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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog
ASCE Pittsburgh Section at Carnegie Science Center Educational Events – By Shirley Tang & Ben Briston
The ASCE Pittsburgh Section recently sponsored and participated in two educational events hosted at the Carnegie Science Center. These educational outreach events brought students in from dozens of local schools to showcase a wide range of STEM topics and engage with professionals to learn about careers in various fields.
In March, the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair (PRSEF) was held to showcase the projects of over 500 6-12th grade students. A wide range of topics were covered by these students including Biology, Computer Science, Engineering/Robotics, and Medicine/Health/Microbiology.
ASCE Pittsburgh Section representatives participated as Sponsor Judges to present an ASCE Pittsburgh Section award for the Senior Division of the fair. At the fair, judges got an overview of the projects during a poster session and had the opportunity to interview individual students to determine an award winner. The ASCE Pittsburgh Section Selected Outstanding Project Award went to the project Abandoned Mine Drainage Water Bioindicators, for which the student monitored the reproduction rate of Daphnia in water samples to determine the impact of different filtration methods on water pollution and subsequently, the microorganisms’ quality of life.
Many other projects showed the impressive work done by students, including Measuring Exposure to Atmospheric Chemicals Using Passive Samplers: Problems with PFAS, in which the student tracked exposure levels of participants to Per and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are linked to health issues widely used in consumer products. Another notable project was A Novel Computer Vision Based Device for On-Site Detection of Microplastics in Water, in which the student designed and 3D-printed portable system that detects microplastics using a microscope USB camera and a trained custom computer-vision model.
The students’ interest, creativity, and skillfulness in developing these experiments was very inspiring to see and the event was very successful in highlighting the hard work put in by the participants.
Left, From Left to Right, ASCE Representatives Shirley Tang, David Ulmer, and Ben Briston at PRSEF.
The ASCE Pittsburgh Section also participated in the April SciTech Day, a monthly themed STEM event held at the Carnegie Science Center. The April theme was Earth and Environment as a celebration of Earth Day. The students were engaged in different booths and activities to learn about various topics such as natural sciences, the importance of pollinators, wildlife conservation, engineering, and mine reclamation.
Above, ASCE Representative Ben Briston discusses his work as a Senior Project Manager at Gannett Fleming with students.
Below, ASCE Representatives Ben Briston, Shirley Tang, Tom Batroney, Taylor DaCanal, and Matt Stevens at the ASCE booth.
Over 600 students from local middle and high schools attended the event in addition to the over 500 visitors to the museum throughout the day. The event was a great opportunity for students to explore different topics with a focus on appreciating, celebrating, and preserving our environment.
The PRSEF and SciTech events were both great events to interact and discuss the field of civil engineering with students. The ASCE Pittsburgh Section appreciates the opportunity to participate in these educational events and engage with students and the public about the impacts of civil engineering in our communities.
By Connor Gibson (2022-2023 Pittsburgh Section ASCE YMF President) and Tom Batroney
I had the pleasure of attending the Multi-Regional Leadership Conference in Charlotte, NC from Jan. 20th-21st alongside fellow ASCE Pittsburgh YMF Board members Daniel Phillips (Past President), Jayne Marks (Treasurer), and Kaitie DeOre (President Elect). I personally had an awesome time attending insightful presentations, networking with fellow engineers, and getting in some ballroom dancing in at the Awards Banquet! The primary purpose of the conference is to encourage collaboration with ASCE headquarters staff in Reston, learn best practices from other sections and chapters, and generally understand how we can make the Pittsburgh Section better for our membership.
Over the course of the two-day conference, we developed three key takeaways and recommendations to the ASCE Pittsburgh Board of Directors for how to improve our Section and increase our young membership and engagement:
Key Takeaway 1: Many Sections and Chapters are struggling with getting involvement from young members and students. To encourage student and younger member participation we need to be a coordinated effort from the Section as a whole including faculty advisors, practitioner advisors, and institutes.
Recommendations to the ASCE Pittsburgh Board:
Organize more activities that are low cost and on campus. Free food that’s not pizza and events that are fun are better. Have to go to them. Needs to be more than just YMF hosting events, need institutes, and Section there as well.
Develop a shared student engagement calendar for tracking ASCE student activities and section events on campuses. Recommend a single point person who would be in charge of the calendar possibly under the Outreach committee. Updating the calendar will be the responsibility of the current faculty advisors, practitioner advisors, student chapter presidents, YMF, and institutes. Host the calendar on Section website so that everyone can view. Recommend creating the calendar using the Sections gmail address.
