CE Club Summary 2015-2016

Civil Engineering Club at Woodrow Wilson High School (2015-2016)

After leading one of the few Civil Engineering Club pilot programs for ASCE National in early 2013, the ASCE Dallas Branch has grown the club at Woodrow Wilson High School in east Dallas into one of the most successful CE Clubs in the nation.  The goal of the club is to get high school students interested and hooked on civil engineering through interactions with practicing engineers. Over the course of the school year, professionals from all branches of civil engineering served as “substitute teachers” for a day while presenting to all four upper level civil engineering classes.  Last year over fifteen civil engineering professionals took time out of their busy work days to come present.  A full recap of the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school year can be found here and here.

WWHS was a natural fit for implementing CE Club in that they actually have an “Engineering Academy” sponsored by Project Lead the Way and lead by Mr. Brandon Carver, the teacher that so graciously opened up his classroom to ASCE Dallas.  The Engineering Academy allows students to take engineering classes through all four years of high school, allowing students the choice to focus on either aerospace or civil engineering in their final two years.  At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, WWHS received their certification from Project Lead the Way, making it the first school in the Dallas Independent School District to do so.  The presence of the CE Club, along with all the guest professional speakers, was a major factor in WWHS earning this certification.

Below are the monthly highlights from the 2015-2016 school year:

Civil Engineering Students from the University of Texas at Arlington

Derek Baker, Prapti Sharma, and Janie Santillan from the University of Texas at Arlington ASCE Student Chapter kicked off the 2015-2016 school year with the CE Club at Woodrow Wilson High School with a great presentation on college classes, networking and social opportunities within ASCE at a university, and college internships. Prapti, the current UTA ASCE President, highlighted the benefits of involvement in ASCE while in college. ASCE student members get the opportunity to visit local ASCE branch meetings, host their own on-campus meetings with professional guest speakers, attend technical and leadership conferences put on by ASCE National, participate in volunteer opportunities on and off campus, and participate in student competitions like concrete canoe and steel bridge. Derek and Janie, the captains of the concrete canoe and steel bridge teams, respectively, talked at length with the high school students about the two ASCE-sponsored competitions, including the challenges faced, friendships formed, and opportunities gained through these team competitions. Derek also showed off a nice video put together by the UTA Student Chapter for last year’s concrete canoe team and also passed around a concrete cylinder that was made of one of the test mixes for the concrete canoe. Finally, the UTA students shared their experiences of working as summer interns for a variety of engineering firms around DFW. Throughout the entire presentation, the prevailing message to the WWHS students was to fully embrace the college experience, network as much as possible inside and outside the engineering community, and to put forth one’s best effort in the classroom. There’s no doubt this was an important message to be heard by the high school juniors and seniors at WWHS that are considering studying civil engineering at the next level.

Architects from Corgan

Rebekah Broadfoot, Ashley Snead, and Janah St. Luce came to the CE Club to share their experiences working in the Education Studio at Corgan. They began by asking the students for their definitions of “architecture”. This brought out a variety of responses including: building design, interior space design, and landscaping. The three architects then gave their own personal definitions of architecture which included: incorporating the human element into spaces and coordination between owners and consultants to produce a built environment. The main point that they wanted to make is that architecture is not something can be put into a box or even restricted to a single definition. It is an art form and profession that is constantly evolving with the different thoughts, influences, and passions of the people involved in architecture.

Janah then went into detail as to how the Education Studio at Corgan functions when it comes to designing a school. Usually, a school district will present the needs of the community, the students, and the district when it comes to the education system and the facilities. The architects will then go through a series of iterations to meet the owner’s (in this case the school board’s) needs. Consultants are then brought in to assist in the structural, mechanical, and civil design. Janah stressed at this point the need for architects and engineers to have effective communication skills due to all the coordination that occurs during the design and construction process.

The students were then shown a video rendering of the new Parkland Hospital before it was built as well as some drone footage of a CTE high school that was recently completed by Corgan. Students really liked seeing the video rendering since they will soon be learning how to create similar renderings using Revit.

Finally, the students were given the opportunity to flip through a set of architectural drawings and ask questions to the architects. Students asked questions about the order of the construction documents, how long projects typically take to complete, how school boards fund the construction of new schools, and how architects help in the order of construction.

