spacerCivil and Environmental Engineering
Link to College of Engineering homepage Link to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Link to University of Wisconsin-Madison homepage Link to Civil and Environmental Engineering Department homepage
Front cover of "The Conduit" newsletter PDF of "The Conduit" newsletter
THE CONDUIT : The Civil & Environmental Engineering Department Newsletter


Featured articles

Local mentors give back

Climate change is here, but we can fight back

Advisory board steps up to support CEE

Global company is a partner in construction engineering education

Engineering students use EPA funding to conserve water at medical school complex

2009 teaching award: Katherine McMahon

Regular Features

Message from the Chair

Department News

Student News


spacer Homepage for CEE newsletter Button to obtain BACK ISSUES Button to CONTACT US Button to JOIN OUR MAILING LIST Button that connects to UW Foundation page for online giving  

Local mentors give back

Photo of students and mentors taken in the senior design class

(View larger image)

Decorative initial cap As seniors, civil and environmental engineering students in CEE 578, the capstone design course, apply their cumulative engineering skills and knowledge on multidisciplinary teams that address a real-world design challenge.

However, thanks in large part to several local industry professionals, the students also learn what to expect as they enter the engineering workforce. “It’s a challenge for the student to really learn what it is to be an engineer,” says Michael Doran. “I think the practicing engineers in the program can really help bridge that gap.”

A retired wastewater engineer and former co-owner of Strand Associates, Doran is among a group of CEE alumni from such engineering firms as Mead & Hunt Inc., Erdman, Flad & Associates Inc., RMT Inc., GRAEF-USA Inc., MSA Professional Services, The Boldt Company, the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, and others, who volunteer as student mentors throughout the design course. (Professor Jeff Russell teaches the course in fall, while Professor Greg Harrington leads it in spring.)

“As a graduate of the department, I always wanted to “give back” in some form or fashion as a sign of gratitude to dedicated professors who assisted and mentored me though my studies at the UW,” says Terry Kennedy, former vice president of Madison-based Mead & Hunt, who retired in 2006 after 40 years with the firm. “I was not the best student in the house, but they realized my passion for the CEE field and encouraged me to work hard to achieve graduation.”

Photo of students and mentors taken in the senior design class

(View larger image)

Doran also cites his great education and experience as a student at UW-Madison, and says all of the professionals feel obligated to share some of their knowledge with the next generation.

As a mentor for the capstone course, each professional engineer works with a single team of students, who are charged with completing a project. The professional takes on several roles, from client to construction resource to advisor, says Kennedy. “My function was to make the process as real-life as possible for the students,” he says. “Each stage of the process was covered, including client-designer contract, schematic, preliminary and final designs, specifications, cost estimates and construction schedules.”

Retired after 40 years as a professional engineer, former Strand Associates vice president Rod Hassett says the course goal is to replicate professional practice as much as possible in the classroom setting. “We are taking this capstone design opportunity to introduce the students to the total design process for a project,” he says. “We also have the students present their projects twice during the semester to an outside group of judges that play the role of the ‘project owners.’ This adds to the students’ preparation for actual professional practice.”

Photo of students and mentors taken in the senior design class

(View larger image)

In part, the professionals help the students understand how they fit into the big picture, says Doran. “The student often doesn’t really have a good sense of the role of an engineer in society and the role of an engineer on a client’s or owner’s team,” he says. “What does an engineer do? What are their responsibilities? What is their mission? And the work that we’re doing is really trying to bolster that knowledge, make them understand that they have a job to do for their owner, but they still have a responsibility to society, and their mission is to deliver a project that meets all the needs of the owners and still satisfies the demands of society.”

He urges his students to participate in discussions that identify the grand challenges society faces, as well as to define and develop solutions for those problems. “I’m trying to encourage the students to be joiners, to be more involved in the community,” he says.

In fall 2009, Doran and retired Isthmus Architecture principal and senior architect Charles Quagliana—both of whom now are CEE adjunct professors—will team-teach the capstone design course. Incorporating even more real-world experience, the two initially will require students to prepare a proposal in a quest to be “hired” for a design project. Mimicking work in an engineeringfirm, several student teams ultimately will collaborate on one large, subdivision-style project that involves such aspects as water supply, storm drainage, and street layout and design. The students also will learn more about business aspects such as tracking time and budgeting.

Kennedy says the students take their mentors’ advice seriously—yet he says he benefits as much from interacting with them as they do with him. “The most enjoyment I received from this course was the tremendous enthusiasm and dedication provided by the students to work as a group to complete the project as best as possible,” he says. “I think the students realized, during the time that we spent together, that I have a passion for the consulting profession. If they have a similar passion, I tried to convey to them that they will have a successful career doing something they love. Hopefully, they could also see that I truly enjoyed working with them, and could be an industry mentor at some point during their career.”

Hassett echoes Kennedy’s admiration for the students. “At the end of the semester during the final presentations to the ‘project owners,’ I enjoy watching the judges react to the very professional presentations made by the students that are equal to or exceed the quality of presentations made by experienced professionals,” he says.

For help with this webpage:

Copyright 2009 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Date last modified: Monday, 10-August-2009
Date created: 10-August-2009