Key Takeaway 2: Our Section needs to focus more on membership transition from student member to Associate member. This transition can be a difficult and sometimes confusing process for early career professionals. This transition is where ASCE loses most of its engagement and membership. Especially when dues increase after the first year.
Every year obtain list of graduating seniors from the Universities. Email them about how to get involved in YMF, how to approach their employer about paying for membership when they start their job, and the benefits of early career involvement at ASCE.
Considering hosting a “principals” breakfast meeting to discuss the state of the industry and listening to their needs. Invite one or two high level principals from firms to ask them what they need from ASCE and learn how to encourage involvement from their employees, both young and more seasoned.
Key Takeaway 3: More personalized engagement with our young members.
Consider reviving member bio templates for highlighting current members to student chapters and the section as a whole. Use these to serve as testimonials for why people should become ASCE members and showing the benefits to students and younger members.
In addition to our recommendations to the board, other fun highlights of the conference included listening to Brock E. Barry give two phenomenal presentations on nonverbal communication and the art of giving an effective presentation. For more information, here’s a link to a video interview from ASCE with Mr. Barry on the importance of non-verbal communication in the workplace. Also, the Committee on Younger Members round table discussions on topics such as membership, social media networking, and professional development were extremely helpful and provided a great deal of insight in how our local ASCE chapter can better serve and reach out to its younger members. Finally, the presentation on the Charlotte Whitewater Design and Hydrology project was fascinating and shed light on how a few people with a vision and determination can get a project approved, designed, and built in their local community.
Pictured from left to right: Pat Sullivan, Tom Batroney, Daniel Phillips, Connor Gibson, Marsia Geldert-Murphey, Jayne Marks, Kaitie DeOre, and Shirley Tang
Pictured from left to right: Connor Gibson, Jayne Marks, Kaitie DeOre, and Daniel Phillips
Pictured above: All the happy and enthusiastic ASCE Younger Members at the 2023 Multi-Regional Leadership Conference!
Every spring, ASCE holds its Legislative Fly-In in Washington, DC, an exclusive and intensive two-day event providing participants with professional development in honing their skills in the public policy process and advocacy, as well as valuable peer-to-peer networking with fellow ASCE Key Contacts. Members who engage in advocacy aren’t just doing a favor for ASCE— they are also building valuable personal skills that will help advance their career.
In addition to accepting the Outstanding Civil Engineering Advocate Team Award on behalf of the Pittsburgh Section at Thursday’s breakfast, Immediate Past President Jonathan Shimko, and Section PR Chair Jodi S. Klebick spent time alongside Pittsburgh Section members David DiGioa, T&DI Chair, and Greg Scott PE, PMP, Government Relations Chair, participating in numerous events at the 2023 Legislative Fly-In from March 1-3.A round up of some of those opportunities included a Welcome from ASCE President Maria Lehman, P.E.; keynotes from Administrator Shailen Bhatt of the Federal Highway Administration, and Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; workshops such as Storytelling Training by Brad Fitch, President and CEO, Congressional Management Foundation, and Storytelling with Local Media by Joe St. George, National Political Editor, Scripps News. Other opportunities included Issue Briefings on: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, Resilient infrastructure, and National Dam Safety Program reauthorization. Additional panel discussions were also held, as well as time given for representatives from each state to network and coordinate their state’s legislative outreach efforts as part of the Fly-In.A total of ten ASCE representatives from the Pittsburgh, Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, and Central PA Sections coordinated their outreach efforts for legislative visits. Individuals attended in-person meetings with their respective Representatives and the entire Pennsylvania team attended in-person meetings with legislative aides from the offices of Senators Casey and Senator Fetterman. The key points the ASCE advocates made with every Congressional they made were:
PART 1 - Accepting the national American Society of Civil Engineers Outstanding Civil Engineering Advocate Team Award on behalf of the Pittsburgh Section
In the snowy early morning hours of Friday, January 28, 2022, the 447-foot Fern Hollow Bridge located in the busy East End of Pittsburgh collapsed. While thankfully no fatalities occurred, ten people were injured and the incident quickly become a national news story, as it collapsed mere hours before President Biden was scheduled to go to Pittsburgh to talk about infrastructure.
