Fall 2011 Featured Alum: Q&A with Aaron Beese Bachelor’s of Science, Mechanical Engineering, 2003

Aaron and Laura touring Northwest Oklahoma

Aaron Beese’s sense of adventure has paved the way for a life of adventure within the field of mechanical engineering. While an honors student at AME, Beese helped found AME’s first Human Powered Vehicle team and created a single-wheeled bicycle cargo trailer that accompanied him on a bicycle trip from Virginia to Alaska for his honors thesis.

In 2009, after a year of marriage, Beese and his wife, Laura (Music Education, 2005), quit their jobs and began the adventure of a lifetime: a trek on a semi-recumbent tandem bicycle to the centroid, or geographic center, of every state in the United States. With a few states still to go, they’ve now settled down in Oregon, where Beese is a design engineer for Burley Design.

How did your education at AME help you to be successful in your career?

The biggest contributors were the opportunities I had for hands-on design projects.  The Honors College allowed me to create my own thesis project that combined my passions for engineering, cycling, and travel.  For this project I designed and built a single-wheeled bicycle cargo trailer, which I then used after graduation to bicycle from Virginia to Alaska.  The design and analysis aspect of this project was made possible by the exceptional CAD/FEA courses taught by Dr. Chang, while Billy Mays and the machine shop guys gave extensive guidance during the fabrication of the trailer.  The Honors College allowed me to present my work to others and covered all project expenses through their Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

For my senior capstone project, I was again able to tailor my education according to my interests.  AME allowed a group of us to create our own capstone project by starting OU’s first ever team to compete in the ASME Human Powered Vehicle competition.  We had an outstanding team of hard-working and creative engineers, and we managed to place first nationally in the utility category as a first-year team.  This project was most comprehensive, most challenging and most fun work I did during my undergraduate education.  I believe at least two of my former HPV teammates have also found jobs in the bicycle industry.

These two practical projects that encompassed the entire design and production process have been immeasurably helpful in both obtaining engineering work in the bicycle industry and in the daily execution of my job.

Why did you choose OU to pursue your degree?

Having grown up just outside of Norman, I had been a Sooner fan from the beginning.  Yet when it came time to choose a university, I was excited by the prospect of living and studying in a new part of the country.  In the end, however, the National Scholars Office at OU was extremely effective at recruitment, and the offer OU extends to National Merit Scholars was unbeatable.  The years since have given me no reason to doubt that decision, and in fact many of the incredible experiences I have had since graduation would likely have been impossible had I chosen to attend a school that would have left me saddled with a mountain of student debt.  Attending a high-value university like OU with great scholarship opportunities opened the door for my bicycle trip to Alaska, my year of working in Nepal for a non-profit designing bridges, and my fifty state bicycle tour with my wife.


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At Kentucky Falls, Oregon.


Most newlyweds don’t quit their jobs and ride a tandem bike to all 50 states.  Tell us about that trip.

The idea to bicycle to the exact geographic center of each of the fifty states evolved slowly.  The idea got rolling after I read an article in Backpacker magazine about “highpointing,” which is the goal to hike/climb to the highest point in each of the fifty states.  I liked the idea of a journey that would allow me to see all fifty states, yet even though I love hiking and the mountains, I wasn’t sure that highpointing was for me.  My first bike tour (Virginia to Alaska after graduation) had shown me that some of the best parts of traveling are the spontaneous and authentic interactions you have with people along the way.  This is especially true of bicycle touring, since people often invite you into their homes.  I also wasn’t sure that the highest point was necessarily the best way to get a feel for a state I’d never been to, since I knew that Oklahoma’s high point (Black Mesa) was just a few miles from the northwestern most point in the state and looked much more like New Mexico than the rest of Oklahoma.  So I came up with the idea of the geographic center—this would force me to go all the way through each state and not merely tap my toe in the corner and check it off the list.  It would also give a very precise, if arbitrary destination within each state that would take me to someplace that most people would never think to consider as a “travel destination”.

