Building bike lanes and communities

Portrait of Aaron Mendez

From the moment he joined Oregon State University’s College of Engineering in 2019, Aaron Mendez has pursued opportunities that promote leadership and community, including serving as president of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers student chapter and a statewide transportation committee.

“I think that’ll be helpful as I move into the professional world,” said Mendez, now a senior wrapping up his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. “It’s also important to me to get out in the community, showing students that engineering is a strong career path.”

During his first year, Mendez took the civil and construction engineering orientation course to explore different subdisciplines. Each unique component of that course ― from testing the survivability of scale-model structures against simulated tsunamis to learning in-depth information about the architectural design of Kearney Hall ― reinforced his interest. He specifically gravitated toward infrastructure, appreciating the fundamental importance of the buildings, roads, sidewalks, and underground pipes all around us.

Portrait of Aaron Mendez in front of Waldo Hall
Aaron Mendez

“I really love the infrastructure part of civil engineering, being able to build giant projects and
seeing your designs come to life for everyone in a community to use daily,” Mendez said.

Mendez gained first-year research experience in the lab of David Hurwitz, professor of transportation engineering and director of the Kiewit Center, as part of the STEM Leaders Program. During this time, Mendez networked with a graduate student researcher who offered him a seat on the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. Mendez, a cyclist himself who fervently advocates for bike/ped safety and eco- friendly transportation, saw this as an ideal leadership and community service opportunity.

“Young people need opportunities to be on statewide committees,” he said. “With OBPAC, we help ODOT look at issues directly relevant to bike and ped users in Oregon — deciding on bike lane widths, revising parts of the highway design manual, allocating funds to the Oregon Community Paths Program, and more. Serving on this committee has helped me understand more about how transportation in Oregon works and how a state agency runs overall.”

Mendez has brought the same spirit of service to SHPE, which he also joined during his first year. After the pandemic struck in 2020 and sent everyone to Zoom, SHPE continued to meet virtually. Mendez was elected as club outreach coordinator during his second year, and he served as president during his third. This year, he stood down to allow younger SHPE members the chance to build their own leadership experience.

At the end of November 2022, Mendez went with other Oregon State SHPE members to the national SHPE convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Besides opportunities to network and learn about engineering projects and career prospects, this trip held personal meaning for them; roughly 6,000-9,000 Hispanic STEM professionals had gathered to engage with colleagues from across the country.

“It was great seeing people who look like you all around and hearing them speak Spanish,” Mendez said. “We’re all in STEM and going through similar situations, so it’s great to be in that environment to show you’re not alone; you’re one piece of a bigger puzzle.”

In addition to OBPAC and SHPE, Mendez has been involved with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program since his first year. He is now serving as the head mentor within LSAMP, where he supervises a bridge program of 60 students and 20 mentors. He credits his own mentor, Sonia Camacho, for helping him throughout his time at Oregon State and instilling in him a commitment to the program.

“Sonia has been really impactful in laying the groundwork for what I’ve done at Oregon State,” Mendez said. “These are the types of connections that you make in LSAMP. I strive to be a resource for my mentees as well.”

Mendez, who graduates in June, recently accepted a full-time position as a transportation engineer with design-oriented engineering firm HDR in Bellevue, Washington. While moving means he must relinquish his OBPAC seat in May, he is excited to engage in community outreach in the Seattle area, elevating aspiring Hispanic and Latino engineers.

“Being in engineering classes can be daunting, so I’m glad I found my own groups to support me and make Oregon State feel like a second home,” Mendez reflected. “Leading communities and doing outreach is something I want to continue, being a role model for future generations.”

Feb. 16, 2023

A way with water

Story of Meghna Babbar-Sebens

When asked why she has focused her career on water, Meghna Babbar-Sebens has a simple answer: “Water is life.”

Clean water is precious in India, where she grew up. According to a recent report by the World Bank, India contains 18% of the world’s population, but just 4% of the world’s water resources.

“Water scarcity was in my face every day,” said Babbar-Sebens, associate professor of water resources engineering. “It’s really important to find better ways of managing water, because what we were doing in the past is not working for our current needs.”

