LEWISBURG, Pa. — The man had no idea what happened to his car. He found scratches and dents covering the driver's side of the vehicle. After retracing his steps, he surmised he had dozed off while driving home the night before, and crashed into a guardrail in the highway median. He should have been killed. But a new, stronger, safer wire-rope guardrail was being tested on that stretch of road. This new guardrail was introduced to the United States by 1968 Bucknell alumnus Richard McGinnis, professor of civil and environmental engineering. He was convinced this system could save lives.
"The guardrail worked so well the car was redirected back onto the highway. The man woke up and continued driving, unaware of what had happened," Miranda McGinnis, Richard's wife and a fellow 1968 graduate, recalled. "So many civil engineers are into the building of roads, the building of bridges, the construction — he was more interested in social impacts. And he always felt improving safety measures had the most beneficial social impact. That's where his passion lay."
McGinnis' resume is filled with innovative and potentially life-saving roadside safety improvements. He helped reconfigure the weak-post w-beam guardrail to make it stronger, was behind placing reflectors on rail cars to make them visible at unmarked crossings and has worked with crosswalk warning systems to make streets more pedestrian friendly.
While McGinnis' work may go unnoticed by many, the Transportation Research Board recently recognized his commitment when the board's Committee on Roadside Safety Design honored him with the 2012 Kenneth A. Stonex Award. The award is given to individuals for a lifetime of major contributions to the field.
"From the national level to right here in Lewisburg, Dick was monumental in developing innovative ideas and technologies," said Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Michelle Oswald, who calls McGinnis a mentor. "The honor of the Stonex Award is one that transportation practitioners and scholars strive for and it truly reflects Dick's passion and devotion to making improvements in the field of transportation."
That passion was met by McGinnis' commitment to his students and their education. He strived to provide them with real-world learning opportunities both locally and abroad. He helped broaden the curriculum of the Bucknell in London program to allow engineering students to participate and, in 2010, was honored with the Burma-Bucknell Bowl Award for supporting and promoting international study opportunities for all students — especially engineers.
McGinnis was the first chair of the Lewisburg Traffic Committee, and he involved his students in numerous projects designed to improve the community's traffic and pedestrian infrastructure. He once said, "Lewisburg is a great laboratory where students can learn about many aspects of transportation and engineering and at the same time make improvements to the community through their service-learning activities." His work was recognized with the Presidential Award for Teaching Excellence in 2003, and it continues to have an impact on his students today.
"When his former students are in town they still stop by to visit and say, 'I just took my girlfriend or boyfriend down to Market Street to show off the crosswalk I helped design.' It's really neat to hear those sorts of things," Miranda said. "And Dick appreciated that Bucknell, because of the environment here, really affords that opportunity to students to be involved in those types of real-world solutions."
Cancer claimed McGinnis' life before news of the Stonex Award was made public, and Miranda knows he would have been honored. The award hangs proudly in the couple's kitchen — it is prominently displayed and always in view. Though Professor McGinnis is gone, his work continues to make a difference in the lives of many.
"He definitely made an impact on our society, I don't think there are any questions about it," Miranda said. "His work has saved and will continue to save lives."
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