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Alex’s Journey to Acoustical Consulting and Engineering

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Alex’s Journey to Acoustical Consulting and Engineering

How a sensitivity to sound and an interest in science resulted in a unique career path

As far back as second grade, Alex Odom remembers not liking when there were a lot of noises around. His mother recently shared a drawing he made of a scene of him on the bus commenting about the noise in frustration, along with a list of things that bother him including when it is loud at lunch and when the fire alarm goes off. Despite his distaste for noise, early in life he had an interest in music and the many sounds and principles at work in recordings and performances. That, along with a love of working with his hands, led to his interest in the sciences, especially engineering. 

While in 10th grade at Burnsville High School (BHS), Alex needed a topic for a science fair project. After looking at some options, he landed on an idea that would demonstrate flutter echoes, which is a perceived echo created by the repeated reflections of sounds between parallel surfaces of a room. The final project was a square wooden box with two walls that could be moved in order to create or eliminate the echo from an electric piano by adjusting the walls so they weren’t parallel. This concept of the relationship between a space and sound would be a big part of his career life going forward. 

“I liked the sciences but was definitely more interested in physical science than things like chemistry,” said Alex. “I enjoy working with my hands so I took an auto body class but found that while I like hands-on work, working on the actual vehicles was a little intimidating.”

The real-world experience of classes at BHS helped him narrow down what he enjoyed. While working on cars wasn’t for him, he did like the idea of designing speaker systems, which pushed him towards engineering. Alex took classes that explored different fields of study in the world of science. He has fond memories of getting to learn directly from an engineer at 3M who provided tours of different spaces and labs at their campus and introduced him to other career options. 

“I used the BHS counselors as a resource and asked for advice on what major to select since there are so many different paths that someone in mechanical engineering can take,” said Alex. “I was able to try a lot of different things like computer-aided design and 3D modeling and had support from amazing science teachers like Mrs. Hugstad-Vaa and Mr. Daily and math teachers like Mr. Croatt.” 

When he graduated in 2012, he decided to pursue an education in engineering with the hopes of getting more focused on acoustics. He ended up at the University of Minnesota where he earned a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with a minor in speech-language-hearing science.

After college, he got a job as an environmental consultant using EPA guidelines to estimate emissions, but wanted to get more into his passion of sound and acoustics. He scoured the job board of the Acoustical Society of America and applied for a few, ultimately landing one with Acentech, an acoustical consulting company in Boston. 

“I learned a ton on the job and also earned a Master of Science in acoustical engineering online from Penn State in 2022,” said Alex. “I got to learn more about the pure physics behind sound in my classes and see those principles applied in my work as an acoustical consultant.”

The company provides acoustics, technology and vibration consulting to clients across the globe in areas like noise and vibration control, architectural acoustics and environmental noise. Alex and his team work with everyone from architects and developers to universities and hospitals as they look to create new spaces to think about how sound could impact them. In a space where there may be sensitive equipment like MRI machines or microscopes, he may recommend increasing structural stiffness inside the building to limit vibrations from people walking. 

“My work is divided between desk work and fieldwork, which can cover a lot of different concepts,” said Alex. “We make computer models to predict environmental noise in the community, calculate noise within the building from its HVAC system, or estimate the impact of environmental vibrations on the building. By understanding noise and vibration levels throughout the building, we can design mitigation to ensure a suitable environment for the people and equipment.” 

Acoustical consultants may also be called to help concert halls or performance spaces and even serve as expert witnesses for court cases. They focus more on the written reports and recommendation side but are an important part of making sure that the ideas of architects, engineers, or scientists can succeed without trouble caused by sound. While he has relocated to Chicago, he continues to work remotely with a wide variety of projects and encourages others to give many career opportunities in the field of science and engineering a try. 

“Everything you interact with has some kind of science behind it,” said Alex. “Science, engineering and design are everywhere you look. My advice is to learn about as many different fields of study as possible because that cross-collaboration between degree programs is really powerful.”

 

Timeline

  • Even as a young child, Alex noticed lots of different sounds, played guitar and had an interest in mp3 players.

  • Middle School - A science fair experiment to build a hovercraft didn’t quite go as planned, but helped him on a path towards hands-on engineering

  • Tenth Grade - A science project on flutter echoes brought together Alex’s passion for acoustics and working with his hands. 

  • High School - With the help from BHS counselors and a field trip to the U of M, Alex was able to ask college professors for recommendations on a degree to pursue to get into acoustics. They suggested physics, electrical engineering, or mechanical engineering. 

  • 2012 - After graduating from BHS, Alex starts at the University of Minnesota majoring in mechanical engineering.

  • During College - Alex gets paired up with an industry mentor from 3M who gave him tours of the anechoic chamber and Cummins hemi-anechoic chamber. 

  • 2016 - Working as an environmental consultant, Alex continues to look for options to pursue acoustics as a career. 

  • 2017  - Alex lands a job at Acentech in Boston as an acoustical consultant

  • 2022 - To learn more about the physics behind sound, Alex earned a Master of Science in acoustical engineering from Penn State, writing his capstone paper on bone conduction hearing. 

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