She points out the Colorado River Basin as an example where previous efforts to allocate and manage water are unable to narrow the widening gap between demand and supply, as populations increase and megadroughts chronically restrict supplies.

Too little water is not the only problem. Severe weather events in the past year have caused flooding in places like Iran, Florida, Texas, Pakistan, and Puerto Rico.

Profile of Meghna Babbar-Sebens
Babbar-Sebens and Ph.D. student
Justine Obiazi discuss their “interactive optimization”
platform for soliciting stakeholder input about
computer-generated solutions for re-naturalizing
degraded watersheds.

Babbar-Sebens’s approach is to look to nature for solutions by re-naturalizing degraded watersheds, including restoration of natural areas like wetlands. At the OSU Benton County Green Stormwater Infrastructure Research Facility, her collaborative research group tests green infrastructure options such as raingardens and bioswales — shallow, vegetated Channels — for removing water contaminants. But, as a systems engineer, she looks beyond specific techniques.

“To implement a re-naturalizing approach, you have to look at the entire watershed as a system,” she said. “We ask: ‘Where can we implement these practices across the landscape in a way that is distributed and networked?’”

In developing solutions, she says, it’s critical to include the perspectives of many stakeholders such as landowners, planners, water managers, tribes, and state and federal agencies. A solution is only viable if it is acceptable to all decision-makers.

To include stakeholder input in the evaluation of water management options, Babbar-Sebens has collaborated with computer scientists and social scientists to create a system that integrates the power of computing with human evaluation.

Through a process called interactive optimization, computers perform the numerical evaluation (costs and benefits) of thousands of different design options, and people rate the best designs selected by the algorithm. Babbar-Sebens and her collaborators developed web-based tools that help stakeholders visualize possible solutions with maps and graphs. The interface collects responses to simple questions like, “Is this plan acceptable to you?” or “How does plan A compare to plan B?” Machine learning can then identify features of the plans that are more acceptable to people, and narrow down thousands of options to a select few that the community agrees on.

Babbar-Sebens has tested her method in places like the Eagle Creek watershed in Indiana and with rural communities in India. The data she has collected is helping her to refine the system. She says that tackling complicated problems like water management requires connections with community, collaborations across disciplines, and courage.

“When you think about adapting to climate change, it’s going to require courage from all of us to think differently,” she said. “Not just courage from engineering disciplines, but courage from communities to invest in ways to solve these problems.”

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Feb. 3, 2023

Measuring Glacier Melt

Oceanographer Jonathan Nash (standing) and graduate students Nadia Cohen and Noah Osman take melt-rate measurements of a small glacier in LeConte Bay, Alaska.

For decades, scientists have predicted sea-level rise as a major outcome of the warming climate, bringing with it significant impacts to coastal communities. Yet, accurately predicting how quickly and by how much the world’s oceans will rise remains challenging because of many complex factors controlling how glaciers and sea ice melt.

“It’s much harder for a community to plan for 10 feet of sea-level rise than 1 foot of rise,” said Meagan Wengrove, assistant professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Oregon State University. “That’s a really big difference, and if we could say with more certainty how much a community might see, it will really help in the long run.”

As our oceans warm, the rate at which tidewater glaciers melt is in part influenced by small eddies of warm water lapping at glaciers’ near-vertical faces. Now, Oregon State University researchers are working to obtain the most accurate measurements ever recorded of the processes underlying this melt. Their research is supported by a $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation and a $1 million award from the Keck Foundation.

“Our project is only possible because of the strong collaboration between the College of Engineering and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences,” said Wengrove, who has partnered with CEOAS scientists Jonathan Nash, professor of oceanography, Erin Pettit, professor of glaciology, and Eric Skyllingstad, professor of atmospheric sciences, as well as colleagues from Rutgers University and the University of Oregon.

“When warm ocean waters interact with a glacier, there is complex physics at play that increases melt rates,” said Wengrove, adding that most of the projections used to create models for sea-level rise are based on studies of how sea ice, swhich forms from ocean water freezing, melts.

