Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Debra Gilkerson ’06 (Albany, Calif.) made a presentation at the 19th annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research on her creation of a complex digital mapping system for 60 years’ worth of paper records at the Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority.

Roger Ruggles, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, guided Gilkerson, a civil engineering major and music minor, for the independent research project.

“In order to benefit authority personnel more and make their lives easier when tracing problems and addressing customer complaints, the project evolved into making a mapping database system,” she says.

Her database contains digital records, a map of system lines, and locations of about 100 pre-treatment plants. It links the plants to paper records stored in specific locations.

“Basically, when you click on the location of a property, a Word document will pop up telling you where each individual file is located,” she says.

Users will immediately know the specifications of lines and treatment stations and what chemicals are permitted or not permitted by the authority. The database also informs users of properties linked to certain lines and the lines linked to certain plants.

“If customers complain about an odor, for example, this is ultimately going to help the maintenance people find the problem faster and solve the problem faster, so the response time is going to be quicker,” she explains.

If plant workers discover an unauthorized chemical at a pre-treatment plant, they will be able to trace where the leak is coming from based on the information known about the properties of each line.

Ruggles notes that the program’s benefits extend beyond the sewer authority.

“Typically, in class the problems aren’t as open-ended,” he says. “While we do have design projects that are open-ended, for her as a junior to be able to go out and work on something that provides a significant benefit to the community, I think that’s something very valuable in her education.”

Ruggles, who has been involved with dozens of undergraduate research projects, says Gilkerson’s is on par with some of the most advanced ones.

“I think it is at a high level,” he says. “At conferences where the papers themselves are peer reviewed, you do have a mechanism there to filter out anything that is not of high quality.”

Although mastering some of the software was a challenge, Gilkerson was able to apply much of the knowledge gained at Lafayette and develop essential communication and people skills needed to thrive in the workplace.

“I’ve used the GIS program in class and I’ve used the AutoCAD program to map things, but I’ve never mapped anything this real,” she says. “This has helped me deal with a lot of the job-related aspects of leaving Lafayette and made me more comfortable with what I’m getting into.”

Ruggles knew the project would be a success under Gilkerson’s care.

“The biggest advantage that she has is that she works independently extremely well,” he says. “She conducted a lot of this research last summer while I was in Africa and it wasn’t like she could run up to my office and ask me a question. She was able to go through it and figure out several things right on her own.”

Gilkerson is a member of the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and sings in Bethlehem’s Bach choir. She graduated high school from Marin Academy.

A Fulbright Scholar to Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, Ruggles regularly involves students in his research. He was part of a team of four Lafayette students and two professors who spent six weeks in Uganda last summer, examining issues related to the wetlands surrounding Lake Victoria with their peers at Makerere University through a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

He has played a major leadership role in obtaining grants from the National Science Foundation totaling more than $450,000. Ruggles has presented research at the American Society of Civil Engineers EWRI World Water and Environmental Resources Congress, American Society of Agricultural Engineers Annual International Meeting, and the first International Conference on Geospatial Information in Agriculture and Forestry.

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. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News