As soon as word broke that the bridge had collapsed, the ASCE Pittsburgh Section jumped into action and had organized its government and media relations efforts within two hours of the event. The leadership team, led by then Section President Erin Feichtner P.E., Immediate Past President Jonathan Shimko, President Elect Tom Batroney, Section PR Chair Jodi S. Klebick Klebick, and Government Relations Chair Greg Scott PE, PMP quickly reviewed the known facts, researched more information, identified a Section speaker, prepared talking points, and crafted an action plan. Jodi began coordinating all responses and Jonathan became spokesperson. Before 9:00 am that morning, the section was organized and already fielding its first media inquiries and skillfully answering questions concerning the bridge collapse.
The section response team also closely collaborated with ASCE staff in Reston, Virginia and following President Biden’s remarks on the incident in Pittsburgh, began to coordinate local and national requests, ranging from radio, TV, newspaper, and online news outlets like NPR and the New York Times. Because of their quick thinking, and due to the foundational training provided by ASCE and resources inherent in the way the Pittsburgh Section operates, what could have been a weak or poor response from the Section to a tragic local event was transformed into a proactive, coordinated, and professional response by ASCE to a major crisis on a national scale.
Taylor DaCanal, Timothy D. Stark, George Chammas and Nick Melvin after the presentation at Penn Brewery North Shore.
The Pittsburgh Geo-Institute Chapter held its February 23, 2023 meeting at the historic Penn Brewery. The dinner event was attended by 43 practitioners. The meeting featured G-I 2023 Cross-USA lecturer Timothy D. Stark, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who spoke on “3D Slope Stability Analyses in Practice”. Dr. Stark presented an overview of 3D limit equilibrium slope stability methods, slope width/height ratios where 3D analyses are significant (greater than 6), new 3D software, and four examples of practical uses of 3D stability analyses. In particular, field case histories were presented to illustrate the use of a 3D analysis in inverse stability analyses of slope failures, modeling variable shear strength conditions, accommodating anisotropic geosynthetic reinforcement in factor of safety (FoS) calculations, and slope stabilization techniques using drilled shafts and shear walls. The audience asked many questions throughout the presentation and shared their slope stability experience, which brought a fresh appreciation of the intricacies of slope stability analyses.
By Pat Sullivan March 30, 2023
On February 18, 2023, the Pittsburgh Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers hosted their annual Engineers Week banquet at the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania in downtown Pittsburgh. The engineering community, family members, and friends came out to show their support of the Section’s Award and Student Award Foundation recipients. Nadeen Agag, ASCE’s newly appointed Deputy Program Director, greeted event attendees and offered lapel flowers to the award winners.
The banquet started with a social hour, but like all other previous banquets ran a bit long because “Engineers, love to talk, catch up with old friends and meet new people. But the show needed to go on o in keeping with recent tradition, the Emcee for the event, Pat Sullivan, PE used his microphone like voice to ‘recommend’ that people start their trek upstairs to the banquet room.
Tom Batroney, PE, Pittsburgh Section President, ‘permitted’ Pat to dish out a 10-minute monologue about whatever Pat had on his mind… And this year it was toilet paper! You had to be there. Pat’s monologue also highlighted a pictorial presentation of “Who were they before they became ASCE officers?” that really got the audience engaged! Of course Pat went a bit long….you know how HE likes to talk, but unfortunately no one was going to tell him that he was done! Past Past president and Awards Chairman Jonathan Shimko tried, but to no avail!
However, ASCE was excited to see four Past Presidents in attendance; Jonathan Shimko, Kemal Nitzik, Bob Dengler … and of course Pat Sullivan! We hope to see (most of) them again soon! ;-)
Corporate Sponsors were recognized with a certificate and true to form, Pat invited them to say a few words about whatever they wanted. Thanks again to our corporate sponsors Anser Advisory, Arcadis, HDR, and Michael Baker International.
Because Pat does not like to sit down, UESI Pittsburgh Chapter Chair Alma Rettinger, PE (Pat’s special assistant for the banquet) implemented some last minute seating changes to allow a few friends to sit together, resulting in Pat sitting at the Arcadis table, where everyone enjoyed a great buffet dinner of chicken, Italian pasta, prime rib, salmon, and vegetables. Dessert was vanilla or chocolate cake with chocolate icing (Pat lobbied hard for this dessert!) Did we mention that Maître de Mike Gaetano of ESWP is the powerhouse behind these events?
