feature-story

Energizing communities with sustainable systems

Image
A student smiling in the middle of a field.

Photos by Chance Saechao.

Working toward bachelor’s degrees in energy systems engineering and sustainability at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend, Dallas Bennett is dedicated to designing greener systems on a local level.

“I’m from Silverton, Oregon,” Bennett said. “Growing up in a small town, I have a tight-knit sense of community. It would be really nice to work directly with any community that I’m a part of.”

In Silverton, Bennett’s parents own a restaurant. Originally envisioning a similar career, she entered OSU-Cascades as a business major in 2019. However, when the pandemic struck, she reevaluated her goals and explored other degree options. In 2020, she took an introductory course in mechanical, industrial, and manufacturing engineering; for Bennett, this was enough to confirm her love of engineering and put her on a path toward a bachelor’s in energy systems engineering.

“I’ve always wanted to build things. The energy systems engineering program seemed like a good opportunity to push myself,” Bennett reflected. “It’s not the easiest degree, but I’ve definitely learned a lot.”

Besides engineering, Bennett has valued the concept of sustainability since childhood. Memories of her electricity-conscious grandmother and family camping trips at Detroit Lake firmly instilled in her the importance of environmental preservation.

“At campgrounds, I’d see places being affected by the more intense fires and natural disasters,” Bennett said. “That played a big role in my interest. Sustainability is a much bigger picture than just yourself; it has to be a societal change.”

In 2021, Bennett joined the OSU-Cascades Energy Systems Laboratory managed by Chris Hagen, associate professor of energy systems engineering and interim director of research. There, she started out writing grant proposals for research funding, but her work became more hands-on that December, when she received a Layman Fellowship to conduct undergraduate research with a faculty mentor.

Bennett’s Layman project with Hagen, which she presented at the OSU-Cascades Student Research and Scholarship Symposium in May, entailed modifying a fan to better control temperature and heat emissions from wood stoves to make the stoves burn more cleanly.

“We were interested in seeing the effect of air from a fan and how it controlled our heat source, a fake log,” Bennett said. “I ended up controlling the fan speed to stay at a set temperature, although the heater produced different amounts of heat at different times.”

Now, Bennett’s research project has become her ongoing work with Hagen. Most recently, she has been disassembling and rewiring space heaters to determine a framework for an upgraded heat-control system for the stoves. She will continue to add components to her design until it eventually functions as she intended.

“Because wood stove emissions are partially burned, we’re releasing things in the air that shouldn’t be,” Bennett explained. “But if we find the perfect temperature at which wood burns fully, and its emissions are at the right levels, it’ll be a cleaner burn. So, we’ll retrofit fans onto older wood stoves and make them smart controlled based on the stove temperature.”

Hagen noted that Bennett has “a passion for clean energy research and leadership with laboratory skills beyond some graduate students.” He also appreciates Bennett’s positive attitude and collegiality, which enhances the team dynamic in his lab. “I can speak for my entire research group by saying we all thoroughly enjoy working with Dallas,” he said.

Hagen encouraged Bennett and her lab mates, graduate student Bridger Cook and computer science Layman Fellow Seth Weiss, to enter the Hydrogen Business Case Competition, part of the Department of Energy’s American-Made Challenge series.

“The challenge was to create a business case for people to see if hydrogen is suitable for their community and how it fits into other energy systems,” Bennett said. “The first phase was outlining what we wanted to do and what we wanted to focus on, which ended up being biomass gasification.”

For phase 1 of the competition, teams across the nation conceptualized user-friendly analysis tools to pinpoint business opportunities with clean hydrogen energy for local economies. For phase 2, a select few teams with the most promising tools were tasked with designing them. One of those teams was Bend Hydrogen — Cook, Bennett, and Weiss — who offered up the Biomass gasification Optimal Business Case Analysis Tool, or BOBCAT.

