A two-pronged career: music and aerospace

Publication Date

Kaelen Hansson '15

MAJOR: Mechanical Engineering
CURRENT POSITION: Composer and organist; Ph.D. candidate, aerospace engineering, University of Michigan

Kaelen Hansson ’15

Kaelen Hansson ’15 has many talents, from prize-winning composer and organist to aerospace engineer.

A Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, the American Guild of Organists recently presented Hansson with its Student Commissioning Project award, given annually to recognize new musical works composed for the organ.

“On a national stage I have committed to two occupations at once,” he said. “And it gives me a whole different perspective on how our jobs, our careers and our hobbies define us.”

“Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I spent as much time trying to find ways to entertain myself as I spent being entertained,” he said. “By high school I was doing as much as I possibly could: three seasons of sports, two or three different bands, playing the trombone, AP classes, a math team and a trivia team.”

But back then, he kept his talent for the organ to himself. And he didn’t take it too seriously.

“I played in bands by necessity,” Hansson said. “The organ showed up because my mother had inherited one from a great aunt, which I taught myself to play out of boredom.”

His one “true path,” Hansson thought, was in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Which is why he was always tinkering – building a stereo system or leading solar panel projects (both heat and electric).

Discovering he had two paths was a gradual process.

“I think everyone with a technical background has, at one point, coveted being a rocket scientist,” Hansson said. “I was a mechanical engineering major at Union and very quickly decided I didn’t want to work on electronics, or cars or buildings.”

He did decide, though, that music was just as much a part of him as STEM.

“Professor Hillary Tann, my composition teacher, practically gave me private lessons in composition even after I graduated,” Hansson said. “I’m particularly indebted to her for the award from the American Guild of Organists.”

“There was also Professor Diane McMullen, who taught me organ, and Professors Palma Catravas and William Zwicker, who never let any us do less than three different things at once – especially if it was STEM and music.”

On the STEM side, Professors Brad Bruno and Ashok Ramasubramanian were also influential, advising Hansson in his engineering research. And Professor William Keat helped him get a position at General Electric.

There, Hansson worked on the development of several advanced jet engine components, which led him to the University of Michigan’s aerospace engineering department.

He’s looking forward to seeing what happens when he finishes his Ph.D.

“Since most of my work deals with radiation transport, there’s a solid chance I’ll end up at one of the national labs.”


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