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Two professors highlighting Lafayette’s outstanding student research program in civil engineering have been honored for presenting the best paper among all published or presented last year within the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Civil Engineering Division.

Mary J.S. Roth ’83, professor and head of civil and environmental engineering, and Kristen L. Sanford Bernhardt, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, received the Glenn L. Martin Best Paper Award this past June at the 2005 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition in Portland, Ore. They earned the national honor for their coauthored paper, “Undergraduate Research: The Lafayette Experience,” which was published in the proceedings of last year’s ASEE national conference.

“The opportunity for students to conduct one-on-one research with a faculty member is a strength of the Lafayette College environment. Lafayette encourages undergraduate research in all disciplines through a variety of programs, including independent studies, honors theses, and paid research assistantships (called the EXCEL Scholars program),” the paper states. “On average, approximately one quarter of the students in the [civil and environmental engineering] department are involved in research with faculty in any given semester, and a significantly higher percentage participate at some time during their Lafayette careers.”

The absence of graduate students at the College means that professors often use Lafayette undergraduates to assist with their research. The papers and conference presentations that sometimes result from these collaborations not only help the faculty members, according to Roth and Sanford Bernhardt, they give students a specific goal, a sense of accomplishment, and a distinguishing characteristic for resumes and graduate school applications.

From the 1998-99 academic year through 2003-04 – the period covered by the paper – more than 40 civil and environmental engineering students conducted research in the department, as did 18 students representing other majors, including chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, A.B. engineering, and geology. In that period, all civil and environmental engineering faculty members conducting research had students working with them, report the authors.

Among honors thesis students, 56 percent produced conference papers or presentations, 33 percent published articles in engineering journals, and 11 percent presented papers at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Among EXCEL Scholars, 33 produced conference papers and presentations, nine percent published journal articles, and 18 percent presented papers at NCUR. Seven percent of independent study students published their results in engineering journals.

The number of civil engineering students in each graduating class who are involved in research has been increasing, with 24 percent in the class of 1999 and 64 percent in both the classes of 2003 and 2004.

Steps recommended by the authors to improve the civil and environmental engineering research experience for students include obtaining formal feedback from students about research experiences and holding mandatory one-hour seminars on research issues for new student researchers.

To increase the number of students conducting research, the authors recommend boosting the pay for EXCEL Scholars, increasing the prestige associated with performing research, providing office space for all student researchers, and holding and/or participating in regional civil engineering undergraduate research conferences.

Named Engineer of the Year by the Lehigh Valley chapters of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers and American Society of Civil Engineers, Roth has participated in several NSF-funded research programs related to assessing subsurface conditions to improve the safety of foundations for buildings. She and Laurie Caslake, associate professor of biology, are sharing an NSF grant for an innovative research project to determine whether bacteria can be used to strengthen soil that otherwise would be too weak to safely support buildings. Roth has co-authored more than 15 articles and conference papers with her student researchers, including mechanical engineering major Adam Faroni ’04 (Granby, Conn.) and civil engineering majors Sandra Henning ’05 (Jarrettsville, Md.) and Ron Manney ’05 (Coal Township, Pa.), with whom she coauthored a paper published in the proceedings of the Symposium on the Application of Geophysics to Environmental and Engineering Problems.

Roth received her B.S. from Lafayette, her M.S. from Cornell, and her Ph.D. from the University of Maine.

Sanford Bernhardt also publishes her research in engineering journals and involves Lafayette students in her work. Her research with students has ranged from a project with civil engineering major Katrina Gibbons ’03 (Ocean Pines, Md.) aimed at finding ways to make Missouri railroad crossings more safe to one with civil engineering major Erin North ’03 (Canonsburg, Pa.) to help road crew workers and civil engineers deal with falling rocks and sliding soil more effectively to one with Dan McClendon ’03(Lakewood, N.J.) weighing the merits of bringing a commuter rail line back to his hometown.

Sanford Bernhardt, who taught at the University of Missouri-Columbia for four years, holds an M.S. and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University and a B.S.E. from Duke University.

Categorized in: Academic News