November 10, 2014, BY Heather Johns

Thirty-six Bucknell seniors traveled to Washington, D.C., for an immersive civil engineering experience.

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It can be difficult for college seniors to see beyond the cap and gown to what their future holds. Bucknell University civil and environmental engineering professors help make their vision a little clearer by taking seniors off campus and on-site to show them what being a professional engineer is really like.

Thirty-six seniors traveled to Washington, D.C., for one such immersive experience, part of a CENG 490-Engineering Planning and Project Management course field trip. Led by Professors Michelle Oswald Beiler and Mike Malusis '93, civil and environmental engineering, the trip focused on the importance of sustainability in design and construction, and took students to multi-disciplinary project sites in various phases of development — many of them under the direction of Bucknell alumni.

The trip is funded by the Beavers Internship, which aims to provide support for aspiring engineers to see projects in practice.

The group visited Gannett Fleming, Inc. headquarters; the Maryland State Highway Association Hanover Complex; the National Museum of African American History and Culture, led by Clark Construction; the Sibley Memorial Hospital Expansion, led by Turner Construction Company; and the American University Washington College of Law, led by Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.  

"These project sites introduced students to a mixture of public and private companies, design versus construction phases, and a variety of infrastructure systems — as well as the opportunity to see sustainability and innovation in design and construction in the field," explained Beiler.

"Regardless of whether students are interested in design or construction, seeing a project in process and the day-to-day operations in the field can enhance their learning and understanding of civil engineering," she added.

"The field trip was like a pop-up book of what I have learned the past three years," said civil engineering major Tara Wilk '15.

"In our Introduction to Geotechnical Engineering class, we used the same testing equipment and did the same laboratory test that Gannett Fleming was performing. We learned about Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) in the Engineering Planning and Project Management course, and every firm we visited talked about how it was implementing IPD."

As they toured each D.C. construction site, students made further connections between material learned in the classroom and applications they saw in the field. After returning to campus, they wrote a journal reflection to synthesize what they had experienced.

"The field trip taught me the difference between the atmosphere in design and on a construction site," said Wilk. "The trip allowed my classmates and me to peer into the future and compare different career paths. We also met many successful Bucknell alumni who offered invaluable advice."

Bucknell alumni played an integral role in the senior engineering field trip. They offered "day in the life" presentations, helped plan the trip and provided onsite tours. This year's alumni participants were Christopher Bailey '89 from Gannett Fleming; Jessica Hibbert '09, Tara Earley '13 and Orman Kimbrough '14 from Clark Construction; George Kreis '84 from Turner Construction; and Ed Joffe '99 from Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.

"Our goal was to let the students see that there is a wide range of fields and activities that a civil engineer can be involved in on any given day, from exploration and investigation work in the field, to high-end engineering analyses in the office, to being involved in the actual construction of your designs," explained Bailey.

"Through this trip, connections were made between students and alumni that have the potential of leading to job opportunities," said Beiler. "It is very rewarding to see graduates in the field, passionate about their job and excited to teach the next generation of Bucknell University civil engineering students."

"It was an incredible experience for so many reasons," said Wilk. "The senior field trip allowed my fellow classmates to witness and learn about how to have a successful career."