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Jenelle & Jeffrey Piepmeier




Jenelle Piepmeier earned her mechanical engineering degree from LeTourneau in 1993 and went on to grad school to earn her M.S and M.E in 1995 and her Ph. D. in 1999 from Georgia Tech. Today she teaches at the U.S. Naval Academy in the department of robotics and control systems engineering.

“Currently I’m teaching intro courses to students who are learning how to program computers to interface with hardware, motors and sensors,” she said. “I’m trying to prepare future leaders for the Navy and Marine Corp.

“What brought me to LeTourneau was my dad getting a job here in 1978 to come teach computer science,” she said. “I first came here as a third grader.”

Her dad, Steve Armstrong, taught math and computer science courses for 35 years at LETU from 1978 until 2013, when he was awarded professor emeritus status.

“Even though we lived in Longview, my mom said a lot of what you learn in college isn’t in the classroom, so I lived on campus,” she said. “It was really a fun time hanging out with the girls in the dorm. It was everything I expected. I remember that everyone was very excited my freshman year that there were 25 new freshmen girls that year. That was a big number back then.”

Jenelle said she was always interested in math and science and got excited reading the course descriptions. “I knew I wanted to study engineering,” she said.

“A lot of what I teach are things that I learned here at LETU,” she said. “I sometimes teach an intro to programming class that was a class I took from my father. Sometimes I use some of the techniques he used in class.

“Roboticists study how systems in nature work and figure out how we can use what they are doing to get robots to do that,” she said. “I almost see it as a form of worship and how God has created the universe and, sometimes, I think he looks down and laughs at us.”

Jenelle said one of the best lessons she learned at LeTourneau was that she could solve hard problems if she put her mind to it.

“If I persevere and study, try and rewire and reprogram...I can solve hard problems. I don’t know that 20-year-old me knew that,” she said.

Women are an underrepresented group in the engineering career field, and Jenelle had to overcome misperceptions that some people had that she might not do well because she was a woman.

“An important part of my faith is knowing that God made me with these skills and these abilities, and I should use them to glorify Him,” she said. “Whether it’s working with a student who needs my ability to explain something to them in a different way or working with a colleague who needs someone to be kind and compassionate at that moment, the breadth of experiences that God has given me and the unique set of skills he has placed in me, I need to use those every day and not listen to those little voices that say ‘You don’t belong here.’ I do belong here because God put me here.” 

When Jeffrey Piepmeier moved onto the LETU campus for his freshman year, he knew exactly what to expect. He had visited during a preview event, traveling from his home in Carrollton, Texas. He vividly remembers saying goodbye to his parents on move-in day: his mom in tears, his dad with a big smile.

He remembers living in Dorm 41 with swamp coolers for air conditioning and having the ingenuity to wire up his own ceiling fan in his dorm room. He enjoyed the camaraderie with others on his floor, describing how they would all eat lunch at a long table in the cafeteria together. His junior and senior year, he was the Resident Assistant.

Today he works at NASA, in a leadership role on a $750 million project launched in January 2015 called Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, that uses a microwave radiometer to measure soil moisture.

“I work on developing instruments for weather satellites,” he said. “In particular, I’m interested in developing new ways to measure things that haven’t been measured before from space.” Piepmeier said the project enables scientists to better understand the earth systems, being able to make more accurate predictions in climate to know where we are going as a human race.

Piepmeier said the hands-on emphasis to learning at LeTourneau University served him well.

“I use what I learned at LETU just about every day,” he said. “The hands-on experience in the labs at LeTourneau really prepared me for graduate school and work. I was able to go right into a lab at graduate school and start working.

“I remember being shocked that some of the kids from other schools didn’t know how to solder,” he said. “Being electrical engineering students, how can you not know how to solder?”

Jeff said LETU taught him more than just engineering, “I have learned to take big risks and put myself out there,” he said. “I was relatively shy. My first engineering job my advisor got me.”

He said when he was applying to graduate school at Georgia Tech, someone told him that because he went to a smaller school like LeTourneau, he wouldn’t get in, but he learned that when you know the Lord and are following his lead, he will pave the way.

Besides getting a great education, Piepmeier also found his wife at LeTourneau. Jeff met his wife, Jenelle Armstrong, in the lobby of the women’s dorm while she was studying for a calculus II exam.

Today, the Piepmeiers have three children that they hope will come to LeTourneau, even if they don’t want to be engineers. “We do a lot of LeTourneau activities with them, like potato cannons and trebuchets. They think that is all normal.” 

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