Following dinner, the real reason for the Engineer’s Week banquet commenced: To recognize the achievements of projects, people, students, and companies in our Section. This year, Jonathan Shimko, Erin Feichtner, PE, President-Elect Bill Trimbath, PE, and Jeff Argyros, PE did a marvelous job presenting the awards. Thanks for their help!
The 2022 award winners are as follows:
SAF American Bridge Leadership Award Cain Pfoutz, University of Pittsburgh
SAF Italo V. (Ody ) Mackin Achievement Award Josephine Reott, Slippery Rock University
Civil Engineering Achievement Award Fern Hollow Bridge Emergency Replacement Project
Award of Merit Highland No. 2 Reservoir Liner and Cover Replacement Project
Sustainability Award Somerset Dam Rehabilitation Project
Service to the People Award Rick Obermeier
Journalism Award Margaret Krauss
Young Government Civil Engineer Award Anna Bennett
Government Civil Engineer Award Barry King, PE
Young Civil Engineer Award Erin Feichtner, PE
Civil Engineer Award Brad Duda, PE
Distinguished Civil Engineer Award John Yadlosky, PE
Employer of the Year Award Langan
The event concluded with a second thanks to all of our sponsors, including our Gold Sponsors: Langan, Wade Trim and Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc. and the prize raffle, which again was highlighted by the annual humongous CEC food basket.
Thanks to everyone who attended, and we will see you at the next Section event, the Lifetime Member Recognition Banquet at the LaMont Restaurant in October.
“Montgomery Locks and Dam Subsurface Investigation”-James R. James, P.E.
Write up By: George Chammas and Taylor DaCanal
On January 19, 2023, the ASCE Pittsburgh Section Geo-Institute (GI) held its
annual joint meeting with the Pittsburgh Geological Society, and Association of Environmental Engineering and Geologists. The event was held at Cefalo’s Banquet and Event Center. This was the first GI meeting in 2023, and the turnout was tremendous with over 115 people registered. The presenter was Mr. James R James, P.E. of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, his presentation was titled “Montgomery Locks and Dam Subsurface Investigation". Mr. James focused on the geotechnical subsurface exploration for the locks and dams of the Ohio river.
The presentation focused on the geotechnical challenges that were presented during the subsurface investigation for the navigation structures on the Ohio River. The project was located at the new lock chamber at the Montgomery Locks and Dam in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The subsurface investigation consisted of rock coring, soil sampling, pressure meter testing, water pressure testing, optical televiewing, and acoustic televiewing. In addition to the field investigation, extensive laboratory testing was performed on the rock core samples and soil samples.
One of the challenges in the subsurface investigation included recovery of soil samples in a traditional hollow stem auger. To better characterize the upper soil layers, the investigation utilized sonic drilling methods. Sonic drilling utilizes high frequency inside a sonic head to advance a core barrel.
The other geotechnical aspects of the subsurface investigation involved the testing of rock samples specifically the coal seams. To better determine the shear strength parameters of the coal, direct shear tests and rock pullout strength testing was performed. The selection of the rock core samples was a critical part to the testing. This helped achieve more accurate shear strength parameters for the analysis of the concrete wall.
Overall, the January event was an informational event to attend and learn about the different methods of subsurface investigations. It was interesting to learn about the subsurface investigation methods not typically used on every project. We hope to see more engineers, students, and anyone interested in learning more about the geotechnical field at upcoming events!
By: Erin Feichtner, Shirley Tang, and Ben Briston
On January 14, 2023, the Future City Pittsburgh Regional Competition was held at in Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. This middle-school STEM program involves teams of students using project management skills and engineering concepts to address sustainability issues and build a future city. This year’s students took on the climate change challenge, designing futuristic cities to be adaptable and mitigating the challenges from climate change. Participants were tasked with brainstorming creative solutions to construct healthy and sustainable living environments, which involved producing a city plan and essay, constructing a scale model of the city complete with moving parts, and presenting their vision to the judges.
Eighteen teams from Western Pennsylvania participated in this year’s Future City Pittsburgh Regional Competition. Members from the ASCE Pittsburgh Section helped judge the overall competition and the special awards. The special awards included recognition for Best Integrated City, Best Transportation System, Best Use of Green Construction, and many other achievements. The ASCE Pittsburgh Section sponsored the special award Best Future City Project, recognizing a team with an impressive use of engineering concepts and consideration to essential infrastructure systems such as stormwater drainage, landscaping, and utilities. This special award was won by Team Phamborough Sweden from West Mifflin High Area School, which made use of innovative city planning concepts as well as the use of multiple forms of renewable energy.