“Bridger, a grad student, is actually doing a lot of work in biomass gasification and has a different grant working on some of that, so he definitely took the lead,” Bennett explained. “He coded and did foundational work on BOBCAT. Then, I made it more user-friendly and double- checked his work, which involved many formulas, and revamped our model in the end to make sure it looked clean and professional.”

Bend Hydrogen won second place overall in the competition, receiving $30,000 and DOE- sponsored internships with organizations of their choice.

As Bennett contemplates her internship options, she will continue to enjoy her research and courses, weekly bouldering as a member of the OSU-Cascades Rock Climbing Club, and the endless outdoor recreation that her adopted community offers.

Jan. 9, 2023

FY22 Research Funding Highlights

Image
Nordica MacCarty sitting in front of a furnace.

The College of Engineering at Oregon State University is a proven leader in research, expanding knowledge and creating new engineering solutions in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced manufacturing, clean water, materials science, sustainable energy, computing, resilient infrastructure, and health care.

In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the College of Engineering notched its highest-ever total in research funding, with $75.8 million in awards — an increase of more than 17% over the previous record of $64.6 million, set the year before. With 321 new and continuing awards from 128 agencies (13 of them awarding $1 million or more), 140 faculty members were chosen as lead principal investigators.

Among the notable new sponsored projects:

Geoff Hollinger, associate professor of mechanical engineering and robotics, is leading a large team of researchers to develop a multi-arm robotics platform capable of performing complex manipulation tasks, such as cleaning the hulls of boats and performing routine maintenance of piers in challenging, low-visibility environments. The team, funded by a $6 million Office of Naval Research grant, will develop algorithms for coordination of the semiautonomous arms, build reactive sensor systems to provide tactile feedback, and create decision-support modules to provide easier control by human operators.

Nordica MacCarty, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the Richard and Gretchen Evans Scholar in Humanitarian Engineering, is working to reduce harmful emissions from wood- burning stoves, a primary source of heat in Native American communities and in low-resource areas in the United States. MacCarty will work with other Oregon State researchers, including Chris Hagen, professor of energy systems engineering and interim director of research at OSU- Cascades, and David Blunck, associate professor of mechanical engineering, in collaboration with tribal and industry partners to develop a firebox retrofit that uses turbulent jets of air to improve combustion efficiency, even under suboptimal conditions. Funding for the project comes from a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy.

Haori Yang, associate professor of nuclear science and engineering, is developing sensors to monitor nuclear waste from within storage vessels. With the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain on hold, U.S. nuclear power plants have resorted to storing waste on-site in dry storage casks. Ensuring the integrity of these canisters is critical. The Department of Energy has awarded Yang $640,000 to design externally powered sensors that can be placed inside the canisters and read from the outside. Such sensors would allow the monitoring of internal conditions difficult to assess with external sensors alone.

The National Science Foundation awarded Andre Barbosa, associate professor of structural engineering, $530,000 to develop a building-design paradigm to improve earthquake resilience while integrating sustainable building practices. The new paradigm will be applied to the design of mass timber structures.

With $500,000 in funding from the Department of Energy, Goran Jovanovic, professor of chemical engineering, is developing a microchannel device for membrane-less recovery of lithium from unconventional sources, such as byproducts of shale gas extraction. Lithium is a critical element for advanced energy storage systems.

Matthew Johnston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is creating a wearable device to assess levels of anti-epileptic medication, the dosage of which is notoriously difficult to manage. The device sits in the mouth like an orthodontic retainer and monitors saliva in real time. The project is funded by a $205,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Sept. 1, 2022

A blueprint for career success

Image
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.

Tausha Smith
Tausha Smith

“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

Mechanical engineering student aims for the stars

Image
Brittany Blanksma-Stark posing next to a sign that reads "Oregon State University".

Graduating with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and an aerospace engineering minor in June 2022, Brittany Blanksma-Stark is eager to apply what she has learned in the College of Engineering toward creating a better future — and, possibly, exploring new worlds. Artistically inclined with a sharp mathematical mind, she is as proficient with a violin as she is with a subscale rocket.

