Students think about roads and buildings and the physical infrastructures they see, but there's always a water runoff plan that goes with every building or road. Getting them to see that hidden thing is my first step.

Jessica Newlin

Professor Jessica Newlin admits that her engineering discipline is probably not the most exciting on the surface.

"I guess seeing one of your designs built when you're designing a building or a bridge is a lot more satisfying than seeing your stormwater plan built," says Newlin, civil & environmental engineering, who graduated from Bucknell in 1998. "Unless you appreciate the big picture and know how everything we do affects the overall design, you don't understand the importance of that stormwater management design."

This is her challenge with students, who might be lured by visions of shining skyscrapers without realizing that even the greatest building impacts the water environment. She emphasizes the importance of the discipline, especially as global freshwater availability becomes an increasingly complex concern.

"In terms of water resources, a lot of it is hidden in a design," Newlin says. "Students think about roads and buildings and the physical infrastructures they see, but there's always a water runoff plan that goes with every building or road. Getting them to see that hidden thing is my first step."

Newlin's father, brother and grandfather are all engineers, so the field was a natural fit. Her path into civil & environmental engineering started with a less-traditional idea than her specialty in stream channel hydraulics.

"I was going to major in engineering and minor in biology, and I was going to design zoos — natural habitats without cages," she says. "That was my goal for a very short time until I realized there are people who do that, but they aren't very busy. So I shifted to civil engineering, and I was drawn to the water stuff."

Newlin says her graduate school adviser and the natural setting around her hometown outside Reading, Pa., drew her to study water and its interaction with the natural habitat and manmade structures. And in hindsight, it's not far off from designing zoo habitats.

"The more I think about it, it does relate to designing zoos, because I'm trying to figure out how natural stream systems work so that our impact on them can be lessened through better design practices," Newlin says. "We're changing the environment dramatically. I am still designing natural habitats, but not in zoos — in the natural world."

Updated Sept. 30, 2016

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