Profile Photo
Meagan Wengrove takes shelter from the
elements during field work near LeConte Glacier in

“Sea ice is formed a lot differently than glacier ice,” she said. And it melts differently too. At a tidewater glacier face, plumes of freshwater melt rise up the ice because freshwater is less dense and more buoyant than the adjacent seawater. “You have all this really beautiful mixing occurring, right at that boundary, and we don’t really understand details of the processes because they’ve never been directly observed,” Wengrove said. “We’re trying to measure them as well as we can, and then update melt models so they can better predict how a glacier will melt into the future.”

However, getting close enough to these unstable ice cliffs to observe such small-scale dynamics has been difficult. “Because it’s such a dangerous place with calving events, there haven’t been very many measurements at that boundary,” Wengrove said.

The team is using an array of instruments mounted to and deployed from a robotic, rigid-hull inflatable boat custom-built by Nash, along with a team of engineers and students from both colleges. Team members will direct the robotic boats to make measurements of ice roughness and various ocean characteristics in order to understand their contribution to melt rate as close as possible to the submerged near-vertical face of LeConte Glacier, an actively calving glacier about 110 miles southeast of Juneau, Alaska.

“It is a bit like sending a rover to Mars,” said Nash, who is leading the engineering effort to have the robotic boat deploy remotely operated vehicles that then launch 4-foot-long “melt stakes” into the glacier to make direct measurements of melt. The ROVs also measure velocity, salinity, and temperature of the seawater right next to the ice-ocean boundary and listen to the sounds that the glacier makes underwater. The analysis of these data will help the team to better understand the processes that control ice melt and glacier stability at scales ranging from millimeters to tens of meters.

One finding that the team has uncovered so far is that tidewater glaciers may be melting at a significantly greater rate than previously known. One possible reason? Bubbles.

Glacier ice is formed as snow piles up over time. “That snow has all these little air pockets inside of it, and as it snows more and more, that initial snow gets compressed and starts moving down through the glacier and turns into ice,” Pettit said.

Those little bubbles can be squeezed between five and 20 atmospheres of pressure. When they migrate to the front of the ice where the tidewater interfaces with the ocean, they are often at much higher pressure than the ambient water. So, they end up exploding out of the ice.

“Glacial fjords are among the noisiest underwater places on the planet. When I first put a hydrophone in the water next to a tidewater glacier, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the snap, crackle, and pop that the ice makes as it melts,” said Pettit, who discovered that bubbles were the source of these sounds approximately 15 years ago.

Recently, Wengrove and Pettit hypothesized that the outburst of energy as the bubbles are released might accelerate melting. In one experiment, they compared the melting of pristine bubble-free ice that they obtained from an ice carver in Eugene to that of real glacier ice and found that the latter melted about 2.5 times faster. They plan to quantify this phenomenon further using hydrophones and cameras in the field.

“I think we should try to challenge ourselves to think about what we should do with these types of results and how we can adapt as communities to things like sea-level rise,” Wengrove said. “The Earth could have been even warmer in the past than it is today, but given all the communities of people now living on the coasts, sea-level rise will affect us in unprecedented ways.”

Feb. 2, 2023

Wave Power: The Other Sustainable Energy

Graduate student Courtney Beringer makes adjustments to LUPA, a prototype wave energy converter tested at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Lab.

Graduate student Courtney Beringer makes adjustments to LUPA, a prototype wave energy converter tested at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Lab.

Photos by Johanna Carson and Chance Saechao.

What images pop up when you hear someone mention wind power and solar power? It’s a safe bet you’ll picture towering three bladed turbines, photovoltaic panels, or perhaps vast mirror arrays. But what do you see when you imagine the machinery used to harvest wave energy?

“We all know what wind and solar technologies look like, but there are five or six leading concepts for wave energy converters, and individual WEC designs vary dramatically,” said Bryson Robertson, associate professor of coastal and ocean engineering at Oregon State University and director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center, a consortium of universities dedicated to exploring the potential of marine energy.

Compared with wind and solar — by far the leading sustainable energy sources — wave energy barely registers, but it’s well positioned to become an important factor in the green energy equation. “Wave energy is very young, and wind and solar will continue to dominate future renewable energy systems,” Robertson said. “But at a certain point, adding more doesn’t provide additional value. We need new sources that are reliable at different times of the year; that’s where wave energy comes in.”