“When I graduated from high school, I was in love with math, physics, and music,” Blanksma-Stark said.

Blanksma-Stark had intended to pursue both music and engineering as an undergraduate at Montana State University but found it logistically impossible. She ultimately earned her bachelor of arts in music, performing violin; however, she never lost the desire to revisit her STEM roots.

“I had worked in the arts in Portland for 10 years and decided I wanted to go back and do something technical on the math and science side,” Blanksma-Stark said. “I thought, ‘I’ve tried engineering before, and I think I would like it if I were able to focus solely on it.’ So, I decided to come to Oregon State University and pursue mechanical engineering.”

Blanksma-Stark admires engineering because it works to create solutions for some of humanity’s biggest challenges — such as developing renewable energy for our planet, which particularly appealed to her. It soon became clear that her passions go beyond our planetary system, after she took an introductory aerospace engineering course with Nancy Squires, the late, revered, senior instructor of mechanical engineering who spearheaded the college’s aerospace engineering program.

“Dr. Squires was an amazing teacher,” Blanksma-Stark said. “She inspired me to continue in aerospace science. Her passion for the topic resonated with me, and so did she as a person and a teacher. I then learned there was a group of people here also interested in aerospace, so I found that community.”

To help carry on Squires’ legacy, Blanksma-Stark served as president of Oregon State’s student branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She oversaw club operations, including securing funding and resources for eight engineering capstone teams.

“Dr. Squires did a lot of legwork setting up the club. I wanted to see that continue,” Blanksma-Stark said. “I saw a role for a student to step in who was willing to take on a little bit more responsibility and make sure there was collaboration from the faculty and student sides.”

From 2018 to 2019, Blanksma-Stark was part of the OSU Robotics Club. Her budding affinity for space led her to join the OSURC Mars rover team upon encountering the team’s Mars rover exhibit.

“With no prior robotics experience, it was a fun challenge,” Blanksma-Stark said. “I learned about different types of motors and gear systems and got to help design a bucket trowel assembly to collect a soil sample for the competition that year.”

In her final year at Oregon State, Blanksma-Stark led the University Student Launch Initiative team within AIAA. The team participates annually in a NASA-sponsored competition that entails building a subscale rocket with a payload. Initially volunteering with the team as a first-year student, Blanksma-Stark led 19 students from a variety of disciplines, including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science.

Last summer, Blanksma-Stark was a flight dynamics modeling and simulation intern at Sierra Space — a Colorado-based space technology company that has contributed to space missions to Mars — where she tested flight models for the Dream Chaser project and used her programming skills to improve data processing.

“I enjoyed it so much that I asked to stay on as an engineering aide to work part-time through my senior year. It is incredibly satisfying to apply all I have learned to a project I am passionate about and to work alongside other engineers who share that passion,” she said.

Even prior to pursuing aerospace engineering, Blanksma-Stark came to appreciate Oregon State’s mechanical engineering program, because it provides numerous opportunities for hands-on projects in COE labs, such as the MIME Machining and Product Realization Laboratory, or machine shops and woodshops. She also recommends that COE students join a club to help them nurture their curiosities among those with similar interests.

“You have people here to work with who are passionate about the same things you are. We have this beautiful space; it gives you an opportunity to get your hands dirty. Now that I’ve gone through almost four years in the program and had to work with my hands, I feel a lot more confident,” Blanksma-Stark said.

The training and experiential opportunities Blanksma-Stark has participated in at Oregon State have motivated her to aim for career goals she might not have considered before — goals that could greatly benefit humankind. She will begin the next phase of her career at Sierra Space in Colorado this summer.

“Since I discovered the aerospace community here, and I’ve become inspired by our crewed missions,” Blanksma-Stark said. “I’d like to go work on crewed missions, sending people into space and potentially exploring a new planet to live on or other needs we might have as a species.”

