John Ashton

John Ashton

John Ashton (ΦΒΚ, Rice University) is currently a Structural Engineer and the new President of the Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area. Field(s) of Study: Civil Engineering (B.S.), Archaeology (Coherent Minor)


Tell us a bit about your background

I was born in the city of Chicago, grew up in the suburbs, went to school out-of-state at Rice University for undergrad and UC Berkeley for my graduate degree, before returning to Chicago to start my career in structural engineering.

You recently became the new President of the Chicago Alumni Association.  What are you excited to work on within the Association?

We are planning an international trip this year to Peru; the trip is open to all Associations, Chapters, and Society members / guests.  We’d like to use it as an opportunity to increase awareness, interaction, and programming collaboration between regional Associations, as well as between Associations and the National Society.

Outside of engineering, you have some diverse interests.  Could you tell us a little about your hobbies or upcoming projects?

I will pick just one to elaborate.  I have combined my interests in rock ‘n’ roll, theatre, medieval history, and literature / poetry into a unique genre: the medieval rock ‘n’ roll musical.  I’ve written a trilogy of theatrical scripts based on three Middle English Arthurian chivalric romances; they are period pieces, very faithful to the original story and language, although the English is modernized and various cover rock songs are incorporated and sung by the actors to follow the story arc.  I am currently working on producing the first piece, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical,” anticipating a November 2017 premiere in Chicago.

Why do you think Phi Beta Kappa and an arts & sciences education are important in today’s society?

In order to survive in today’s world, it is critical to understand that world.  It’s fine to specialize in a technical field, as I have done, but the world encompasses so much more than can be defined by any specialty.  History, politics, religion, culture, literature, art, physics, chemistry, mathematics, and so much more: they all (literally and figuratively) make the world go round.  You should be curious enough to ask the right questions and obtain the general knowledge needed to understand the world you live in.

What advice do you have for other young graduates?

Pursue your passions.