Structural Field Engineer from HILTI

Alexis Clark, the ASCE Dallas Younger Member Chair, came to share her career as a structural field engineer for Hilti with the CE Club. She started off by explaining her path through high school and college as well as the important skills she acquired before and after her start with Hilti. Alexis explained how manufacturers, sales, and consultants fit into the design and construction processes, and that engineers aren’t pigeon-holed into cubicle-restrained design careers.

After giving an introduction to Hilti and the opportunities for growth and development within the company, she briefly discussed firestop and deck fastening products and passed around samples of both to the students. Next, Alexis challenged the students to think like a technical consultant, understand that there can be multiple solutions to a problem, and that asking questions is key to being an engineer by leading them through an anchor design problem.

The students’ “problem” was given in the form of an email from a “client” needing an anchor for a base plate connection complete with geometric constraints and design loads. The class was then divided into six groups and were assigned one of three anchor solutions (adhesive, screw, and wedge anchors) to defend. There were two groups defending each of the three anchor types to show that although a team may have to defend the same product, they may use different reasons in their justification. Alexis explained to the class the three anchor types, the mechanisms by which they distribute loads, and briefly touched on installation positives and negatives. At the end of the teamwork time, each team was called up to defend their solution and the class could openly discuss why different designs and alternatives were considered.


 Core Volunteer from Habitat for Humanity

Ashlyn Kelbly, a Core Volunteer for Dallas Habitat for Humanity, presented to the students at Woodrow Wilson on the inner-workings of the organization. Ashlyn explained how interested families can apply to become Habitat for Humanity homeowners and how Habitat is not simply “giving away” houses. The organization is primarily targeting families earning somewhere between 25%-60% of the area median income and requires the families to go through home ownership and mortgage classes in addition to putting “sweat equity” (or volunteered build hours) into their home.

The students were then shown a couple of the six floor plans that Dallas Habitat for Humanity has available for the homes. There is also a variety of façade options for the houses, which is primarily the result of requests from the Dallas City Council to add some diversity to the Habitat for Humanity houses popping up in various neighborhoods.

Ashlyn then asked the students to list off what they thought some of steps to building a home might be. Students mentioned important things such as: lot size, soil conditions, surrounding area, trees, and wildlife. Ashlyn also explained how Habitat for Humanity has to do their due diligence to check the zoning requirements, flood plain status, access to public water utilities, and access to fire hydrants for the prospective house locations. All of these are things that civil engineers do on a daily basis, and it was great for the students to see how all these requirements and processes tie together to complete a project, even for something as simple as a single family residence. Habitat for Humanity will then subcontract out a geotechnical engineer for a soils report, a foundation engineer for the stiffened slab foundation, and a work crew to construct and install the plumbing and foundation. After all this has been done, the house site is ready for volunteers to begin the wood framed house construction process. Ashlyn showed pictures of all these steps and certainly built plenty of excitement for those going out to the build day the following Saturday.

Finally, the students were broken out into four teams and given a blank site map to develop a house floor plan. Each team was given a different key objective:

  • Open floor plan
  • Architecturally interesting
  • Maximize square footage
  • Easy to build


Each team then presented their floor plan to the class and defended their design based on their designated key objective. A special emphasis was made once again on how their can often be many solutions to a single problem when it comes to engineering.

 Habitat for Humanity Build Day

Twenty students, their teacher Mr. Carver, and the ASCE Dallas CE Club Champion, Jonathan Brower, had the opportunity to volunteer on a Saturday build day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The group was fortunate enough to be working on a framing day at a house site in the Joppa neighborhood of south Dallas. This meant that they arrived at the site where there was nothing but a foundation slab and a stack of pre-fabricated stud walls from the Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity Wall Shop.


Students immediately got to work in the morning chalking the slab with wall lines, nailing OSB sheathing to the exterior walls, and learning to use power tools. Before long, groups of students were setting, leveling, and using a nail gun to attaching the stud walls to the house foundation. Students also learned some more of the basic, yet essential, parts of residential wood construction such as water proofing and the importance of setting straight and level walls to produce a safe and appealing home for the homeowners.

A special thanks to Ashlyn Kelbly, a Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity Core Volunteer and ASCE Dallas member, for coordinating this build day. Additional photos from the build day can be found here.


Railroad Track Engineer from GiC

Ryan Kernes from GiC presented to the CE Club at Woodrow Wilson High School on the unique topic of railroad and railroad track engineering. He first pointed out that he became interested and connected within the railroad industry when he went to grad school where he researched railroad track components. From there, his career took off at GiC where he gets the opportunity to mix technical and non-technical skills to assist in the design and coordination of the specialized network of structures, components, and equipment that make up the North American freight rail system. He also expressed to the students that he enjoys his job as a railroad track engineer because of how specialized it is, the travel opportunities it comes with, and the team atmosphere within the tight-knit railroad industry. Ryan pointed out to the students that while Japan and Europe are the best at transporting people via rails, the United States is actually the best when it comes to the transportation of freight on railways.

