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Erin O’Brien of Carlisle, Pa., a senior Marquis Scholar at Lafayette, will be honored as one of the nation’s top undergraduate engineering students in the December issue of the national magazine CE News.

O’Brien, who is enrolled in a dual-degree program in civil engineering and international studies, will be among about 40 civil engineering students featured in an annual feature called “Spotlight on Star Students.”

The article will recognize her as an exceptional student and excellent candidate for employment, says Shanon Fauerbach, editor of CE News. The honor also indicates that Lafayette’s civil engineering program is seen as one of the nation’s best by the civil engineering industry, she adds.

“It’s obviously a credit to the school as well as the student to be named in this feature. It’s an example of the prestige that your school has in the industry,” she says. Subscribers to CE News include 50,000 private practice owners, firm principals, project managers and other licensed professionals in the civil engineering industry.

O’Brien says, “I am extremely honored to be representing Lafayette in this widely read magazine. I love the Lafayette civil and environmental engineering department, and I was thrilled to hear that it was chosen as one of the best in the nation. I hope that the recognition will not only be given to me, because my success as a civil engineering student has certainly not been achieved on my own. I have been greatly aided by the skill and commitment of my wonderful professors, the support, encouragement, and ingenuity of my fellow students, and the dedication of the staff.”

The magazine feature spotlights “highly employable” students for the civil engineering field, which needs improved hiring methods, Fauerbach says.

“We’re using this as a tool to help our readers – mostly consulting engineering firms or engineers in the public works arena – to meet up with students they might like to hire,” Fauerbach says. “We had amazing success last year.” CE News will award a cash prize to one or more of the top students, judging the nominees on the basis of essays and questionnaire answers they submit.

A recipient of Lafayette’s Carroll Phillips Bassett Prize for Civil Engineering Juniors, O’Brien has been a key contributor in a number of distinctive academic collaborations as a Lafayette engineering student.

As a participant in the EXCEL Scholars program she teamed with David Brandes, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Roger Ruggles, associate professor and head of civil and environmental engineering, on development of a hydrologic Geographical Information System (GIS) database for the Bushkill Creek watershed. In EXCEL, students collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend. O’Brien’s project registered data with the Lehigh Planning Commission’s GIS, allowing correlation of spatial trends in hydrology, stream chemistry, and sedimentation with factors such as topography, geology, land use, and soil type.

She was also a member of a Lafayette student team that took third place in the Pennsylvania-Delaware Region of the 2001 National Concrete Canoe Competition, held April 28 at Peace Valley Park, Lake Galena, just north of Doylestown, Pa. The team accomplished this feat despite the fact that Lafayette has not fielded a team since 1997.

Points were awarded for design, presentation, racing, and the final product. Named the S.S. Minnow II, the Lafayette canoe is constructed of Portland cement and lightweight aggregates. It is 20.5 feet long, weighs about 140 pounds, and has a hull thickness of a half-inch.

The canoe team’s advisers were Brandes and Arthur Kney, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. Brandes says Lafayette’s showing in the contest is particularly impressive considering that other schools within the American Society of Civil Engineering generally have competed every year.

“This team started from scratch,” says Brandes. “They didn’t have any knowledge handed to them about how to build the canoe. With teamwork and effort, they did the project themselves with little guidance. It’s their work and they’re very excited.”

The competition has been sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers and Master Builders Inc. since 1988 as a challenge to civil engineering students to apply engineering principles to designing and racing a concrete canoe. The major difficulty lies in the fact that concrete has a density nearly three times that of water. The 1997 Lafayette team used a wooden frame covered with metal sheets and a layer of concrete mix.

This summer O’Brien served an internship with Greenhorne & O’Mara (G & O), a civil engineering firm that specializes in highway design. O’Brien worked from May 24 through the start of classes in August at the company’s Mechanicsburg, Pa., office on the transportation team, which is responsible for the design of roads, ramps, interchanges, etc. The Mechanicsburg office also specializes in traffic engineering, environmental engineering, and structural engineering.

O’Brien met G & O representatives at the fall Career Fair on campus last year. “During the second semester, I was seeking an internship within commuting distance of my home in Carlisle, so I contacted G & O,” she says. “After my interview with Rick Poplaski ’90, I knew that G & O was a place where I would love to work. To my great delight, they offered me the job.”

She appreciated the employees’ willingness to invest time in teaching her despite the short duration of the job. “I learned some of the basics of highway design, and I gained some good experience creating digital drawings using Microstation, a computer-aided design program similar to AutoCAD,” says O’Brien. “I also learned so much just from watching my coworkers and asking a million questions about everything. I am so thankful for everyone’s patience with me and their willingness to stop what they were doing to help me or answer my questions.”

A member of the Lafayette chapters of the Society of Women Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers, O’Brien volunteers her time for the Bushkill Stream Monitoring Program. She has studied abroad in Spain and Belgium, and is proficient in Spanish.

As a Writing Associate in the College Writing Program, she assists students with their writing assignments in a First-Year Seminar called Biology and Society, taught by Bruce A. Young, associate professor of biology.

She is an active volunteer in sustained programs of community service that Lafayette students conduct each year under the auspices of the College’s Landis Community Outreach Center. She is captain of the Poverty and Community Development team, which oversees six community service programs, including the prison-tutoring program, which she personally heads.

A Bible study leader for Lafayette Christian Fellowship, she has served as a campus tour guide for the admissions office.

Categorized in: Academic News