Classroom in the clouds
Posted: December 06, 2012
By Andy Hirsch
LEWISBURG, Pa. — John Puleo tried to take it all in. He gazed down at the Brooklyn Bridge, looked toward the Statue of Liberty and surveyed most of Manhattan from the unfinished 103rd floor of One World Trade Center, previously referred to as the Freedom Tower. Though a year away from reaching its final height of 1,776 feet, it's already the city's tallest building.
"Walking around up there was the experience of a lifetime. I've been on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, but this blew those out of the water," the senior civil and environmental engineering major said. "Maybe even more impressive than the view was the fact that we were able to see the construction close up. We saw part of the concrete core being poured and even struck up a conversation with one of the steelworkers."
The recent trip to New York's World Trade Center site was, after all, about more than sightseeing; it was a learning experience in what just may be one of the most exclusive classrooms in the world.
"This really was a rare, once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Dean of Engineering Keith Buffinton. He recalled first discussing the trip in March during a conversation with alumnus Richard Newman '56. Newman serves as chairman emeritus for AECOM, which through its subsidiary Tishman Construction is overseeing the rebuilding of several aspects of the new World Trade Center site, including One WTC.
"I mentioned that we were taking students into New York City and he said, 'Let me see if I can put you in contact with the right people there to arrange a tour,'" Buffinton recalled. "In at least some ways, that's what being a Bucknellian is all about. Dick didn't have to do this, but he wanted to create this opportunity for the students. I spoke to the students after our tour and told them this kind of an experience is not atypical here. They're connected to the University and its alumni, and being part of that community creates amazing opportunities."
The group, selected through a lottery because interest in the trip was so high, received a complete overview of the massive project from experts with Tishman and AECOM. Bucknell alumni and Tishman employees Doug Troast '85, Brian Troast '06, and Tyler Troast '08 helped organize the day. The students then received a tour of the site that included several of the new World Trade Center towers, the transportation hub and the vehicle security center. They even got to meet Steve Plate, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey's director of World Trade Center construction, while touring the site.
"The trip was such a great learning experience," said Gil Erlich, a junior civil engineering and management major. "It's one thing to learn about civil engineering in class, but to see it actually put into practice helps you truly understand it. Being on the site and seeing the concrete poured, or the superstructure of the skeleton assembled or talking with workers on the site helps make what we learn real."
But the trip to One World Trade Center's 103rd floor was a surprise, even to Buffinton. Few people will ever set foot past the 102nd floor, where the top floor of the observation deck will eventually be located.
"I've done trips with students all over the world," Buffinton said. "I've taken them onto the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, I've taken them into the boardroom and seen Ken Langone's name on the back of the chair. We've visited the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world in China and rode cable cars in Switzerland, but this trip was by far the most impactful for me in terms of what it represents as a site, as a memorial and in terms of the access we were given to see exactly how this building was being constructed. The students experienced in a real way what their jobs as a future civil engineer could be all about. It was just hugely powerful."
And, at times, emotional. "Being at a site that contains the future of New York and the memories of 9/11 was almost overwhelming," Puleo said. "The steel beams on the 103rd floor were still exposed, and we could see messages written on them, messages to the victims of 9/11. That was particularly moving."
Erlich agreed. "The trip was very emotional. This project isn't just an impressive construction site that is going to revamp the financial center of New York City, it's a tribute to everyone affected by 9/11. And it also really made me appreciate Bucknell. Nowhere else would I get an opportunity like this."
Contact: Division of Communications
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