Ryan then walked the students through the basics of railroad track engineering. The smooth and stable running surface that these massive trains travel across starts with the subgrade, a sub-ballast, and ballast layers. The continually-welded rails are then connected to cross ties that sit on top of the ballast with fastening systems, many of which are proprietary. At this point, Ryan was able to show the students some of the fastening components that GiC produces to connect the rails to the pre-stressed concrete railroad ties that are also manufactured by GiC at their facility in Mexico. He also walked the students through the manufacturing process for the pre-stressed concrete railroad ties with pictures and diagrams.

Finally, the students were presented with a railroad cost estimation activity where they had to price two options for a 10-mile-long railway outside of Dallas. Students had to consider the cost of wood versus concrete railroad ties as well as requirements for the ballast, sub-ballast, and sub-grade of each railroad tie option. Many of the students were impressed by this activity as well as by the uniqueness of Ryan’s career path within engineering. Additional photos from Ryan’s presentation can also be found here.

Land Development with Foresite Group

Maria Eichhold, Josh McNeil, David Norris, John Kim, and Travis Pruett from Foresite Group all took time out of their day to present the CE Club.  They led a group activity that illustrated to the high school students how land development teams must work together to achieve an under-budget, efficient, profitable, and welcoming community.  Each student was given a specific role to personify on a development team:

  •       Developer – interested in getting the most return on investment
  •       Home Owner’s Association Chair – concerned with the long term residents of the community and the impact the development will have on property values, quality of life, and comfort
  •       City Planner – concerned about boosting the city’s economy while also meeting the community needs
  •       City Economic Developer – interested in the revenue the new development will generate and the jobs that will be created
  •       Mayor – up for re-election and interested in making the community members as happy as possible; gives the final approval of the layout


Students were given a site plan with four blank city blocks that was bordered by a neighborhood, a major highway, and commercial land.  They were given a budget and a list of possible buildings and spaces that could fill up these four blocks, along with a cost associated with each building or space.  Students then had to assume their roles within the development team and decide where and how many grocery stores, houses, apartment complexes, strips malls, pharmacies, parks, homeless shelters, schools, and community centers would be placed on the site plan.  Students quickly realized the importance of patience and communication when each team member has a different agenda for the development.  Each group then had to present their new development to the whole class while justifying the decisions they had made. The Foresite Group engineers then offered constructive feedback of each team’s development.  Additional photos of Foresite Group’s visit to the WWHS CE Club can be found online here.

Structural Engineers with L.A. Fuess Partners

Jared Boyles and Phillip Pesek of L.A. Fuess Partners started a two-part series with the Civil Engineering Club by talking to students about the engineering design method and how it is applied to structural engineering. Jared started off by defining terms such as engineering, structure, load, and structural engineering. He also showed the students examples of different types of structures that are around them every day. The intent of the exercise was to illustrate where structural engineering is used in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Phil then led the students through the design example using a simply supported beam with a concentrated point load applied at mid-span. He pointed out to the students that it is important for structural engineers to design for strength AND for serviceability. A beam may not break due to strength, but if it is deflecting so much that it is making building occupants uncomfortable or damaging non-structural components then the structural engineer still has problems they need to address.

Phil and Jared then told the students they would be given the opportunity to build and test their own beam design in a couple of weeks for a “Build-A-Beam” challenge. The students were just beginning to learn about shape and section properties in their class curriculum, and the Build-A-Beam activity would be a great way to practically apply the lessons learned in Mr. Carver’s class.

The students also had the opportunity to ask Jared and Phil questions about college and the different paths they took to becoming a structural engineer. Jared obtained a bachelor's degree in architectural engineering from Oklahoma State University, while Phil has a bachelor's and master's degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas. Despite the different study programs, both found their way into building design and explained why they love what they do so much. 

