By Bryan Hay

Michelle Oswald Beiler ’07, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Bucknell University, has been selected as recipient of the 2019 Transportation & Development Institute (T&DI) Outstanding Younger Member Award. She accepted the honor June 11 during the organization’s international conference in Alexandria, Va.

“This is a prestigious award, and the entire engineering division is proud of Michelle and her research at Bucknell,” says Kristen L. Sanford Bernhardt, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and chair of the engineering studies program. During her senior year at Lafayette, Beiler did an independent study with Sanford Bernhardt, who mentored her through the graduate school application process.

The T&DI Outstanding Younger Member Award recognizes younger members (35 and under) who have been selected by the T&DI Younger Member Committee for their professional contributions to transportation engineering. 

Proud of her undergraduate years at Lafayette, Beiler spoke recently about her career and the inspiration received and lifetime relationships established on College Hill.

What does this award mean to you?

“It is an honor to receive this award, as I have been engaged in a number of American Society of Civil Engineers activities, committees, journal publications, and book chapters. ASCE is the national professional society for civil engineering and the Transportation and Development Institute is the specialty organization within ASCE devoted to transportation engineering. Therefore, receiving this award from them is an acknowledgement that I have “attained significant professional achievement” within the field of transportation engineering based on my leadership, service, technical competence, and contributions to the public sector.”   

What are your research interests and teaching specialties/projects?

“My research and teaching focus is in the area of sustainable transportation planning. Specific research topics include transportation adaptation to climate change, sustainable transportation performance measures and rating system development, pedestrian and cycling travel demand, and sustainable engineering education. 

“The local Buffalo Valley Rail Trail has served as a local testbed for a number of projects I have led, both research and teaching related. From a research perspective, I led a study focused on developing a method to explore trail demand and economic impacts as well as led the development of a sustainable rating system for trail development called GreenPaths. In terms of teaching, senior design projects have focused on trail expansion and, in working directly with local clients, have led to the construction of new sections that extend beyond the original 9.5-mile trail connecting Lewisburg to Mifflinburg.  

“I have developed a new course while at Bucknell called Sustainable Transportation Planning, an upper level elective in transportation engineering that connects urban planning with transportation design while minimizing impacts to the environment, society, and economy.  The course includes real world projects where students can interact with the local community and solve problems for clients. 

“Another aspect of my research is in the area of climate change adaptation, which takes a broad view of how to protect and prepare transportation facilities for changes in climate including issues such as sea level rise inundation. Using Geographic Information Systems, sea-level-rise inundation analyses were performed on Philadelphia County for transit facilities as well as non-motorized transportation routes. Understanding specific impacts at the facility level can lead to improved planning both for short-term and long-term project improvements.”   

Who among the Lafayette engineering faculty inspired you to pursue a career in academia?

“Prof. Kristen Sanford Bernhardt was (and still is) an amazing mentor and role model. She is truly the person who inspired me to pursue transportation engineering and academia. After taking transportation elective courses, I knew I wanted to learn more, so she offered the option of an independent study. I worked with her on a local project looking at the walkability of the Lafayette College campus to downtown Easton. Upon graduation, she recommended me to pursue my graduate degree, and I worked under Prof. Sue McNeil at University of Delaware where I was able to receive a master’s degree in civil engineering as well as a master’s degree in urban affairs and public policy, and then eventually my Ph.D. in civil engineering.  

“Also, throughout my four years at Lafayette, Prof. Mary Roth [Simon Cameron Long Professor of civil and environmental engineering] served as a mentor and role model for me as she was actively engaged in engineering education and strongly encouraged me to go into academia.

“Toward the end of my graduate degree, Prof. Art Kney [professor of civil and environmental engineering] and Prof. David Veshosky [associate professor of civil and enivornmental engineering] were instrumental in preparing me for teaching at the undergraduate level as I served as a co-instructor of the CE 473 Civil Engineering Senior Design at Lafayette College. I was able to assist with syllabus design, planning lectures, running design charrette, and weekly progress meetings for the capstone project of designing a Sustainability Education Center at Metzgar Fields. Serving as a co-instructor for this course allowed me to come full circle from being a student at Lafayette to then serving as an instructor for a civil engineering course at Lafayette.

“Another person that influenced me while I was at Lafayette was coach Jim Dailey [swimming and diving head coach]. As a member of the varsity women’s swim team for all four years, I was encouraged to have a balance between academics and athletics. Coach Dailey understood the importance of academic excellence, which allowed me to be successful in and out of the pool. Under coach Dailey, I served as one of the team captains during my senior year, which provided a unique and memorable leadership experience.”

How did Lafayette prepare you for that journey?

“Lafayette College provided one-on-one mentorship where Prof. Sanford Bernhardt not only advised me to pursue options in academia, but she offered research options through the independent study in transportation planning. Having experience working on research as an undergraduate prepared me for graduate school, and I really enjoyed investigating topics within the intersection of urban planning and transportation engineering. I am thankful for these research opportunities as well as all of the guidance I received while at Lafayette College.”

Categorized in: Alumni, Alumni Profiles, Alumni Success Stories, Careers, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Featured Alumni Success Stories, Featured News, News and Features

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