engineering to life for high school students whose contact with physics is often confined to the classroom.

    Heilmann spent much of his early career focusing on helicopter products at Cary-based LORD Corporation, a technology and manufacturing company that creates adhesives, coatings, motion management devices and sensing technologies. He is currently a global business manager in the oil and gas industry group working with products for drilling in 10,000 feet of water. The company's business is highly technical, but its mission aligns closely with that of NC New Schools: "to transform innovative ideas into long-term value for our customers, employees and shareholders."

    During a Summer Institute session about school-industry partnerships and co-teaching, Heilmann served as an industry representative to talk about how high school lessons relate to real-world jobs.

    "I looked over the list of math that students need to know and came up with at least a dozen real-world applications," Heilmann said. "The point of the session was to show teachers that industry partners can help make these lessons real. Sitting at that table with teachers, I quickly realized there's a lot of value in things I take for granted."

    The following year, Heilmann connected with Laura King, a Wayne School of Engineering teacher who had completed a summer externship at LORD Corporation. She was looking for help teaching a unit on wing design and lift, and Heilmann saw that as a perfect opportunity. He spent a day teaching King's students the math behind the Bernoulli principle, how to apply it to wing design and how it works on everything from Frisbees to planes to race cars.

    Getting to teach for a day gave Heilmann a chance to share his passion for engineering with students who were eager to ask questions of an expert in the field. He quickly saw how opportunities like this can really get students engaged.

    "I was the kind of kid that naturally tore things apart, wanted to fix things," Heilmann said. "I gravitated toward engineering without needing people to help me get it. But I can't help wondering how many others would have done that too if they'd had someone to show them how what we were learning in school could lead to such interesting careers."

    Being involved in schools is part of how LORD Corporation gives back to the community. But it also serves a selfish purpose for the company.

    "LORD's entire value proposition is based on innovative products that solve difficult problems," Heilmann said. "To that end, we need highly capable engineers, scientists and technicians, and we need a large base of students who are selecting engineering as a career so that we have a good pool to hire from."

    One key to that strong pipeline leading from school to the workplace is getting more industry professionals connected with teachers.

    "Any opportunity a teacher has to get someone from industry and make a topic relevant is an opportunity they should take advantage of," Heilmann said. "And if you're in industry and you want to be involved, you need to get the word out that you're willing to help. Teachers would love this kind of help, but they don't always know who to ask. Make it easy for teachers to get these opportunities and they'll make the teaching opportunity easy for you."

    John Heilmann has been with LORD since 1996. During his career he has served as a design engineer, engineering manager and global business manager, primarily focusing on LORD's helicopter products.  He serves on Virginia Tech's Department of Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board and the LORD STEM Outreach Committee. Heilmann holds bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Pennsylvania.

    Note: In case you've forgotten your high school physics lessons, Bernoulli's principle states that, for an inviscid flow, an increase in the speed of the fluid occurs simultaneously with a decrease in pressure or a decrease in the fluid's potential energy

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