Please Play Me

February 15, 2012

Justin goins at the piano

Who would have thought that a piano would be the deciding factor in a student’s decision on which university to attend? Yet, that’s what did it for Justin Goins, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering (ECE) at OSU.

Goins, a self-proclaimed “country boy,” grew up in Enterprise (pop. 1,985), located in the northeast corner of Oregon. The oldest of seven children, Goins’ family moved to Scio, Oregon in his senior year of high school. When deciding on colleges, Goins knew that he’d like to stay near his family, so Oregon State was an obvious option.

When Goins and his mother toured OSU, they liked the campus and the residence halls. And then Goins spied the piano in the corner of the Kelley Engineering Center atrium with a sign on it that read, “Please play me.”

So he did.

And when he was done playing, Dani Rau, manager of the center’s e-café, thanked him for playing the piano and gave him a certificate for a free drink. And that sealed the deal for Goins.

“I saw the piano as a sign that this was the place I should be,” Goins says.

Goins’ mother wanted each of her children to learn to play a musical instrument. “I liked the piano, but despised the lessons,” he laughs, “because piano teachers usually teach classical music, and I like ragtime and country.” So he made a deal with his parents that he wouldn’t have to take lessons if he practiced on his own.

Growing up, Goins liked to build things and work on projects, so he decided to major in engineering when he chose OSU. He graduated in June 2010 from the Honors College with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, and ECE professor Karti Mayaram was on his thesis committee. Mayaram liked what he saw, and invited Goins to do some research over the summer with the analog-mixed signal group.

“I first met Justin while teaching the ECE422 class. He was a strong student in that class,” says Mayaram. “I was most impressed by his honors thesis work and presentation. He was thorough in his work, and clear and confident in presenting it. It was one of the best honors thesis presentations I had attended!”

Now working on a master’s degree under the guidance of professor Terri Fiez, Goins is developing a system to retrofit older buildings with wireless optical and temperature sensors for increased energy efficiency. The challenge, says Goins, is to develop a system that would have the same performance and functionality as a wired system, but using less power because the wireless sensors would run on batteries, ideally for about 15 years at a time.

Goins still plays the piano in the atrium regularly — often between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. — because, he says, that’s a typical graduate student’s free time. And over the years, people have regularly thanked him for playing, though there’s the occasional grumbler who wants silence instead. But one of those people who appreciated his playing was a woman who knew the man who donated the piano. “She was so pleased,” Goins says, “because this is exactly what the donor wanted — for the piano to be in an open place where it would be played and a lot of people could enjoy it.”

The next time you see someone playing the piano, thank them.