In western Oregon, for instance, energy demand peaks in winter when solar power is at its low ebb, while winds at land-based wind farms are fickle throughout the year. But the surging waves and currents of the North Pacific embody inexhaustible and immense coils of power that offer energy densities significantly greater than any form of green energy on the planet. And it’s there for the taking.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the wave energy within 10 nautical miles of Oregon’s coastline that can be practicably recovered annually totals 68 terawatt-hours — enough to power 6.4 million homes, far more than even exist in the state.

Among the WEC archetypes vying for attention and funding in the budding industry are floating circular buoys that rise and fall with ocean swells; enormous, hinged flaps mounted on the sea floor like giant horizontal swinging doors; and barges whose oscillations compress air that turns turbines. “Because the range is so wide, it makes things really interesting as a researcher,” Robertson said.

Robertson and his team are currently testing a lab-scale WEC prototype called LUPA, for Laboratory Upgrade Point Absorber. The work, funded by the Water Power Technologies Office of the DOE, is being conducted at Oregon State’s O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory wave flume, the largest such testing facility in North America. The LUPA prototype, which uses a two-body point absorber design, consists of a 1-meterwide floating ring that houses the motor/ generator assembly and electronics. A stationary heave plate is suspended a couple meters below the surface by a metal spar. The entire unit weighs more than 400 kilograms. LUPA produces electricity when the ring’s up and-down motion relative to the heave plate turns the generator. The prototype can produce 40 watts of power in 0.16-meter waves that pass every 2 seconds.

Bryson Robertson is developing LUPA as an opensource tool meant to spur progress in the marine energy sector.
Bryson Robertson is developing LUPA as an
​​​​​​opensource tool meant to spur progress in the marine
energy sector.

A full-scale LUPA would measure 20 meters across and weigh a little over 2,000 kg. Deployed in about 50 meters of water and moored to the seabed, its potential output is estimated at 350 kilowatts in 2-meter waves with a 9-second period. But the primary goal of the project isn’t to build a scaled-up LUPA; it’s to develop a completely open-source, fully validated, numerical and physical WEC model. All LUPA data will be available to any group that wants it — commercial or educational — to use any way they like. The intent is to help the entire marine energy sector progress faster, according to Robertson.

Wave lab testing is crucial for understanding the nuances of WEC designs before building full- size versions. “It may cost tens of thousands of dollars in the lab, but once you build a full-scale unit and deploy it, you’re at tens of millions of dollars, so you have to get it right,” Robertson said. “Lab testing allows us to fail quickly and cheaply and move on to the next iteration before scaling up.”

Adding to the myriad challenges inherent in building commercially viable WECs has been a dearth of open-ocean test facilities. That will soon change when Oregon State’s PacWave South becomes fully operational in 2024. PacWave South, located a few miles off Newport, Oregon, will be the first grid-connected, commercial-scale, open-ocean wave energy test facility in the continental U.S. Covering more than 2.5 square miles, it will accommodate up to 20 WECs. The DOE recently announced $25 million in funding for eight groups planning to deploy and test WECs at the site.

Robertson expects the first full-size WECs to start operating at PacWave South in just a few years, and he predicts that a handful of units will be generating power commercially along the West Coast in about a decade.

“Wave energy will add to the diversity of options for weaning ourselves from fossil fuels,” Robertson said. “This is an opportunity for the U.S. to become a global leader in the technology. Everything is looking pretty bright for significant progress in the coming years.”

Feb. 1, 2023

History by the barrel

Image of a barrel in a basement

In the fall of 2019, during the recently completed Merryfield Hall renovations, a plumber descended into a crawl space beneath the building to tap a water line for a new drinking fountain. He also found an odd bit of construction: a dozen concrete-filled barrels, aligned in two parallel rows, supporting a significant chunk of the building. The barrels, it turns out, had also been observed during a 2014 remodel of one of Merryfield’s labs. Who knows when anyone had seen them before that?

Using barrels as concrete forms doesn’t seem to have ever been a common practice, but it sure demonstrates an imaginative solution in a pinch. And though it’s uncertain whether the barrels were part of the building’s initial construction in 1909, there’s some pretty convincing evidence that they were added later.