Shortly after I had the idea for this trip, I met Laura, who would later become my wife.  She was excited (and scared) by the trip, and after a year of marriage, working, and saving, we set off on our tandem bicycle.  Now, 45 states and 17,000 miles later, we feel like we’ve experienced more together in a few years than many people do in a lifetime.  Many times, our quest for the geographic center took us into the lives of the people who lived or worked at the center.  In Missouri and Kansas, the center was on a farm that had been in one family for over a century; in both places we met four generations of the family who still lived and worked the farm.  Rhode Island was the only state (so far) whose center was indoors: it was inside a small independent music store, where we spent several hour chatting with the owner and his wife.  In Delaware, the family living nearest to the center invited us to stay all day so that we could take part in their large family crab bake that evening; in the morning, they took us to the nearby plant where space suits and blimps are made.  In the west, many centers were in remote places that took us far off the beaten tourist tracks and into beautiful mountains and deserts.  In short—the trip took us to innumerable places that one could never predict or plan for, but were nonetheless interesting and surprising.

The Beese's first day in Hawaii, leis and all.


You stayed with an OU engineering alum on their farm in Hawaii?  What was that like?

Our plan was for a two year journey, with two breaks during the winters.  This was both a concession to both climate (didn’t want to ride during the winter), and finances (by working during our breaks, the trip would pay for itself).  With all fifty states to choose from, Hawaii was a no-brainer as a place to spend the first winter.   A few months before beginning the trip, I saw an alumni profile in the COE Alumni magazine about a PE alumna named Claire Wilson who ran a coffee farm on the big island of Hawaii, having retiring from a career in the petroleum industry.  I emailed her out of the blue, telling her about our planned journey and our desire to spend a winter working in Hawaii.  If I recall correctly, the first words of her reply were, “Oh, to be young again!  Your trip sounds wonderful…”  (Not that Claire was “old”: she single-handedly ran a successful coffee, macadamia nut, and vanilla bean farm, all of which required considerable manual labor.)  After some correspondence, Claire agreed to employ Laura and me part-time on her farm, picking coffee.  She also quite generously allowed us to live in the farm’s original house, where the green coffee beans were also stored in a humidity-controlled store room.

It was both Laura’s and my first time to Hawaii, so to be able to spend four months there, working part-time, snorkeling and exploring part-time, was incredible.   Both of our parents were also able to make their first trips to Hawaii to visit us (and the islands), which was a wonderful treat.  These months on the big island stand as one of the most special parts of our trip, and it was all made possible by the connections created through the COE alumni publications and the generosity of a fellow alumnus.


How did you land your current job?

Even before meeting, Laura and I both had thought that Oregon sounded like a place we might like to live someday, so when we had to pick a place to spend our second winter break of our bike trip, it was a natural choice.  We thought that Eugene might be a good fit, since it seemed to be Oregon’s analog to Norman: similar size and home to the state’s flagship university.  At one point I somehow stumbled across a job opening at Burley Design (the leading maker of bicycle trailers, based in Eugene) that stopped me in my tracks because the fit seemed so perfect.  Even though the coming bicycle trip meant that I could not accept a job there for two years, I sent them a resume anyway.  In a few days, I got a call from the Product Development Manager, and we proceeded to have a long conversation (he had also trekked in Nepal, done an Ironman, and bicycled cross-country), despite my up-front explanation that I could not accept the job due to the forthcoming bicycle trip.  We agreed to keep in touch and keep my resume on file, just in case.

We proceeded on our bike trip and did indeed stop in Eugene for our second winter break.  A month later I got a call from Burley asking me to interview, even though they had no idea I was already living in Eugene.  Long story short, Laura and I loved Eugene and our jobs, so when spring came, we decided to stay in Eugene and finish the remainder of our quest (only 6 states left at that point) piece-wise on our vacations.  We have been here nearly three years now, still love Oregon, and just finished up cycling California this summer (now just five states left!)

Riding through the rolling pastureland of Virginia's Piedmont region.


How have your diverse experiences helped you be better at your job?

I think my diverse experiences have helped me more as a person than as an employee, but they have also helped my resume stand out when applying for jobs and have acted as a great springboard for lively stories during job interviews!


What advice would you give to an AME student who has interests that he or she is trying to tie into engineering?

