First-Hand:History of an ASEE Fellow - John Weese


Birthplace, Family, & Early Education

I was born the summer of 1933 in Topeka, KS, the son of Ray A. and Margaret M. Weese. They had met at Washburn College and married in 1927 but the depression cut dad’s college days short. During WW II, dad was the service manager of a new car auto agency, so he was very knowledgeable about the intricacies of automobiles and a strong interest in new technologies. Together, we made a crystal radio, assembled an AM radio kit, and put together a go-cart powered by a lawnmower engine. I learned the workings of two- and four-cycle engines as a grade schooler and developed a passion for model airplanes. During WW II, I watched squadrons of B-17’s and B-29’s formed at Topeka’s Forbes AFB fly off for overseas duty.

Topeka had excellent schools and many superior teachers. I liked classes in woodworking, metal working, mechanical drawing, mathematics and science. Between my junior and senior high school years, dad bought into a partnership of a Nash automobile dealership in Manhattan, KS, so we moved, and I graduated from Manhattan High in 1951. It had good math teachers, too.

Higher Education

In the summer of 1951, I entered Kansas State College as a mechanical engineering major. My part-time work in dad’s automobile shop complimented my engineering studies as I learned to tune engines, and, eventually, to overhaul them. I enrolled in Air Force ROTC, took extra mathematics courses, and especially enjoyed engineering mechanics. I received my BS in ME in 1955 and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the USAF Reserves.

In 1950 I began singing in the Manhattan’s Congregational Church choir where I met Betty Kay Dietrich. She and I were married in that church June 5, 1955 and a week later I reported for work at Allis Chalmers in Milwaukee, WI. We’re still married 63 years later.

Early on, ASEE played a significant role in my life. Dr. Carver, my strength of materials professor went to the 1954 ASEE conference and met Dr. Gunder, head of Cornell’s Engineering Mechanics Department. Dr. Carver told Dr. Gunder about me and eventually Dr. Gunder offered me a teaching assistantship at Cornell, drafted my graduate program, and told me how to apply for an Air Force deferment. I spent four years on 6-month renewable Air Force deferments and left Cornell on the Labor Day 1959 having completed all requirements for a PhD in engineering mechanics with minors in mathematics and aeronautical engineering. Betty took her senior year courses at Cornell and graduated from K-State with a BS in home economics education. She landed a high school teaching position in Cortland, NY beginning in September 1956. I commuted to Ithaca from Cortland 6 days/week for three years.

Along the way, I’d worked summers for the Boeing Wichita’s Military Systems Division in the structural dynamics department and I returned to that same department in the fall of 1959, not knowing how long it would take the Air Force to call me to active duty. In January 1960, I reported for active duty to a staunch ASEE member at the USAF Academy, Col. Archie Higdon, Head of Mechanics under whom I taught engineering mechanics. My original 2-year tour was extended when the Berlin was built, so I continued on the mechanics faculty until mid-June 1962. I had joined ASEE in 1960 while on active duty and had attended the ASEE annual conferences at Purdue University and the University of Kentucky.

I enjoyed teaching, but I also liked industry and applied research, so after my discharge from the Air Force, I rejoined Boeing Wichita in the Structural Dynamics Research unit. I might have made that a life-time career, except Boeing lost a major contract for the F-111 fighter aircraft. I remembered a position I’d considered at the University of Denver, so I called Professor Wilbur Parks, Head of Mechanical Engineering and a staunch ASEE member. The job was not only still open, but they’d modified it to be a joint appointment with the Denver Research Institute (DRI), an integral part of Denver U. I took it because it afforded the two things I really enjoyed, teaching engineering and engaging in engineering research.

University Employment

The University of Denver arranged a summer appointment for me in Structural Dynamics with Martin Marietta in Littleton, CO where I worked on longitudinal oscillations of Titan II before beginning the teaching and research position at DU in September 1963. I continued at DU for eleven years, earning tenure and becoming a full professor of mechanical engineering, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in engineering mechanics. I’d also become the director of graduate programs for a combined department of civil, mechanical and engineering mechanics. The Denver Research Institute had established with the Center for High Energy Rate Forming coupled with the Martin Company. It afforded wonderful opportunities for the study of stress waves in solids, the dynamic interactions between solids and fluids, and it was a great source of thesis research topics for graduate students.