“I can’t say for sure without inspecting them, but based on photos, the footings used underneath the barrels do not look like original construction,” said Chris Higgins, Cecil and Sally Drinkward Professor of Structural Engineering. “They’re not well excavated and the concrete is poorly placed. These would have been easy to make before the building was completed but hard to do in a crawl space.”

Another clue is the wooden shims wedged between the barrels and the support beams, which ensure contact between the two. “That also suggests they aren’t original, as the construction would have been cleaner if it had been done new,” Higgins said.

The provenance of the barrels is clear enough: Each is marked with the name J.B. [John Bazley] White & Bros., (originally J.B. White & Sons), once one of England’s leading manufacturers of Portland cement. Its enormous plant in Swanscombe, southeast of London, was the country’s largest cement production facility for more than 80 years, mostly during the 19th century.

A compelling reason the columns were needed can be seen in old photographs of the Mechanical Arts Building (Merryfield’s original name). The area above the barrels used to be a machine shop filled with heavy, vibrating equipment. “I think the barrels were added to suppress floor vibration and deflections,” Higgins said. “It’s common to add additional supports to carry heavier loads, reduce vibrations, or stop floors from sagging under load.”

Though no one knows when the barrels were installed, it’s certain that there are no plans to remove or replace them.


Dec. 6, 2022

Spanning the globe

Panama Canal expansion

Photos courtesy of Rick Robertson.

Rick Robertson was barely a teenager when he started his first construction job. He dug catch basins, pushed concrete, and hauled materials through the long summer days. The hard work was nothing new.

“We all worked when we were kids,” said Robertson, B.S. civil engineering ’85, M.S. ’87. “School let out in June, you’d get a few days of vacation, then you went to work. I was picking strawberries in fourth grade.” But it was the construction sites, where he worked every summer through high school, that fascinated him — the precision of surveying, the machines that created perfectly aligned concrete curbs, the lasting contribution to something bigger than himself. “It opened my eyes to the possibilities of civil engineering; I could imagine a future doing that.”

In the meantime, Robertson indulged his more immediate passion: basketball. In 1979, his junior year at McMinnville High School, the team won 27 consecutive games and the state championship. The following season, the Grizzlies extended their unbeaten streak to 39, at the time the longest in Oregon history. The team overflowed with talent, including Robertson’s childhood friend, Charlie Sitton, a future All-American at Oregon State University. Pulling it all together was their coach, Nick Robertson, who would win 699 games over a 41-year career and earn a spot in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame.

“More than anyone else, my father taught me about communication, teamwork, and caring for others. So much of what I learned to prepare me for life I learned from him,” Robertson said. His father, now 81, still helps out young players.

Robertson’s first year at Oregon State was a rough one, marked by the death of his younger brother, Greg. After transferring to Willamette University for a couple of years to regroup, he played for the school’s basketball team, which helped him to clear his mind after the devastating loss.

Back at Oregon State for his final two years, he dove into his coursework, energized by an atmosphere of collaborative problem-solving that he carried into his career. He capped off his time as a Beaver with a master’s program that focused on geotechnical engineering. “I figured that would keep me from getting stuck behind a desk,” Robertson said. He figured right.

Robertson with his wife, Renee (left), and daughters Rylee and Raegan, at the Cocoli locks before flooding. The rolling steel gate behind them stands more than 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide and weighs about 3,500 metric tons. e looking for our next adventure.”

Robertson with his wife, Renee (left), and daughters Rylee and Raegan, at the Cocoli locks before flooding. The rolling steel gate behind them stands more than 100 feet tall and 30 feet wide and weighs about 3,500 metric tons. e looking for our next adventure.”

Robertson went to work for CH2M Hill (now Jacobs), where he’s been ever since. In one of his first assignments, he conducted an on-site geotechnical stability analysis at a Southern California Superfund landfill to determine its susceptibility to earthquakes. For protection, he donned a protective suit and self-contained breathing apparatus. “When I took my gear off at the end of each day, I had to pour the sweat out of my boots,” he said.

The first of many international assignments came in 1989, fulfilling Robertson’s dream of living overseas. “Greg’s stories about his adventures in Guatemala as an exchange student were a huge driver for wanting to experience the wider world,” said Robertson, who has spent 24 years of his 35-year career abroad.