I think the most important thing is to take a proactive role in shaping your own education.  The degree curriculum is a framework, but your education will be much richer if you fill it out and make it your own.  Figure out what you’re interested in, decide what you want to do with those interests, create a plan for how you could integrate your interests with your education, and pitch your plan to the appropriate member of the faculty or administration.  In my experience, the people at OU were eager to allow students to tailor their studies towards their interests, and if you can propose a plan, they are happy to help you find a way to implement that plan.

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Riding U.S. 2 along Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula

New Scholarship Funds Graduate Student Travel

Dr. ReddyFormer AME faculty member J.N. Reddy and his wife, Aruna, recently presented AME with a $15,000 gift to establish the Aruna and J.N. Reddy Graduate Student Travel Fellowship. The scholarship will provide the needed funding for AME graduate students traveling to academic conferences, where they can present research findings, learn from their peers and meet fellow researchers.

Reddy, currently a professor at Texas A&M University, came to the University of Oklahoma in 1975. During his five-year tenure at OU, Reddy not only was promoted to associate professor, but also built the foundation of a lifelong friendship with his colleague, S.R. Gollahalli. It was through this friendship that Reddy learned of AME’s need to fund graduate student travel.

“The scholarship just made sense,” said Reddy. “After all, it’s really about giving graduate students every opportunity to succeed, We all reap the rewards of engineers serving in areas such as petrochemical, energy, transportation, communication and aerospace.”

Although it’s been years since Reddy was part of the AME faculty, he still has a special connection with AME.

“This was my first academic position. The faculty colleagues were so friendly and the atmosphere was very conducive to good teaching and research. These initial conditions made a big impact on my career,” said Reddy.

To learn how you can create or contribute to scholarships, contact Jill Hughes, executive director of Development for the OU College of Engineering, at (405) 325-5217.

Seeing the Symphony AME: Professor Rong Gan Tackles Hearing Loss

Rethinking Hearing Loss

University faculty and researchers generally garner recognition for their work in the form of awards, research grants and attention within academic circles and industry insiders. But AME professor Rong Gan, Ph.D., gets an even higher honor – fan mail.

When articles about Gan’s research on solutions for hearing loss appear in newspapers and magazines, letters pour in like clockwork from across the country. Usually from someone concerned about an elderly parent, nearly every letter reads something like this:

“I read about your research. I will drive my father or mother from any distance to see you. Please work me into your schedule.”

With research like Gan’s, the fan mail is no surprise. Her research measures sound and vibration transmission through the ear and is transforming hearing technology. Gan began her career as a traditional mechanical engineer, working in car manufacturing for years. It was that foundation that instilled in her the fundamentals of mechanical engineering, specifically
those related to movement, because as her research proves, mechanical principles of movement are essential to the hearing process.

Gan transplanted her mechanical engineering experience into the realm of biomedical engineering when the father of biomedical engineering, Y.C. Fung, asked her to study under him through Michael Yen at the University of Memphis and earn her doctorate. Gan was intrigued by the prospect of helping people through the same discipline that helped her design cars.

Harnessing the Mechanics of Hearing

Years, post-doctoral research appointments and millions of dollars in grants later, Gan is a preeminent biomedical engineer with knowledge that includes pulmonary circulation and the respiratory system. Today, she and her team at the University of Oklahoma and the Hough Ear Institute in Oklahoma City research what was for years the great mystery of hearing – the symphonic relationship between sound’s movement through the ear and the inner ear’s subsequent movement with sound frequencies, which, working in harmony together, actually creates hearing.

Gan developed a groundbreaking computer modeling program that creates 3-D computational models of the human ear for sound transmission. The program led to a new understanding of auditory frequencies, ear movement and functionality. The developments allowed her and her fellow researchers to literally view hearing and harness the mechanics of the ear. Gan and her team are preparing to license the software so other researchers can benefit from it.

This leap forward by Gan and her team led to developing hearing technology that does not simply amplify noise, but works in harmony
with the movement of the ear and sound frequencies. The totally implantable hearing system (TIHS) is completely invisible from the outer ear, and it overcomes drawbacks of traditional hearing technology like unsatisfactory sound quality, undesired sound distortion, blocking of the external ear canal and acoustic feedback. The project has not been without difficulties.