Col. Archie Higdon introduced me to his co-author, Dr. William Stiles, and they invited me to join their engineering mechanics text book writing team to develop the vector edition of their Engineering Mechanics book. Later, I worked with them and Professor Ed Ohlsen of Iowa State University on their Strength of Materials book. Writing with them was truly an education

Administrative changes at DU led to my appointment as Dean of the DU College of Engineering in the Spring of 1970. It was a tumultuous time in higher education. Engineering enrollments dropped, when aerospace jobs disappeared and incidents such as the one at Kent State occurred. The University of Denver, a private institution, was hard hit and despite strong efforts to build the engineering enrollment and capitalize on DRI’s applied research involvement, DU’s administration decided to close its College of Engineering and I left in the summer of 1974.

I became the Dean of Engineering and a tenured engineering professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. ODU’s engineering school was young and had suffered enrollment declines but it was state supported and located in the midst of a good, industrialized metropolitan area. That area included the NASA Langley Research Center, major Navy installations with heavy commitments in high technology and the Newport News Ship Building Company. Its future looked promising. With the support of the faculty, we built strong ties to the regional high schools and industries throughout the Tidewater Virginia. We increased ODU’s ASEE activities to improve the profession’s understanding of ODU’s engineering and engineering technology programs. The degree programs were re-aligned to better coincide with the professional societies. The ECPD/ABET accreditations of the engineering and 4-year BS engineering technology programs were strengthened. By 1983, enrollment had been substantially increased and research funding had helped attract a strong faculty.

It was also apparent that it was time for a change. I applied for a position at the National Science Foundation and was offered the position, director of the division of Mechanics, Structures, and Materials Engineering Division of NSF in August 1983. Betty and I had two daughters and we lived in Virginia Beach, VA. She stayed there with them and I rented an apartment in Arlington, VA. I commuted the 200 miles home almost every weekend. It was a strain but an enormously broadening experience. I became acquainted with a large national community of leading engineering researchers, and NSF sent me on two international trips one to the People’s Republic of China and the other to a conference in Lahore, Pakistan. I became more actively involved nationally with ASEE and with ASME. Since NSF was then within walking distance of the ASEE headquarters, I cultivated very close relationships with the ASEE staff.

NSF Appointments are not expected to become permanent. After considering the options, Betty and I decided I should accept the Texas A&M University position offered to me by Dr. Herbert H. Richardson as Head of the Engineering Technology Department, Director of the Engineering Technology Division of the Experiment Station, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering. We moved to the Bryan/College Station in August 1986. It was another building challenge, but the winds of change were in the right direction. The challenge was to develop high quality engineering technology programs to produce superior graduates for industry and to develop a strong applied research program. The ET department included four-year, engineering technology programs in Electronics with an option in Telecommunications, Mechanical ET, and Manufacturing ET plus a program in Industrial Distribution – to educate graduates for the wholesaling of engineered products. It took time to strengthen the faculty for the ET programs and add new ID faculty with strong business backgrounds for the fast-changing wholesale industry. A significant accomplishment was the establishment of the Institute of National Drug Abatement Research, designed to apply high technology to the interdiction of illicit drug trafficking. The department later won an ASEE award for excellence in engineering technology education.

By 1997, I’d served as head of the ET department for 11 years, more than the normal 8-year term for engineering department heads. My tenure as a professor of Mechanical Engineering was activated and I moved to that department. I taught engineering dynamics, engineering design and helped the College of Engineering with its ABET relationships. My ASEE interactions increased and culminated in my election as the 1999- 2000 ASEE president In November 1999, the Aggie Bonfire, a long-standing tradition like no other, fell with the loss of 12 lives and serious injuries to over a couple dozen students. An independent Bonfire Commission was formed to determine the cause of the failure. Texas A&M’s President, Dr. Ray M. Bowen, an ASEE fellow member, asked me to be a liaison between Texas A&M and the Bonfire Commission. The next six months were intense, most unusual, and threated to interfere with my responsibilities as ASEE president. Fortunately, Dr. Wally Fowler of the University of Texas was the ASEE president elect and a close friend. He readily stepped in to help, for which I was most grateful.