Remote video URL
July 21, 2022

Protecting PDX from seismic risk

Image
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

First the Ph.D., then it’s all downhill

Image
A picture of Amy Glen and Stephen Ramsey talking.

Amy Glen loves skiing, so much that it factored into her decision to attend the University of Vermont, where the Alaska native majored in biology and competed with the university’s ski team.

After graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Glen worked at a lab that conducted analytical chemistry studies for pharmaceutical companies, where she worked with a lot of Excel spreadsheets. She realized that automating the manual data entry tasks would help her become more efficient in her job, but she didn’t have any programming background.

“I learned enough Visual Basic for Applications to write a macro and I thought, wow, this is awesome,” Glen said. “So I started learning more programming from there, a little bit at a time.”

That small taste sparked Glen’s interest in computer science, and she decided to enroll in Oregon State University’s online postbaccalaureate program in computer science in 2017.

“I was really grateful that the program existed,” Glen said. “I considered doing a master’s program in computer information systems at another university, but that wasn’t quite what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have the necessary prereqs for a computer science program.”

She also didn’t want to go back to school full-time to get another bachelor’s degree, and Oregon State’s online program allowed her to set her own pace while continuing to work full-time. The flexibility of the program also allowed Glen to take a break in 2018 to help set a startup company on its feet, which required her full attention for a year.

An undergraduate research experience changes everything

She resumed online classes in 2019. Knowing that she eventually wanted to get an advanced degree with the goal of conducting research in academia or industry, Glen applied for a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in Associate Professor Stephen Ramsey’s lab.

Ramsey, who holds a joint appointment in computer science and biomedical sciences, applies bioinformatics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and systems biology to the identification and treatment of diseases.

Glen worked on one of Ramsey’s research projects, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, to integrate large volumes of data from myriad sources in biomedicine to help health professionals find possible solutions to treat rare diseases.

Glen’s background in biology is a great match for this research area, providing her a different perspective from that of most computer scientists.

“At first I was a little bit sad that I missed out on an undergraduate computer science experience,” Glen said. “But as I got up to speed and I didn’t feel behind my peers, I realized that it’s totally an asset coming from a different background like I do.”

Her previous career is giving her an advantage as well.

“Her experiences working at a lab in industry and as a startup founder give her really great instincts for working on a software team,” Ramsey said.

Glen thought she would wait about a year before attempting an advanced degree, but Ramsey encouraged her to apply for computer science doctoral programs right away.

“She has a knack for solving technical problems quickly and decisively,” he said. “On her own initiative, she solved a key challenge for our research that I had shied away from working on because I thought it would be too hard — this before she even started on her Ph.D.!”

Image
Amy Glen skiing
Amy Glen loves skiing and takes the opportunity to hit the slopes on the mountains in nearby central Oregon.
 
Taking the leap to graduate school

Though she wasn’t sure she had the qualifications to get accepted to a graduate program, Glen applied at six schools in fall 2019 and was accepted at four universities, including Oregon State.

She decided to continue her studies at Oregon State because she enjoyed the research she was working on. Making her decision a bit easier, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science offered her a fellowship in the Outstanding Scholars Program. Glen is also an ARCS scholar.

Though she didn’t finish the postbacc degree in computer science, Glen jumped right into her Ph.D. program and continued to work with Ramsey on the same research project she had started as an undergraduate.

Glen and Ramsey are working with the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle and Penn State to integrate large amounts of information in disparate and heterogeneous databases.

“For instance, there are databases that connect genes with diseases, or proteins and their mechanism of interaction with drugs,” Glen said. “There are so many databases, but they’re all in different formats and are so disjointed that it’s difficult to piece together all that information to allow reasoning across the whole dataset.”

The goal is to integrate all those sources and make them speak a common format so they can create a querying system that health professionals can use to help find possible answers for rare diseases.

