Center for Aviation Studies lands proven leader as new director

Posted: August 25, 2020

A former NASA senior executive and corporate aerospace leader has been recruited to The Ohio State University College of Engineering to direct its Center for Aviation Studies, beginning September 1.

Image of Jim Free

Jim Free will pilot Ohio State’s aviation education activities, which encompass students in the Colleges of Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Business. Also appointed as a professor of practice in mechanical and aerospace engineering, he will oversee the Center for Aviation Studies’ research and outreach initiatives as well. 

Throughout his career, Free has served in a wide range of engineering and leadership roles for domestic and international aerospace programs. He recently retired from NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, where he last served as the deputy associate administrator in its Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Free also was director of NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, where he was responsible for leading more than 3,200 civil service and contractor employees.

“We are delighted Jim has chosen to join us, in service to his native State of Ohio, the birthplace of aviation,” remarked College of Engineering Senior Associate Dean John Horack. “His vast experience and knowledge across nearly every domain of flight will benefit our students, as well as our faculty and staff. And his leadership will benefit the entire state as he helps strengthens current collaborations and establishes new ones.” 

Free has worked in the aerospace industry since leaving NASA and is currently a consultant in program and technical management in a variety of sectors.

“Working with the students at Ohio State is very inspiring to me,” Free said, “as I can share things I learned along the way in the technical and leadership domains, but also learn from them about new ways of working in today’s aerospace world.”

Free is the recipient of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Significant Achievement Medal and numerous other awards. A native of Northeast Ohio, he earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from Miami University in Ohio and his master’s degree in space systems engineering from Delft University in the Netherlands.