In Egypt, he built Alexandria’s first wastewater treatment plant and installed an extensive water supply system in Cairo. After returning to the U.S. in 1996, he met his wife during a two-day whitewater rafting trip on the Deschutes River. “I told Renee I was probably going to work overseas again, but I’m not sure she knew what she was getting into,” Robertson said.

In 1998, they set out for Israel, where Robertson was appointed deputy manager of a $400 million port expansion. Their daughter, Rylee, was born near Tel Aviv in 1999. The family returned to Corvallis the following year and celebrated the arrival in 2001 of their second daughter, Raegan, who now attends Oregon State.

Next up for the alliterative family was Sri Lanka in 2005, where Robertson played a major role in rebuilding infrastructure that was damaged or destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The 16 geographically scattered projects included bridges, roads, and harbors; a new water treatment and distribution system for 40,000 people who never had running water before; and nine vocational schools — all on a budget of only $52 million.

“The engineering wasn’t the hardest part, it was satisfying so many stakeholders: fishing communities, the entity that controls the harbors, tourism officials, other government bodies, and USAID, which controlled the funding,” he said. “We couldn’t just go in and build things, we had to listen carefully to everyone’s concerns, make adjustments, and solve problems holistically. It was one of the biggest challenges of my career.”

After a stint in the United Arab Emirates, it was on to Panama in 2010 for Robertson’s largest and longest assignment: the $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion project, for which he would eventually serve as program manager. The work included the addition of two new locks, one each on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, which can accommodate the world’s largest cargo ships. Existing channels were widened and deepened. Because of the new configuration, the canal’s capacity doubled. The scale of the project is mind-boggling: More than 5 million cubic meters of concrete were poured to form the locks. During peak construction, that meant 1,000 concrete trucks delivered their loads every day.

“It all worked out because I was surrounded by very talented people, and success always comes down to teamwork,” said Robertson. “I’ve relied on that principle for every project I’ve worked on. And I’ve also been very lucky that my family has been so supportive and tolerant. Without them, I could not have devoted so much energy to my work.”

The new locks opened in June 2016, but Robertson has stayed on to support post-construction activities. He hopes to return to Oregon in time for a Beavers football game this fall. “I really miss that scene,” he said. “After that, I guess we’ll be looking for our next adventure.”

Dec. 6, 2022

A blueprint for career success

Tausha Smith standing in front of a Gerding Companies sign.

Although Tausha Smith considers herself a “late bloomer” in terms of her educational journey, she has blossomed powerfully, graduating in June with a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering management from Oregon State University and landing her dream job at Gerding Builders in Corvallis.

“I've always been a kinesthetic learner,” Smith said. “Ten years ago, while I was working on organic farms, a friend who worked on one of the farms was into welding and building, and she suggested I might be good at it.”

Excited to dive into hands-on projects, Smith enrolled in the welding and fabrication program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem in 2014, her introduction to career and technical education. Over the next two years, she excelled and graduated with certifications in arc welding and MIG welding before joining the workforce.

“I spent four years working in welding and fabrication at different fab shops and on-site, experiencing different types of welding like TIG welding and building 3-D printer components,” said Smith, whose first welding job was in a small fab shop in Portland that specialized in building Portland Loo freestanding public toilets.

Smith relished her time in the trades but eventually felt compelled to continue her education and expand her skill set. She realized this on a frigid morning when she was working for a company building nuclear reactor modules.

“I remember being out on the shop floor with a Rosebud (welding tip), melting ice off a stainless steel plate. I was cold, and I was reflecting; I enjoy projects, drawings, and teamwork, but how can I advance my career so I’m doing more than working in the shop?” Smith said.

Smith’s epiphany inspired her to research degree options that allowed her to take her hands-on knowledge and apply it to managing projects and leading others. She quickly determined that Oregon State’s construction engineering management program was a perfect fit, so she enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College in 2018 to complete prerequisite coursework before transferring to Oregon State in 2020 — right when the pandemic began.

While learning remotely presented challenges for someone as kinesthetically inclined as Smith, she embraced her situation and appreciated aspects of her instruction, such as the 3D modeling course taught by instructor Tracy Arras, which entailed constructing a 3D model of Kearney Hall.

