College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Welcoming Ryan McGehee, new assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering

Education: PhD, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University, 2022; MS, Biosystems Engineering, Auburn University, 2016; BS, Biosystems Engineering, Auburn University, 2014.

Research focus: In short, my research interests center on providing reliable, actionable information on how to best manage the Earth’s natural resources. I do this through the development and validation of computational models. I develop new model components and improve existing ones using real-world data to ensure that they are operating as intended.

Joins Iowa State from: Postdoctoral research associate position, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University

How do you hope your research discoveries impact the world?

In a single word, sustainability. My research empowers informed decision-making by predicting the impacts of various management strategies on food production, environmental health, and more recently, climate change impacts and mitigation. I hope my research enables us to find a way to more than meet the needs of ALL people on Earth and to do so in a way that we will never jeopardize our ability to do so in the future. That is sustainability.

How has your previous work been recognized with awards or other honors?

My M.S. thesis work on benchmarking rainfall erosivity was recognized with the ASABE Boyd-Scott Research Competition (the most prestigious student award in ASABE). In lay terms, erosivity is a concept reflecting the capacity of rainfall to cause erosion, and it is an important input to erosion models that are used by USDA-NRCS for soil conservation planning in the United States and by other agencies and governments around the world. That work really proved that the climate inputs we have been using for soil conservation planning were in critical need of an update. My current research is actively addressing this need.

Another recognition included an invitation to present to the Science Advisory Board for NOAA. I led a research team of three in prototyping a new terrain model for flood prediction. This model was called MHAND (Modified Height Above the Nearest Drainage), and it was selected by the engineering staff at the National Water Center as the most innovative outcome of the 2016 Young Innovators Program Summer Institute. This prototype may very well be part of the technology that makes accurate, near-real-time, national flood prediction a reality. This in combination with relatively modest investments in modeling infrastructure like the new National Water Model at NOAA’s National Water Center could save dozens of lives and billions of dollars of property damage associated with flooding every year in the United States alone.

Finally, I was just named as a Building a World of Difference Faculty Fellow in Engineering for my work in sustainable infrastructure. In addition to the topics discussed above, some of the new infrastructure I have helped to create include making models more capable of simulating water quality impacts of best management practices as well as advancing and standardizing approaches to incorporating climate variability and change impacts assessment and mitigation in a wide array of modeling technologies.

What kind of classroom and teaching experience do you look forward to creating?

I am excited to be creating a fun learning environment that is welcoming, impartial, and inspiring. My classroom encourages thinking which is independent, critical and original. Through this emphasis on free-expression and critical thinking, students become well-grounded in fundamental concepts and skillsets necessary to succeed in life and in their various careers.

What are you most excited for as you join Iowa State?

Easily, I am most excited for my family (MH, Esmen, and Iah) and I to become a life-giving part of this community. Iowa State has a lot of great research opportunities, equipment, classrooms and other resources, but it was the people that made coming here a no-brainer for us.