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Erin North ’03 (Canonsburg, Pa.) spent much of the January interim session searching libraries and websites for information that may eventually help road crew workers and civil engineers deal with falling rocks and sliding soil more effectively.

North, a civil engineering major, gathered information about possible uses for personal digital assistants and compiled an annotated bibliography. She worked as an EXCEL Scholar with Kristen Sanford Bernhardt, assistant professor of civil engineering.

“It is a very interesting project and an amazing opportunity for an undergraduate student,” says North, who searched academic, professional, and commercial web sites and publications. “Doing this type of research gives me a sense of confidence about my abilities as an engineer. I also learned about new technology whose use is on the rise in the engineering profession.”

Sanford Bernhardt says the bibliography will help her in research she is conducting with a professor from the University of Missouri-Columbia. That work is sponsored by the Midwest Transportation Center and the Missouri Department of Transportation.

“I certainly think she did a very good job with what I asked her to do,” Sanford Bernhardt says, adding that during the spring semester, North will continue to assist her in developing a system to classify hazards and costs involved in the construction, maintenance and repair of transportation slopes. Sanford Bernhardt says that ultimately, she hopes to create a database that road workers could access with personal digital assistants whenever they encounter “slope failure” on the job.

“What we’re looking to do is provide some decision-making criteria,” she says, explaining that instead of making an educated guess or calling a project engineer, a worker could enter key information into a personal digital assistant and receive instructions on how to proceed.

North spent the past two summers as an intern at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s District 11 headquarters in Uniontown, Pa., and part of the January interim session shadowing a civil engineer in the scheduling department of Dick Corp. in Pittsburgh, Pa. North says that observing how engineers in that department use project-planning software in personal digital assistants helped her visualize how the devices could be used in the field.

North, who conducted much of her research at the University of Pittsburgh and Lafayette’s Skillman Library, says she often hears positive comments about Lafayette’s engineering program.

“It is nice to hear people say, ‘Wow! I’ve heard that is a good school for engineering’ when I tell them I attend Lafayette,” she says. “I am also grateful for the numerous opportunities, extra attention from professors, and small class sizes.”

North, who hopes to work as a civil engineer after graduating, is a member of Lafayette Dancers, the HIV and AIDS Prevention and Education Now education and awareness group, Society of Women Engineers, and American Society of Civil Engineers. She also served as an engineering computer laboratory proctor during the fall 2001 semester and worked for the Lafayette Phone-A-Thon last year.

Categorized in: Academic News