Hall of Distinction Class of 2007-2008

Otto J. Loewer was born in 1945 in Wynne, Arkansas, a Delta community 60 miles east of Memphis, TN. His father (for whom Otto is named) was a rice farmer’s son from the Mowata community in south Louisiana (Acadia Parish) and had received a degree in physics from Louisiana College in 1935. Wanting to farm, but with limited opportunity at home, he moved to Arkansas where he systematically purchased wooded property ideally suited for rice production. While becoming an Arkansan, Otto’s father never lost his love for Louisiana and for LSU football.

Loewer grew up on an ever-expanding rice farm where the clearing of land, the commercial selling of seed rice, and listening to LSU football were part of everyday life. His father requested that he attend a Baptist college for his freshman year, but a visit to the LSU campus, along with the encouragement of several Wynne High School teachers who were LSU graduates, made LSU Loewer’s choice for college. He chose agricultural engineering as a major, a decision he never regretted. Loewer transferred to LSU in 1964 after a year at Ouachita Baptist College (Arkadelphia, AR). He married Betty, his best friend in high school, in 1966. In 1968 he received his B.S. degree in Agricultural Engineering and his U.S. Army commission through ROTC. He obtained his M.S. degree in Agricultural Engineering in 1970 and completed the Officers Basic Course at Ft. Bliss (El Paso, TX) in Air Defense Artillery in early 1971. He would later serve in several U.S. Army Reserve units. 

Loewer’s experience at LSU shaped his love for the academic world of teaching, research and outreach. He completed his Ph.D. in Agricultural Engineering at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) in January 1973 in record time for his department. His area of study was computer simulation and analysis of agricultural, biological and economic systems. This was a newly emerging area of study that was later to reshape the agricultural engineering profession and move it towards becoming Biological Engineering.

In February 1973, Loewer began his academic career as an Assistant Extension Professor in the Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Kentucky. His assignment was to advise and assist farmers and allied industry regarding the engineering of grain handling, processing, drying and storage systems. He was among the first to develop computer software packages for direct use by farmers and industry. His work continued in this area until 1994, culminating in the publishing of a major textbook. By the mid-1970’s, Loewer began providing leadership and the engineering and computer modeling expertise for large multidisciplinary research teams that created comprehensive physiological plant-animal-soil-water-climate models that were eventually distributed worldwide. Researchers from 25 states were involved over about a 20 year period. He also took a 9-month sabbatical leave at Michigan State University where he received a M.S. degree in Agricultural Economics in 1980. 

In 1985, Loewer accepted a position as head of the Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, AR). There, he would become a national leader in the movement of the Agricultural Engineering profession towards fully embracing Biological Engineering. His department changed its name to Biological and Agricultural Engineering. In addition, he led the effort to renovate Engineering Hall on the University of Arkansas campus where his department relocated in 1990.

In 1992, Loewer became chair of the Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Florida, then the largest department of its type. There, he successfully championed a departmental name change to Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Additionally, he led an ongoing effort to plan and secure funding for a new building for his department, the official approval coming shortly after he left the University of Florida in 1996 to return to the University of Arkansas as Dean of Engineering.

As Dean, he administered the state’s only comprehensive College of Engineering and led it to record levels of research funding and private giving. He was instrumental in developing the Engineering Research Center facility, and he provided leadership that resulted in a five-fold space expansion of the College’s Genesis Technology-based Business Incubator. He also led the effort to create the Arkansas Research and Technology Park that is built around the Engineering Research Center.

In 2002, Loewer became the founding director of the University of Arkansas Economic Development Institute (UAEDI) to pursue creative approaches for promoting economic and social well-being for the people of Arkansas. One major outgrowth of this effort has been the creation of the Crossroads Coalition, a ten-county region of 254,000 people in the Arkansas Delta near Memphis, TN. The Crossroads Coalition is designed to become a national model for broad-based (economic, community, education, and leadership) development in rural communities. Another product of UAEDI has been the development of SEED (Students Engaged in Economic Development), a type of service learning program involving communities (any public or private entity), faculty, sponsors and students in projects that are already part of regular for-credit courses.

In 2005-2006, Loewer served as president of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), an international professional society with approximately 9000 members in over 100 countries and celebrated its centennial in 2007. His term was the first where “Biological” became a part of ASABE’s official name. 

Loewer’s professional honors include ASABE Fellow (1996), Arkansas Engineer of the Year (1997), Communicator of the Year in Northwest Arkansas (2004) and Outstanding Graduate of the Purdue University’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (2004). A prolific writer with over 300 publications of various types, he has also developed the reputation as an outstanding public speaker and editorialist in matters related not only to his profession but economic development as well. Loewer and Betty (now a retired instructor in Interior Design and a former LSU employee) take particular delight in their two children, four grandchildren and two other children of a niece that have grandchildren status. They are very active in Rolling Hills Baptist Church. Loewer is also involved in a number of professional and civic activities and can also be found on the golf course and cheering his favorite athletic teams, especially the LSU Tigers!