Glen still loves skiing. Since moving to Corvallis, she’s been able to take advantage of the town’s proximity to the mountains. She also enjoys mountain biking and rock climbing. After she graduates, Glen plans to work for a nonprofit research institute or in academia. Wherever it is, it will likely be where she can hit the slopes often.

 

June 15, 2022

Creating communities within the College of Engineering

Image
Subisha Sundaram at outdoor roof structure of the Student Experience Center

Subisha Sundaram, an Honors College student pursuing her bachelor’s degree in radiation health physics, appreciates the student support systems in the College of Engineering and throughout Oregon State University.

“One thing that’s really helped me is the communities that I’m part of on campus,” said Sundaram, now halfway through her third year. “That sense of community played a really important role in my staying within the College of Engineering. That’s something I am passionate about and try to encourage other students to become a part of.”

Sundaram’s immersion in engineering was not something she anticipated. Although her father was an engineer, she had intended to enter Oregon State as a molecular biology major. However, after reading more about applied problem-solving in engineering fields, she switched to bioengineering before her first term. A year later, still curious, she turned to her resident community in West Hall and had a meaningful conversation with her diversity learning assistant about various engineering majors.

“I learned about radiation health physics. It really tied in cancer research, something I am passionate about. I ended up switching majors, and I’ve really enjoyed it,” Sundaram said. “I’ve been able to take classes like anatomy and radiobiology. Learning about these things has taught me indirectly about some medical technologies that I never thought of.”

Since her first year, Sundaram has worked in Professor Emeritus Jadwiga Giebultowicz’s integrative biology lab, where she has studied aging and behavior of fruit flies exposed to blue light, applying problem-solving and critical thinking skills she has honed through her engineering studies. Currently, she is conducting research in Giebultowicz’s lab for her honors thesis.

“I’m looking at a specific gene, called Arc1, which is seen to be upregulated in flies under blue light exposure, trying to figure out why this occurs — essentially, whether this gene upregulation acts as a protective mechanism or hurts them under blue light,” she said.

In the summer of 2021, Sundaram interned with Oleh Taratula, professor of pharmaceutics, and Olena Taratula, associate professor of pharmaceutics, at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where the Taratula Lab collaborated with Daniel Marks, professor of pediatrics at OHSU School of Medicine on research more directly related to Sundaram’s radiation health interests.

“We had probes that were newly synthesized, which I worked with, along with a few other students,” Sundaram said. “We tried essentially seeing whether these probes could fluoresce in order to better image cancer. It was amazing to be able to do some of these tests behind the scenes that I’ve never done before.”

Contemplating an eventual MBA, Sundaram is now a business intern with Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator, where she has conducted market research and learned about how startup companies become established and obtain funding. This should serve her well in the future; not only does she want to research and develop medical technologies, she wants to learn how to commercialize them.

Placing herself at the intersection of STEM and social justice, Sundaram interns for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which supports about 4,000 COE students from populations that have been historically denied opportunities in engineering. Sundaram conducts outreach to inform undergraduates of COE team-building events and networking opportunities with organizations that value equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“As a woman in engineering and a person of color, it can sometimes be really daunting,” Sundaram said. “I’m passionate about supporting women and helping people of color in STEM and want to promote this within engineering. You automatically find students who have shared some of the same experiences as you, but also not some of the same experiences, whom you’re able to support through these four years and, hopefully, beyond.”

An established undergraduate leader, Sundaram also serves as a COE student ambassador and as president of the Engineering Student Council. The ESC oversees all engineering clubs on campus and, crucially, allocates their funding. It also organizes Engineering Week annually and sponsors multiple events, including the annual Cookies and Clubs Fair.

“This year, we had 1,500 students attend, which was amazing after this weird fever dream that we’re living in with COVID,” Sundaram said.

Sundaram says she might work in industry initially upon graduating in 2023, but she is determined to earn an advanced degree. This could entail pharmacy school, business school, or a different program altogether. Regardless, she says, she will continue to advocate for her peers.

