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Marquis Scholar Christina Stenman ’03 of (Windsor, Conn.) is working with an expert in Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals to analyze the structure of the late 11th century Abbey Church of St. Etienne in Nevers, France.

A mechanical engineering major, Stenman is using ANSYS, a computer program that allows three-dimensional analysis, to conduct her honors thesis on the abbey. She is collaborating with Leonard Van Gulick, Matthew Baird Professor of Mechanical Engineering, to explore the abbey’s architecture.

“I have always had an interest in the structural aspects of mechanical engineering,” Stenman says, explaining that her curiosity grew last year when she began using ANSYS to perform finite element analysis in Design I engineering. “I wanted a topic that would combine my interest in mechanical engineering and history. While the project is geared toward engineering, it includes much historical research into the design and construction of St. Etienne.”

Stenman has been reading material, including a doctoral dissertation written by a historian at Bryn Mawr College, on the structure and history of the cathedral and is waiting to receive its plans. She will explore how the abbey’s designers combined vaulted galleries, common in southern French cathedrals, and clerestory windows cut into the nave wall beneath the central barrel vault, common in northern French cathedrals.

“The [Bryn Mawr] architectural historian produced simple hand calculations in an attempt to explain St. Etienne’s construction,” Stenman says. “However, no definitive engineering study has adequately addressed the question.”

Stenman plans to explore various structural features, including the massive ribs that support the gallery vaults and the pier buttresses on the exterior walls.

Van Gulick taught Stenman in several courses before she began research on the abbey.

“She’s very well motivated and very capable of working independently,” he says. The two plan to publish their work in a scholarly journal upon its completion.

Stenman is especially pleased that Lafayette offers strong programs in both engineering and liberal arts, allowing her to cross disciplinary boundaries with ease.

“A thesis such as mine, which combines history and engineering, is supported and encouraged,” she notes.

Stenman wrote “From Chicken Farmer to Nazi Leader: Heinrich Himmler’s Ascension to Power,” a research paper, for her First-Year Seminar and presented it at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

She studied in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic during January’s interim session between regular semesters and spent the past two summers interning for Pratt & Whitney, an aeronautical engineering firm.

A campus tour guide, Stenman is vice president of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honors society, and a member of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honors society. She is a Kids in the Community volunteer through the Landis Community Outreach Center.

Stenman received the William G. McLean Tau Beta Pi Prize, awarded to a sophomore engineering student for academic performance, campus citizenship, and professional orientation; and the Eugene P. Chase Phi Beta Kappa Prize, given to a sophomore who has demonstrated scholarship as a first-year student.

Categorized in: Academic News