I resumed my ME duties of teaching and College duties related to ABET until the ME department head chose to return to teaching and research. The dean’s office appointed me to be the interim ME head while a national search was conducted to identify someone as appointed the permanent ME head. My term as an interim head lasted almost two years at which time I resumed my former duties until August of 2005 when I retired as an Emeritus Regents Professor of Mechanical Engineering.


The summer of 1955 in steam turbine design with Allis Chalmers was a fine experience. I was assigned to the analysis of gland seals to control the loss of steam by the rotating shafts of turbines exiting the pressurize shells of steam turbines. I learned a lot because I’d not been introduced to gland seals during my undergraduate education. The times with Boing in structural dynamics were challenging because the behavior of long flexible wings could lead to flutter and hence disaster. I certainly learned the importance of monitoring the weight of components, even when the empty weight of the aircraft was several hundred thousand pounds. Above all, safety had to be an all-important consideration. The analysis of Boeing’s structural dynamics problems was stimulatingly challenging.

Philosophy of Education

Students learn little if they only hear lectures, even when lecturer is very talented. It is when they are challenged to learn on their own that they really begin to understand, but once that happens and they realize its power, they are hooked. That challenge takes many forms, but an observant professor can devise ways to facilitate it, even in large classes. Cultivating that desire to learn is a good teacher’s real challenge.

Recognizing the importance of computers, I began incorporating their use in courses by the mid 1960’s, particularly after reading an article in the ASEE Journal of Engineering Education about the use of computers in structural engineering by a Penn State University Professor.

ASEE Activities

Col. Higdon introduced me to the ASEE Mechanics Division and I became the secretary of that division soon thereafter. Eventually, I served in most positions of the Mechanics Division, including its chair. As the dean of engineering at DU and then ODU, I attended meetings of the Engineering Deans Council (EDC). While at ODU, the four deans of engineering in Virginia met several; times a year. Paul Torgersen of VPI and Jack Gibson of U VA saw an opportunity for the Virginia Engineering Deans to host the 1980 Annual Engineering Deans Council meeting in Williamsburg, VA. We, particularly Paul and Jack, really worked to entice first rate presentations by deans of engineering at leading universities on timely topics and the meeting was immensely successful. It breathed a new spirit into the EDC, vestiges of which persist. ASEE President Ed Cranch appointed me to the Projects Board and that led to increased involvement in ASEE national activities. While at NSF I became more involved in ASEE and eventually became the Vice President for Public Affairs. I was surprised later when I was asked to compete for the ASEE President Elect and even more surprised when I was elected. Being ASEE’s 1999 – 2000 President was an honor I’ll always remember.

Related Professional Activities

I joined ASME in 1963 and attended its national conferences rather regularly. As a dean of engineering, I attended ECPD and ABET Annual Conferences. ASME Colleagues recommended me for service as and engineering mechanics visitor and I later was appointed to the ABET Board of Directors and served on the Engineering Accreditation Commission. I made 24 ABET accreditation visits, about half of them as the team chair and two of the being international visits. ASEE also appointed me as its representative to the ABET Board of Directors and during that time, I was charged to present ASEE’s request to be the Society to provide visitors for undesignated engineering programs. It elicited controversy causing it to be initially rejected but it was passed the second time it was presented, even though the vote wasn’t unanimous. I was honored to become a Fellow Member of ASME and a Fellow of ABET.

Final Thoughts

I’m sorry to miss the 125 ASEE Annual Conference, particularly since I was so impressed by the Centennial Conference. We’re enjoying retirement in Annapolis, MD but schedule conflicts made attendance to this year’s conference impossible However, I’d like to make a parting point.

ASEE is unique. No other society encompasses such a wide range of disciplines in engineering, engineering technology, and the supporting areas of social sciences and humanities. It offers fertile incubation for emerging disciplines and for new ways of offering programs. Through the EDC and the ETC, ASEE is a potent advocate for engineering and technology issues to be presented to Congress and government agencies. I fervently hope ASEE will even more vigorously strive to make itself heard. Maybe ASEE will also nudge engineering and ET programs to offer courses for non-majors, just as is do programs in agriculture and veterinary medicine. We have a lot more to offer our university communities if we shed our isolationist cloaks! This was suggested years ago by ASEE Past President, John Calhoun and the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that John was sure right!

May ASEE continue to forge ahead so that 25 years hence, the 150th Annual Conference will be even more spectacular!