“Tracy’s lectures were so thorough; there was a nice library of videos cataloged. It helped me to spend time with the 3D model of Kearney Hall, becoming more familiar with the software,” Smith said. “When campus reopened, I remember going to Kearney Hall and seeing it in person for the first time. I felt like I knew that building so well.”

Since then, Smith has continued to hone practical skills in a variety of areas, such as estimating and creating group project proposals, reaffirming her interest in a construction engineering management career. During her final year, she also took a project management class with senior instructor Lacey McNeely that offered training in Microsoft Project — software crucial to project managers in the field — and helped her build proficiency in scheduling.

Smith has also taken advantage of the many opportunities that the College of Engineering offers to students, including career fairs and networking events that introduce students to industry professionals. Adapting to pandemic constraints, many of these events were virtual, which Smith found beneficial.

“The College of Engineering has done a fantastic job funneling us into career fairs and setting up events for us to interact with local contractors,” Smith said. “Since these interviews were via Zoom, I lined up as many as I could, shopping for the ideal internship.”

Ultimately, Smith chose to intern with Gerding Builders in Corvallis, where she worked on-site at the Crescent Valley High School building renovation project during the summer of 2021. This ongoing project involves an addition to the school for its career and technical education program and a seismic upgrade. For Smith, joining well into the project was hectic, yet she recognized the supportive leadership that Gerding offered.

“I worked with two women younger than me who were project engineers. It was exciting to be paired with women who were going to train me,” Smith said. “That stood out as welcoming.”

Smith has experienced challenges common among women in trade occupations, and she is far from alone. These experiences moved her to join the National Association of Women in Construction, which has a chapter in Eugene. Smith believes seeking community within her field is essential, and she advises women entering the trades to find female mentors, job shadow extensively, and never be afraid to advocate for themselves.

One key part of Smith’s life that has cultivated her resilience to thrive in industry is CrossFit, which she has been doing for seven years. She credits CrossFit with boosting her confidence, noting parallels between CrossFit training and approaching work on-site, namely the need to focus intently on the task at hand.

“When I first walked into a gym and looked at the weights, I felt intimidated — the same way I felt when I first walked into a fab shop and saw the machinery and tools,” Smith said. “But learning to use those things and connect with a community of people using them has been incredible.”

Smith also felt a strong sense of community within the College of Engineering. “Joe Fradella and my classmates have been phenomenal,” she said. “I came out with strong relationships and networking, problem solving, communication, and team-building skills.”

Smith accepted a full-time job with Gerding Builders, her internship company, as a project engineer starting in July. She will work in a managerial capacity to address discrepancies between design blueprints and on-site conditions, collaborating with architects and subcontractors.

Aug. 19, 2022

Protecting PDX from seismic risk

Armin Stuedlein

With an earthquake imminent on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the Port of Portland is partnering with Oregon State to protect runways from seismic damage.

Over nine months, Armin Stuedlein, associate professor of geotechnical engineering, and a team of researchers, prepared an experimental test site at Portland International Airport for a series of blast-liquefaction tests. The recent experiments required detonation of multiple underground charges in an effort to understand the soil behavior during seismic ground motions.

The results of the tests will inform the design of a runway that will be able to withstand an expected magnitude 8.0 to 9.0 earthquake and ensure that critical supplies can be delivered following a massive natural disaster.

“This work is important because the airport needs to decide which runway should be retrofitted to survive the CSZ earthquake,” Stuedlein said. 

The blast-induced liquefaction technique, which was co-developed at Oregon State by Scott Ashford, dean and Kearney Professor of Engineering, consists of multiple, controlled, detonations in 40- and 90-foot deep holes. Although the ground motions from the blasts are different from earthquakes, the soil response to the blasts can be used to gauge response to earthquake motions and improve understanding of soil behavior during  an earthquake.

Since the airport sits upon liquefiable soils, including dredged sand, and Columbia river silts and sands, there is ambiguity about how deep liquefaction will occur during a CSZ event.

“We’re going to spend many months understanding what we have collected from the test, and then we will produce results that are readily transferable to our partners at the port to incorporate into their design process,” Stuedlein said.

VIDEO | View testing at the Port of Portland.