The event was an impressive showcase of the students’ awareness of the issue of climate change as well as their understanding of the technologies that may be implemented in the future for the benefit of our communities.
From Left to Right, Board Members Ben Briston, Shirley Tang, and Erin Feichtner at the Future City Pittsburgh Regional Competition
Asking young people to consider how the built world will function in the future is not unique to the Future City competition. One of Professor John Sebastian’s University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) engineering undergraduate class recently presented their semester final projects to several ASCE Pittsburgh Section members. Inspired by ASCE’s Future World Vision initiative, the topic of their undergraduate project was to develop design concepts and ideas for how to make Pitt’s campus functional 50+ years in the future. The class divided into 10 teams with various focus areas such as; Water & Environment, Construction & Materials, Transportation, and Energy & Utilities. Researching materials, technology, and systems currently in development they presented master plans that would help Pitt flourish despite predicted future challenges like climate change, alternative energy needs, advanced materials options, and autonomous vehicle integration.
For those ASCE members that attended both events, it was impressive to observe specific futuristic concepts that both the middle schoolers and undergraduate engineering students identified as being viable. Some of the recurring solutions were; vertical farming, EcoBricks, living/self-healing concrete, and Maglev Trains. As professionals we cannot just leave it to the next generation of engineers to come up with new innovations. We have a responsibility to do our own research and stay open to integrating new concepts into the industry so that we provide the public with the best built environment to survive the ever-changing world.
Read more about ASCE’s Future World Vision Initiative here: https://www.futureworldvision.org/why-future-world-vision.
Written by: Xinchao “Steven” Wei, Ph.D., P.E. who is the Director and a Professor at the School of Engineering in Slippery Rock University.
As many of you ASCE members already know, Pennsylvania’s infrastructure for 2022 received a grade of C minus, according to the 2022 ASCE Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card. As civil engineers ourselves, a grade of C- is not something we should be very proud of. It does however emphasize the challenges we are facing and great opportunities for us to make significant contributions to our community, our country, and our profession.
Due to my work and family reasons, I travelled frequently to many places in China in the past two decade (except the past two years due to COVID). I personally witnessed the sea of change to infrastructure that occurred in almost every corner of the huge country (China is as big as the United States) from small villages to megacities. I would say China has been a wonderland for civil engineers and designers in the past two decades; with amazing highspeed rails, highways, bridges, and buildings being built. Some of the infrastructures are so creative, with stunning aesthetics, that they look alien or even crazy to a certain extent. In almost every front, investing in infrastructure has definitely been a way for China to modernize its economy, develop its workforce, and stimulate growth in the science and engineering industries.
While amazed by the rapid infrastructure modernization in China, the typical response from political figures or ordinary citizens is we cannot afford it! I think the questions that are posed should be: How can China afford it? Where does the money come from?
The secret is investment by public funds. Building our nation’s infrastructure is an investment which might not have immediate return but is made for the generations to come. Its impact can be profound; penetrating almost every sector of the economy, just like how it has transformed China in the past two decades. I am glad to see our government made significant investments in the future of this country’s infrastructure through multiple legislations including The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, and The Inflation Reduction Act. All of this is exciting news for us as civil engineers and ordinary citizens. We need to give credit to the ones who have worked hard to draft, pass, and sign these legislations to funnel money into infrastructure. But will it be enough? Probably not. Just like our own houses, we need to keep investing in repairs, updating, and lobbying for renovation.
Markosky are pleased to announce the promotion of Frank as our Structures Department Manager. Frank has been with Markosky for over six years serving as a Project Manager and Lead Bridge Engineer on numerous transportation projects. Frank’s extensive engineering experience in structures and bridge design is invaluable to the Markosky team and has helped him in serving as our Assistant Department Manager. Frank has completed over 60 structures projects through construction, and numerous projects to various stages of design. Frank has built and maintained various client relationships for Markosky and plans to continue to grow those relationships and to expand our structures services to new markets. We are confident that with Frank's leadership and technical skills that he will excel in growing our Structures Department and that he will help to continue to guarantee top of the line work from Markosky.