Juris Vagners and Linda Christianson Biography

There are two named donors to the Juris Vagners and Linda Christianson Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Aeronautics & Astronautics: Juris Vagners and Linda J. Christianson, husband and wife. To continue their legacy and ensure that control systems remains a focus area in the AA department, Juris & Linda decided to establish a fellowship to help recruit and support young faculty, noting that historically, the department has not had many female faculty members. An additional constraint is that the fellowship must put a high priority on recruitment of equally qualified female applicants when used as a recruitment aid.

Juris was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1939 and his family immigrated to the United States in the Fall of 1949. The family came with a few personal belongings that survived WWII and spent the first four years essentially as indentured servants in Vermont to the sponsors for the immigration. In 1954, the family moved to Seattle and Juris attended Lincoln High School, graduating in 1957 as one of two students with a perfect 4.0 grade record. He then went on to the University of Washington and entered the engineering program as well as participating on the UW track team. Part of his education was financed partially by the McCurdy family through a scholarship and the rest by working various jobs ranging from part time landscape maintenance to work for a lumber company to graveyard shifts as a shipfitter’s helper at Puget Sound and Dredge, working on building ferries that still ply Puget Sound. On graduation, he was accepted to Stanford for graduate work under the Lockheed Missiles & Space Honors Cooperative Program, working on various satellite programs from 1961 to 1965. His PhD research was in satellite orbit theory, under Professor John Breakwell. In 1967 Juris accepted an Acting Assistant Professor position in Aeronautical Engineering at the UW with the focus on space mechanics. Around that time, space died (remember the signs, “last person to leave Seattle turn out the lights”). There were no students interested in a dying field. There were no funding opportunities for space research. So Juris took a sabbatical and returned to Stanford to study under Professor Art Bryson to gain some experience in control systems engineering.

Returning to UW, Juris introduced control systems classes in the AA department. At the time, there were no controls classes in AA, yet controls is a fundamental element of flight. Since control systems are an integral part of every engineering discipline, Juris was instrumental in making graduate controls classes cross departmental in the UW College of Engineering as well as building a hardware laboratory with Boeing and NSF funding to provide students with realistic and practical engineering design experience in addition to computer aided design expertise.

In the early 1990’s he became interested in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs or drones, as commonly known). A landmark achievement was the 1998 crossing of the Atlantic by an autonomous aircraft, a collaborative effort with Dr. Tad McGeer founder of Insitu. The Aerosonde Laima, at ten foot wing span and gross take-off weight of 29 lbs, was not only the first, but by far the smallest aircraft to accomplish such a historic feat. The crossing took 26 hours and 45 minutes and consumed one and a half gallons of aviation gasoline. Since then, his research interests have been in various applications of UAVs, and most recently how “backpack-able” drones can aid first responders in disaster events when searching for humans impacted by the disaster. This work is one of the driving themes for projects in the Autonomous Flight Systems Laboratory (AFSL) that Juris established in the AA department. AFSL continues in the spirit of the original hardware controls laboratory that Juris previously established to provide students with real life experience with drone systems.

On the other hand, Linda is a “total Washington product”, born in 1949 in Tacoma, WA. and educated at Leavenworth High School, she graduated as salutatorian and earned an academic scholarship to UW in 1967. During her studies, she worked as a Collection Agent for Bank of America at night. In a call to an ex-governor of the state, in a response to “don’t you know who I am”, she responded, “yes, I do, you are a person who doesn’t pay his bills. He paid the bill. She later transferred to Central Washington University and graduated with a degree in English and a minor in Accounting. After, she worked as Administrator for a Plastic Surgery Group in Renton for 12 years, and subsequently as Administrator for a multi-specialty group in Kitsap County for 4 years. She then joined the Department of Surgery at UW as Executive Director for the next 12 years. During that time, she developed a Revenue Cycle Management Program for the department, a Practice Management Program for Surgical Residents, and concurrently worked as an advocate for comparable work obligations and comparable salaries for female surgeons in the department. Throughout her career, Linda has been an advocate for equal opportunity for qualified women in male dominated fields. So when Juris brought up the concept of establishing a Faculty Fellowship that would provide support for young female faculty in the early stages of their career, she enthusiastically joined the endeavor.