– December 2018

July 19, 2022

Bringing order, efficiency to mass transit design projects

Washington, D.C.’s Hyattsville Crossing Metro station.

Photos courtesy of Chris Tyndall.

The next time you hop on a subway or ride a train between terminals at an airport, give a nod to engineers like Chris Tyndall, B.S. civil engineering ’09. A design manager for Kiewit Corp.’s infrastructure engineering design group, Tyndall manages what he calls the “chaotic process” of combining electrical, mechanical, and communications systems in mass transit projects.

“My time is split roughly 50-50 between solving technical challenges and managing people and processes. Much of what I do is relatively intangible — you won’t find my name on many design drawings — but I enjoy bringing order and efficiency to the design,” Tyndall said.

Systems integration is critical. When a fire alarm goes off in a subway station, for example, lights and communications need to be triggered and commuter gates need to open so people can evacuate quickly and safely. The work of combining systems can mean comparing various CAD (computer-aided design) drawings — maybe some old-fashioned paper schematics, too — and devising solutions for any conflicts or discrepancies.

“I might find that an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) unit is currently designed to be right on top of an electrical transformer,” Tyndall said. “Or that a wiring diagram shows how a network is configured but not where it ends up.”

Tyndall has worked on some of the biggest jobs in the country, such as the $2 billion Automated People Mover at Los Angeles International Airport. Due to be completed in 2023, the system will simultaneously deploy six trains that start and stop only minutes apart over a 2.25-mile track.

Currently, he is working on renovations for the Metro transit system in Washington, D.C. Much of its infrastructure reflects outmoded standards of the 1970s and 1980s, and age is taking its toll on platforms and other facilities.

When Tyndall graduated in 2009, just as the Great Recession was giving way to a jobless recovery, he went to work for one of the few companies that were hiring, Mass. Electric Construction Co. A Kiewit subsidiary, its focus is on the electrical side of transit projects, such as light rail, commuter rail, and subways. It was all new to him, and it wasn’t anything like the career he’d imagined as a student.

“You think about the examples you study in classes: bridges, highways, skyscrapers. And you think those are what you’d like to do in your career,” he said. “But there are so many niches that people don’t think about — and niches within niches. Here I am, 12 years later, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

May 9, 2022

Public works leader earns national recognition

Construction workers at a construction sites.

Delora Kerber, B.S. civil engineering ’83, director of public works for the city of Wilsonville, Oregon, was selected as a 2021 Top Ten Public Works Leader by the American Public Works Association.

The honor recognizes leaders’ professionalism, expertise, and dedication to improving the quality of life in their communities through the advancement of public works services and technology.

Kerber was cited for advancing the profession through her “leadership talent, engineering knowledge, desire to serve, willingness to take risks, and interpersonal skills” over the course of her 38 years in public works. As director of public works for Wilsonville, Kerber provides management and strategic planning for infrastructure in the fast-growing community of some 25,000 residents, about 17 miles south of Portland. She oversees a $14 million budget and manages 26 full-time employees.

“One of the most exciting projects has been the expansion of our wastewater treatment plant,” Kerber said. Completed in 2014, the $44 million project is among the largest public capital investments the city has ever made. Its contracting featured an innovative “design-build- operate” delivery model — the first of its kind in Oregon, Kerber says — with the firm CH2M Hill, now Jacobs

A women sitting on a chair and talking on a stage.

Delora Kerber, B.S. civil engineering ’83, director of public works, Wilsonville, Oregon.

Nominators emphasized that Kerber’s leadership style has played a key role in her many achievements.

“She has that rare combination of expertise and passion for public works and engineering, strongly coupled with her passion for helping people succeed,” said Steven Hartwig, a former colleague who is now a deputy county executive in Sacramento County, California.

For herself, Kerber says she’s proud of her ability to serve as a mentor, that she can share her experience and knowledge with others.

“I had mentors, and those relationships were very valuable to me and helped clarify which things I should be concerned about,” she said.

She’s also quick to credit Oregon State University for setting her on a path to success.

“I love OSU and I always have,” she said. “The College of Engineering prepared me well for going into my career, and I have very fond memories. It was a great time to be there.”

May 5, 2022
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