Transportation planning affects all aspects of civil engineering. By learning about green design principles, students learn to test solutions in an engineering environment with unknown factors at work.

Michelle Oswald Beiler

Fuel consumption. Urban sprawl. Public transit. Walkability. These are the problems related to transportation that sparked Michelle Oswald's interest in sustainable transportation planning. An assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, Oswald has a background in green building as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP). This training provides the context for expanding green design principles to the transportation sector.

As a scholar, Oswald investigates rating systems and transportation adaptation practices in response to climate change. As a teacher, she shares her expertise with undergraduates through courses including a new, interdisciplinary course titled Sustainable Transportation Planning.

Oswald came to Bucknell because of its liberal arts approach to engineering education and its focus on pressing global issues like sustainability. "The College of Engineering appealed to me because it emphasizes the integration of teaching and research, hands-on learning, and sustainability," she says. She explores her research topics both through practical applications in the field and in the classroom. "Interest in green building design, climate change action and sustainable development is growing throughout the engineering sector. I believe my field -- transportation planning -- should incorporate sustainable techniques to enhance mobility while reducing impacts on the environment, society, and economy."

For one of her assignments, Oswald requires students to keep a diary of their travel behavior for a week in order to determine how to use more environmentally friendly transportation methods. "Addressing real world transportation planning issues allows students to contribute to the local community and informs their personal decisions about travel and transportation," she says. She promotes good strategies for sustainable transportation through options such as providing commuters with a mixture of transit options, walking and biking routes, and mixed-use, high density urban development.

Oswald believes that teaching sustainability is essential to preparing the next generation of engineers. "Transportation planning affects all aspects of civil engineering," she says. "By learning about green design principles, students learn to test solutions in an engineering environment with unknown factors at work. Sustainable engineering design courses are valuable professional preparation for all engineers -- no matter where their interests lie."

Posted Sept. 27, 2011

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