Helen Margaret Lester was born in Desloge, Missouri, in March 1925, the only child of Rollo Bertell and Margaret Stephens Lester. She entered the University of missouri as a journalism major, but soon switched to Civil Engineering. She received her BSC in 1945. She joined West Virginia Virginia University in 1947 as a graduate student and Instructor in Mechanics, and received her MS in Civil Engineering in 1953. She was a Professor of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics and of Curriculum and Instruction in the Division of Education at WVU. She became Professor Emeritus, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 1983. From 1985 to 1990 she served as Chair of Civil Engineering technology at Indiana University-Purdue University – Fort Wayne. Her husband, Ken Plants, had been a “bureaucrat” with the US Bureau of Mines in MOrgantown – a chemical engineer awith great expertise in cost estimation. Some of their “courting” evenings were spent manually checking the design calculations on the Star City, WV bridge, designed by the Dean and State Bridge Engineer. Helen and Ken had a daughter and two sons. Their daughter Francis lives in Tulsa, is a consulting geologist (married to a geologist) and has two daughters of high school/college age. While in Morgantown, Helen was active in Trinity Episcopal Church where she served as a Vestryman and Bishop’s Man. For many years she was a Girl Scout leader. Helen died in Tulsa, Oklahoma in September 1999.
From the beginning of her academic career, she was a gifted teacher and role model for the few women students at West Virginia University at the time. Later, she became an advocate of programmed and individualized instruction. She and Wally Venable wrote a series of papers on these topics and several texts: Introduction to Statics, a Programmed Text (1975), A Programmed INtroduction to Dynamics (1967), and Mechanics of Materials, A Programmed Textbook (1974). She established the first doctoral program in Engineering Education at West Virginia University.
In 1975, the Univesity of Missouri at Columbia recognized her with the Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering. She became an ASEE Fellow in 1983 as a member of the first class of Fellows. She als received Distinguished Service Award, Western Electric Fund Award, and was an ASEE Vice-President (1974 – 1976).
Helen Plants was one of the pioneers in the Educational Rsearch and Methods Division. she was chair of ERM for three tersm (1970 – 1973) and she served as the Secretary/Treasurer for one year before that. She was a regular contributor to the ERM Magazine and Engineering Education. After the ERM Division became a co-sponsor of FIE, she led the efforts to develop workshops and other creative sessions for the conferece. The conference then decided to recognize her creativity and contributions by naming the award for the best non-traditional presentation after her, as she truly exemplified the characteristics that the sessions exemplify.
Information above provided by Wally Venable, Ed Jones, Jim Stice, and John Lindenlaub.