“I make sure to tell students it can feel like you’re a small fish swimming in a big sea coming into the College of Engineering,” Sundaram said. “But being able to find these communities can make it much smaller — like you’re at home, which is how it feels now for me.”

May 24, 2022

Bringing order, efficiency to mass transit design projects

Image
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

Image
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

Image
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

Reaching new heights: Pioneering female engineer left a space-age legacy

Image
Black and white image of engineers

Growing up, Elaine Gething Davis, ’49, would hear an airplane soaring above her family’s coastal Oregon farm and rush outside with everyone else to watch it. Later, living near a military base during World War II, she was amazed by the variety of airborne machines leaping into the sky. After the war, her father bought a surplus airplane and gave the whole family flying lessons. Thus began a lifelong fascination with things that fly.

When she arrived at Oregon State College in 1945, she was the sole woman in her mechanical engineering class.

“I can recall the day as a freshman that I went to orientation. I could hear the rumble-rumble-rumble of a lot of people talking all the way down the hall, coming from a big auditorium,” she said in a 2017 interview for Boeing’s oral history archive. “When I stepped up to the door, all of a sudden, everybody quit talking.”

elaine_gething_davis
Elaine Davis was photographed
for a student engineering publication
in an Oregon State test laboratory.

She was one of six women among the undergraduate engineering students on campus. Before them, only three female students had ventured into engineering at Oregon State.

Her male classmates taunted her that she was “just here to get married.” She told an Oregon State Technical Record reporter that she was in engineering for a career and was not considering marriage.

“I simply would not give up, as hard as it was,” she said in the oral history. “I figured, my parents are sacrificing to send me to school. I couldn’t disappoint them.”

Many older students — men returning to Oregon State after the war — were supportive and kind. She had the support of her professors as well, especially Ben Ruffner, an aeronautical pioneer who served as a mentor to her in college and would later prove vital in her career. Eventually, even the scoffers came to treat her with respect. By her junior year, she’d zeroed in on the aeronautical option within her mechanical engineering major and was thriving in her classes.

She graduated with top honors, was quickly hired by Boeing, and moved to Seattle, renting a room at a residential hotel for women. She couldn’t wait to put her engineering training to use. But Boeing had relegated her to a clerk position. She spent her days entering data alongside other women. It was tedious, but she kept her head down and gave it her all.

One day, about a year after she’d been hired, Ruffner visited the offices to do some consulting for Boeing. After saying hello to Davis at her clerk’s desk, he marched straight to the head of the company’s human resources department. He told them he wouldn’t work with Boeing unless the company put Davis in a position worthy of her skills.

Almost immediately, Davis was reclassified as an aerodynamicist and became one of the first female space engineers at Boeing. She helped design a new wind tunnel, mapped out launches and worked on putting machines into orbit.

After hours, Davis loved to cut loose. Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, she’d go with her roommate to dance the night away across Seattle. That’s how she met her husband, Phil.

“He was an electronic engineer, and we had a lot of the same interests,” she said.

She wasn’t allowed to talk about her work, even with her husband. The Cold War was ramping up, and she was doing classified work in partnership with the military. She started working on SRAMs, short range attack missiles, that could deliver nuclear warheads using a computer program to simulate their launch.

“It was scary,” she said. “I had quite a few nights of nightmares. I personally don’t believe war solves anything, but unfortunately in this world, you have to make sure you’ve got your defenses, because otherwise you’re vulnerable.”

After retiring in 1992, Davis sailed the San Juan Islands with Phil and kept dancing into her 80s. She died in 2018 at age 90.

Having grown up poor, she understood the importance of scholarships, and planned her legacy accordingly. She created a scholarship at Oregon State to support those in need, “of all races, genders and anything else,” including students of all majors. The first Elaine Gething Davis Scholarship was awarded in 2020.

April 27, 2022
Subscribe to feature-story