Build-a-Beam with L.A. Fuess Partners

James Kleineck and Phillip Pesek from L.A. Fuess Partners put on the Build-A-Beam Challenge for the CE Club students, which was perfect given that they had just gone over a simple beam analysis problem the previous day. Each class was split into teams that were given six 2”x20” strips of foam core board to build a beam. They were also given hot glue guns and roofing nails to connect the foam core board pieces together. The teams were free to use the nails, hot glue, or both to build their beam section. Finally, the teams were informed that the ultimate goal of the Build-A-Beam Challenge was not to achieve the highest capacity but to achieve the highest efficiency by dividing the ultimate capacity of each team’s beam by the beam weight. This challenged the students to consider carefully the amount of materials used in their beam design. The beams were loaded to failure by hanging a paint bucket at mid-span and adding one and two pound increments of sand into the bucket. In the end, it wasn’t always the “strongest” beam that was the most efficient! James and Phil helped students during the design and construction phases of the project, offering advice on beam stiffening and section design. After testing, each beam was examined upon failure and the mentors explained the various failure modes. Additional pictures from the Build-A-Beam challenge can be found here and here. A video recap can also be seen here.

Water Resources Engineering with Kimley-Horn

Troy Hotchkiss and William Weidman of Kimley-Horn Associates talked to the WWHS CE Club about the challenges faced by environmental engineers. The students had the unique opportunity to learn about a real-world project in Dallas: The Bachman Interceptor. The project revolved around an aging reinforced concrete sanitary sewer running underneath the Bachman Lake Dam and alongside the majority of the lake. The existing pipeline was corroding, leaking, and had inadequate capacity for projected future growth in the area it was serving. A condition assessment was conducted to determine the extent of the pipeline replacement that would be required. Troy outlined many of the constraints and influences that he had to deal with while working on this project including: balancing public impact issues, the close proximity to Love Field Airport and Bachman Lake, very challenging underground conditions including high groundwater and unstable soils, overhead power lines, unknown private lines underground, and surrounding wetlands.

The students were split into four groups with each group being given one of the four alternative routes that were given to the City of Dallas for the pipeline replacement. Each group had to then consider the routing criteria for the pipeline and fill out a criteria matrix that rated the importance level of each criteria item. These criteria items included cost, constructability, permitting, operations and maintenance, public inconvenience, and coordination with major stakeholders. Troy then showed the students the actual results from the coordination meetings that took place on the project. The students then had the opportunity to learn about and discuss why each criteria was given more weight or importance over others.

Finally, Troy discussed and showed pictures of the trenchless technology (microtunneling) that was used on the project in order to minimize the impact construction would have on the facilities and roads above ground. 

Engineers Without Borders

Julie Jones, the President of the EWB North Texas Professional Chapter, presented to the Woodrow Wilson HS CE Club about the positive impact that engineers can make in the world outside of their daily places of employment. As an organization, Engineers Without Borders allows engineers an avenue to donate their time and engineering skills to assist communities that would otherwise have minimal or no access to such resources. Julie explained to the students that that the vision and mission of EWB is to support community-driven development programs by collaborating with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects while also giving their members an enriched global perspective. The goal is to serve communities in order that they would have the capacity and sustainability to meet their basic human needs.

Julie then showcased two recent projects that the EWB North Texas Professional Chapter has completed: a community gardens project in Dallas and a water storage and distribution project in Guatemala. Throughout the discussion of each project, Julie asked the students what they would do and what they thought the biggest challenges to each scenario were. Finally, Julie answered lots of questions for the students about her job as a private consulting engineer as well as her philanthropic involvement in organizations like EWB and ASCE.

Geotechnical Engineering with Terracon

Tim Abrams, a geotechnical engineer at Terracon, gave a presentation and led a great group activity with the CE Club students. He started off by explaining the main elements of geotechnical engineering including soil and rock analysis, foundation system design, and earth retention design. Various foundation systems were also explained, including the drilled shaft pier foundation system underneath Woodrow Wilson High School. Tim also explained that, unfortunately, as a geotechnical engineer, 90% of your work will never been seen. However, it is still an extremely important field of design and truly tests your ability to analyze and predict soil environments since most investigations only involve a handful of boring samples over a large area.

Students were also shown pictures of the tools of the geotechnical engineering profession such as drilling rigs, soil core samples, and the various tests performed in the materials lab at companies like Terracon. Tim also explained how to become a geotechnical engineer, including a recommendation to the students to pursue a master’s degree.

Finally, the students were shown a design problem that required a contractor to cut away a hillside for a building construction project. They then discussed the pros and cons of the various retaining wall solutions which included a tied back drilled shaft wall, a soil nail wall, a cast in place retaining wall, and a mechanically stabilized earth wall. Tim then challenged the students to build their own retaining wall out of pieces of paper cut to resemble soil nails. The team that built a retaining wall with the shortest amount of paper soil nail length was deemed the winner in each class. Additional photos from this presentation can be found online here.

