photo of John Heideman with students
Former Senior Research Associate, ExxonMobile, Student Projects Donor

John Heideman, BS ASE ’66, remembers clearly the moment that the former Soviet Union pushed ahead of the United States after launching Sputnik, making it the first country to put a satellite into space. The year was 1957, and it was this event that inspired Heideman to pursue an education in aerospace engineering.

Although he came from the very small Texas town of Utopia where he graduated from high school in a class of only five students, there was no shock when he arrived on the UT campus. He had spent some time on campus in high school while attending University Interscholastic League competitions and said that being back on the 40 Acres made him instantly feel at home. 

While at UT, Heideman met many memorable friends and some of his favorite professors, including Dr. Wallace Fowler, who still works in the department today. He said one of the most important things he gained from his time at UT was how to think analytically and how to attack a problem and solve it, which has affected everything in his life since.

During his senior year, fluid mechanics professor Dr. Shao-Wen Yuan of the Department of Aerospace Engineering encouraged Heideman to apply to Rice University for his graduate studies, where Yuan’s colleague and close friend Angelo Miele worked as a professor of aeronautics and astronautics. Heideman took Yuan’s advice and eventually earned both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering while working for Professor Miele – a man he still holds in high esteem to this day and says was a major influence in his life. 

Angelo Miele: An Inspiration

Heideman has fond memories of working as a graduate student under the mentorship of Angelo Miele. During his time at Rice, Heideman was supported by a National Science Foundation Fellowship. He worked on research topics that included flight mechanics, astrodynamics and optimization theory. Some of his favorite memories include Miele brainstorming new ideas with his research group gathered around his desk. 

“He took care of us. He was like a second father to most of us,” Heideman said. 

Miele had high expectations from his graduate students. They were required to be at the office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day, Monday through Friday, unless they were in class. While under Miele’s advisement, Heideman was given co-authorship on numerous published papers.

Heideman said that one of the many skills he learned from Miele was how to explain ideas in a simple manner. It’s a skill that he likes to incorporate into his own work so that others can understand what he has done to get from point A to point B.

Aerospace Engineering: A Versatile Career

After graduating from Rice in 1970 with his Ph.D., Heideman said that the federal money to support space programs and research was drying up, making jobs in aerospace few and far between. Fortunately, he was able to find employment at Exxon Production Research Company. Heideman considers himself one of the “lucky ones,” since Exxon, he said, understood that aerospace engineers study fluid mechanics in depth, making them good candidates for the oil and gas industry. 

Heideman held a variety of positions at ExxonMobil over the 36 years he worked for the company, attaining the position of Senior Research Associate in the Offshore Research Group. His work experience includes modeling natural gas pipeline networks, simulating oil reservoir behavior, and developing new methodologies for extreme value analysis of severe storms and calculation of static wave forces on offshore platforms.

He was also involved with the technical engineering support in litigation related to the Valdez Oil Spill and he worked with the American Petroleum Institute and International Standards Organization to develop recommended practices for offshore engineering. Two of his research papers have been voted into the American Society of Civil Engineers Offshore Technology Conference Hall of Fame. 

“I had a rewarding and enjoyable career at Exxon,” he said. 

Giving Back

Because Heideman received a scholarship to attend UT, he felt the need to pass the torch by assisting students from similar backgrounds. In 2009, Heideman and his late wife Carol provided funds to establish the John C. & Carol L. Heideman Endowed Scholarship in Engineering. The scholarship was designed to benefit students who graduate from high school with a class of no more than 100. 

In 2012, Heideman resolved to do even more for UT students by establishing the Angelo Miele Endowment. This endowment was dedicated to funding undergraduate student projects within the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. 

Heideman said he is inspired by seeing young people involved with projects that are not only educational, but also fun. Giving students a chance to work with their hands, putting theory into practice, gives them a more fundamental understanding of physical principles. Through these extracurricular projects, he sees camaraderie, teamwork, and enthusiasm in our students who participate.

“These UT students are all bright kids, motivated,” Heideman said. “Most of them know pretty much what they want to do; some of them may change their minds. But still they’ve learned basic problem-solving skills in engineering that will serve them throughout their lives, no matter what career path they follow.”

Most recently, in memory of his wife, who passed away due to cancer in 2013, Heideman funded the Carol Lewis Heideman Endowed Presidential Fellowship in Biomedical Engineering for graduate students involved in cancer research. He also endowed a nursing scholarship at the UT Health Science Center in Houston.

Today, Heideman continues to take advantage of ExxonMobil’s 3:1 match to make annual contributions to the Angelo Miele student projects endowment and he continues to be involved with our students who work on these projects. Just last summer, Heideman met with our WIALD student group to wish them well before their microgravity flight. He also continues to consult for major oil companies and is very involved in his hometown, where he serves as vice chair of Keep Utopia Beautiful.