The team continuously works to overcome three distinct project challenges:

  1. Minimizing patient risk by developing a system that can be surgically implanted with minimal disruption to the nerves around the ear while also being the right size for the inner ear, and that has a lifetime of usefulness so it never has to be removed.
  2. Ensuring the cost/benefit ratio is comparable to traditional digital hearing aids
  3. Enhancing the device’s efficiency so it can be used for both mild and profound hearing loss.

TIHS is still in the early phases. While the team makes progress daily, the TIHS is not close to receiving approval from the Federal Drug Administration, and is not ready for product testing. Gan faithfully responds to every email from those anxious to be in a TIHS trial with this information.

Hearing the Rest of the Story

While Gan’s research is the stuff of dreams for many who suffer from hearing loss, her personal history is closer to the stuff of legend. Gan was born and raised in China. As a young man, her father, Yi Gan, left China to study in the West. He received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cambridge and studied at military academies in the United States and the United Kingdom.

When World War II broke out, he returned to China and was appointed a major general. He was instrumental in protecting China’s borders from Japan, and by the war’s end, was a national hero.

In 1949 the war was long over and General Gan settled in for quiet life in higher education, but China’s Cultural Revolution and its anti-intellectual views deterred those plans. Because of his Western education, General Gan was deemed an enemy of the people. Along with 550,000 others, General Gan was given the distinction of being a Rightest, which meant the government considered him at risk of having pro-capitalism, anti-communist views.

General Gan was imprisoned from 1955 to 1956, and again from 1969 to 1976.

“The suffering…” Gan said when sharing the dates of her father’s imprisonment. “He suffered so much.”

During many of the years he was imprisoned, Gan and her family had no idea where her father had been taken, if he was still alive, and if he would return.

General Gan did return. When the Cultural Revolution ended in the mid ’70s, he was released. He resumed his quiet life in academia as a university vice president.
In 2010, at the age of 97, General Gan died. After the dramatic twists of fate throughout his life, he died a national hero. Gan returned to her homeland to organize her father’s state funeral.

General Gan’s legacy and love for education lives on in both America and China. After the Cultural Revolution, Gan and her siblings all came to the United States to finish their educations. Today, Gan’s daughter, nephews and niece are all current or future professors. General Gan and his late wife left their estate to an organization that helps educate poor children in China’s rural villages

Rong Gan, like every faculty member at the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, brings a unique background and personal perspective to her research and teaching. For Gan, that involves a family legacy that embraces and even sacrifices for education, and the need to make a difference in the lives of people.

As the fan mail suggests, Gan, like her father, is already a hero to many.

For a more detailed view of the TIHS, please view this article Gan wrote for Medical Design.

AME Professors Join Colleagues to Discuss the Big 12 Engineering Consortium


AME faculty Li Song and Takumi Hawa recently joined a group of faculty from engineering schools throughout the Big 12 at the San Diego Naval Base in San Diego, to discuss the Big 12 Engineering Consortium while embarked on an eight-hour excursion in a nuclear-powered submarine.

The Big 12 Engineering Consortium is a course-sharing program created in 2007 that provides increased access for engineering students throughout the Big 12 to high-demand engineering fields by combining the strengths of Big 12 engineering programs.

The Consortium’s new Nuclear Engineering Program addresses the need for engineering graduates who have an understanding of nuclear engineering. The program allows undergraduate engineering majors from Big 12 universities to study nuclear engineering through fully online courses from the universities within the conference offering nuclear engineering degrees – Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, University of Kansas, University of Missouri-Columbia, and the University of Texas at Austin. The program will give students access to the most knowledgeable faculty on nuclear engineering in the Big 12, and is part of the sharing-to-gain philosophy becoming increasingly prevalent within institutions of higher learning.

While aboard the submarine, the group of faculty ventured 20 miles out to sea, reaching a depth of 600 feet at a steep 25-degree descent. As part of the submarine crew, Song, Hawa and the other faculty members completed fire training, where they learned how to be a part of the sub’s firefighting crew – no one is exempt from this important job, not even professors. They also endured a pipe burst simulation, learning how to fix busted pipes in the frigid deep-sea water.

To learn more about the Big 12 Engineering Consortium, visit www.big12engg.org.