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When Marquis Scholar Susan Bowers ’05 (Williamsport, Pa.) was planning her future in civil engineering, she decided to look far into the past through an independent study that examined ancient Mayan construction methods.

“The primary goal of this research was to answer the question, ‘How did the Mayans build their structures, and what were their primary reasons for using such construction techniques?’” says the civil engineering major with a minor in mathematics. “The project coordinated well with my interest in the structural aspect of civil engineering.”

Working with guidance from Vincent Viscomi, Simon Cameron Long Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Bowers points out that the ancient Mayan structures “seem to have been inspired by an inventive combination of progressive engineering principles and gifted builders.”

“Research concerning Mayan structures and construction techniques is a necessary complement to the excavations of such ruins that continue today,” she says, explaining that many ancient structures, including those built by the Mayans, have yet to be uncovered. “Each of these undiscovered structures will present its own character and innovation, providing an ongoing basis on which to continue the research on Mayan building procedures.”

She compared structures in a number of different Mayan cities, explored influences of Mayan construction techniques on techniques currently in use, and learned more about the restoration of Mayan structures.

“The most interesting aspect of the project was learning about how large-scale structures were built more than 1,000 years ago, and then looking for similarities and differences between these methods and the construction methods used today,” she says. “It was also amazing to think about how such massive structures were built with such limited tools and technology.”

Bowers chose Viscomi as her adviser because of his interest in all types of historic structures.

“I am very glad to have worked with Dr. Viscomi. He is very knowledgeable in the area of structural engineering,” she says.

She believes that Lafayette has given her with a welcoming environment for her research.

“In addition to providing excellent coursework, Lafayette is an ideal place to pursue independent research projects such as mine,” Bowers says. “I have really enjoyed being a civil engineering major here. Lafayette’s close-knit environment has allowed me to gain hands-on experience in each area of civil engineering, receive one-on-one attention from professors, and build close relationships with fellow students.”

The recipient of the Central Pennsylvania Section, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Scholarship for 2003 and 2004, Bowers gained hands-on experience in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates in Bridge Engineering program last summer. She interned with PennDOT the previous two summers. In 2004, she was awarded the Jack W. Weber Scholarship from the CIB Foundation, which is given to outstanding undergraduate students demonstrating a career goal in becoming practicing engineers, architects, inspectors, technicians, and contractors for the “built environment,” and Lafayette’s Russell C. Brinker Prize in civil and environmental engineering and Carroll Phillips Bassett Prize for juniors in civil engineering.

Bowers is secretary for the student chapter of ASCE, treasurer for the Tau Beta Pi engineering honors society, member of the Pi Mu Epsilon mathematics honor society, and a student admissions representative. She is a member of the tennis club, crew club, and volunteered with the Kids in the Community program through Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center. She spent the spring 2003 semester studying in Brussels, Belgium, and took a Lafayette interim session course in Kenya and Tanzania.

Chosen from among Lafayette’s most promising applicants, Marquis Scholars such as Bowers receive special financial aid and distinctive educational experiences and benefits, including a three-week, Lafayette-funded study-abroad course during January’s interim session between semesters. Marquis Scholars also participate in cultural activities in major cities and on campus, and mentoring programs with Lafayette faculty.

In a cover story of its Prism magazine, the American Society for Engineering Education cited Lafayette among nine engineering schools nationwide that have “excelled in upping the ranks of women in their midst.” Lafayette received a grant of $151,875 from the National Science Foundation to build on this success and further strengthen recruitment and retention of both women and minority engineering students.

Independent study courses are among several major opportunities at Lafayette that make the College a national leader in undergraduate research. Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at last year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News