 CE Club Field Trip

As a reward for some of the top performing students in the Civil Engineering and Architecture Design class, the ASCE Dallas Branch organized an all-day field trip for Mr. Carver and 10 students. This was a great opportunity for these students to soak in a full day within the engineering and architecture professional realm. 

The day began with a stop at Corgan Architects' office in downtown Dallas. Students were welcomed by Janah St. Luce who had also previously spoken to the students at the beginning of the year in their classroom. Janah gave the students a full tour of the Corgan building including stops at various work stations where the students got to learn about what some architects were currently working on. They also sat through a presentation from the nationally-recognized Corgan Media Lab which produces renderings, commercials, and other CGI services. 

Next, the students traveled up to Addison to attend the ASCE Dallas Branch luncheon which also happened to be Younger Member month. The students were seated at two tables at the front of the room where they got to mingle with some ASCE Dallas Younger Members and listen to the main luncheon presentation by Benchmark Harris on the topic of new tornado design requirements for schools and emergency facilities. The students were also formally recognized at the luncheon by Jonathan Brower, the ASCE Dallas CE Club Champion. 

Finally, the students traveled back down to central Dallas to the Terracon materials testing lab where they were given a tour by Tim Abrams. Tim showed the students many of the laboratory tests performed each day by geotechnical engineers and the lab technicians. This was a great follow-up to the in-class presentation that Tim had given at WWHS just a couple weeks earlier. 

A special thanks to everyone who helped make this spectacular field trip happen, especially to the ASCE Dallas Board for generously sponsoring the students' and Mr. Carver's meals at the branch luncheon. Additional pictures from the field trip can be found online here.  

Traffic Engineering with BGE

Sean Merrell of BGE spoke to the CE Club about his career as a traffic engineer. He first described his career in the army flying helicopters and then ending up at Texas A&M University where he thought he was destined to become an architect. However, he soon learned that he was more of a practical, "meat and potatoes" kind of designer and made the switch over to civil engineering. A student worker position at the Texas Transportation Institute then sparked his interest to traffic engineering within the civil engineering umbrella. 

As a traffic engineering professional, Sean explained many of the things he is responsible for producing safe and efficient designs of, including:

  • Illumination
  • Traffic signals, signal timing, and striping
  • Traffic studies and operations
  • Parking facilities 
  • Intersection design
  • Intelligent transportation systems
  • Pedestrian and bicycle facilities 


Sean then showed the students actual plan drawings of the Dallas North Tollway lighting project he is currently working on. He explained the illumination studies that were conducted and the coordination required to design and install roadway lighting systems while dealing with overhead power lines and underground utilities. 

Finally, Sean described some of the national standards for traffic signals and markings and their importance in ensuring the safety of those traveling on the roadways. Students were also shown the controls to a traffic signal control box and a couple of computer simulations that Sean has run on actual intersections in the Dallas area. 

Municipal Solid Waste with Parkhill, Smith, & Cooper, INC.

Frank Pugsley of Parkhill, Smith, & Cooper (PSC) spoke to the CE Club about how he uses his civil engineering degree from Texas Tech University within the field of municipal solid waste. As a practical example, he showed the students pictures and diagrams of the McCommas Bluff landfill in south Dallas. Students were shown statistics that broke down the content of the municipal solid waste that goes into landfills, and how over 60% of the waste is readily degradable organic material such as paper and food. One of the more impressive stats that the students appreciated was that the per capita waste generation is actually going down in Texas; showing that recycling and conservation efforts are actually have a positive impact on our waste production. 

Frank then explained the waste management cycle, which is both a public and engineering responsibility. Transfer stations receive solid waste from neighborhood pick-up routes and drop-offs by the general public. Semi-trucks then take the trash to a landfill where it is dumped and compacted. Frank also explained how engineers design landfills and must incorporate multiple sub-disciplines of civil engineering, which includes grading, drainage, utilities, support structures, and environmental monitoring.

Finally, Frank went into more detail about leachate, the “trash juice” that must be drained from landfills, and land fill gas. The students were especially interested in how the gas produced from the decomposition or organic matter must be collected and then either burned off or used as a fuel to generate electricity. Overall, the students were extremely impressed by the amount of engineering that goes into something as simple as the trash they put out on the curb every week!