Category Archives: Civil Eng

Students travel to Botswana on Service Learning Program


Marcella Kennedy

The UofL International Service Learning Program (ISLP) began in 1997 with a program in Barbados. Since then, the UofL ISLP has extended programs to the Philippines, Botswana, Belize, Croatia, and Trinidad and Tobago. The ISL program involves sending students to different countries around the world to teach younger students about their respective disciplines.

This year the Botswana program was available to engineering students. Nine engineering students attended this year, including Marcella Kennedy, Stephanie Coffey, Ian Van Lierop, Lily Yang, Nick Hudson, Alec Thompson, Gabrielle Hamilton, Kayla Meisner, and Rachel O’Connor. The students were led by the civil engineering department head, Dr. J.P. Mohsen. These students spent the spring semester preparing lesson plans for junior secondary students at various schools in Gaborone, Botswana.

After much preparation, the students departed for Gaborone from April 29 through May 8. The group had three lesson plans prepared: designing and building straw bridges with masking tape, building simple solar cookers with cardboard and aluminum foil, and assembling small solar powered cars. The students departed, excited for the opportunity to share their passion with young Botswana.

Throughout the next week, these lesson plans were taught in classrooms at four schools: Nanogang, Maoka, and Kwena-Sereto junior secondary schools, and Hope Mission. These activities ignited a passion for science and problem solving in many of the students in Gaborone. Additionally, the Speed School students had time to discuss what engineers do, how to become an engineer, and why being an engineer is awesome.

In addition to teaching junior secondary students about engineering, the UofL reps also had the opportunity to engage in cultural exchange events with students from Botho University, representatives from the Botswana Ministry of Education, and faculty from many schools in Gaborone. In their spare time, students also had the pleasure of going on a trip to a game reserve in South Africa! It was an enriching first ISLP trip for engineering students, and many of them plan to return next year!

For more information on the UofL International Service Learning Program, please visit their website.


Fabrication time!

The Steel Bridge Team at U of L is excited to be in the fabrication phase of the project. The ECTC workshop is working hard to deliver a quality bridge, and the team is thrilled to see their design come to life.

In the coming weeks, the team will be perfecting the bridge’s construction time. There will soon be tryouts for team builders, who will represent our school at the regional (and hopefully national) level! If you are interested in being a builder, email us at

Submitting the Final Bridge Design

This week, the U of L Steel Bridge team submitted their final bridge design to the fabrication students at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College! The team is very excited to move forward; they are now working on completing the shop drawings for the folks at ECTC. Additionally, they plan to work with the CAD department at ECTC, so that all students involved can truly benefit from this collaborative process. Many thanks to the ECTC faculty for continuing to make this happen! The Steel Bridge Team looks forward to seeing their project come to life!

Completing the Design Phase

The Steel Bridge Design Team is completing their design, which is within the goal of completing the design this semester! This is a great step forward for the new team. The next step will be to order materials; namely, steel!

Like last year, the team will be working with welders and fabricators from the Elizabethtown Community and Technical College. The faculty and students from Elizabethtown will have ongoing communications with the UofL students, and it will work very much like a real engineering project. The groups will exchange Autocad drawings, mark up the drawings, communicate about improvements and any issues in fabrication, and much more. This provides a great experience for both groups, especially the engineering students from UofL, because they’re getting real life project management experience!

Many thanks to the guys at E-town for helping the team out again this year. Stay tuned for more updates on bridge fabrication, as the team watches their new project come to life!

Perfecting the 2014 Steel Bridge Design

The Steel Bridge Team is hard at work on the 2014 bridge design. Each year, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) present new and unique challenges in the competition rules. This year, there is a heavy constraint on the depth of the bridge. As you can imagine, this rule makes it difficult to design a stiff bridge.

With this new challenge in mind, the steel bridge team is working hard to find creative ways to make a strong, efficient bridge. Connections must be very snug, without taking forever to fasten; the final product should be practical to put together. All of these details must be considered at the very beginning design stages.

The design is moving along well, and the team is very excited to begin fabrication in January.

Engineers and Scientists

By: John S. Usher, Associate Dean

My last blog post basically laid out the idea that engineers play a role in the design of just about every man-made object that we see in our daily lives.  I often hear people say that engineers “apply science”, that is, take the findings from scientists like biologists, geologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and more, and apply those scientific concepts to solve problems.  In some cases that is true.  However, I would argue that it much more commonly goes the other way around.  Engineers usually design working systems long before the science is ever understood.

Take for example the steam engine, arguably one of the greatest inventions of all time, and the one which dramatically lead to the Industrial Revolution in the United States.   In 1712 the first commercially successful steam engine was developed by Thomas Newcomen.  The machine operated,  but was crude and very little of the input energy was converted to actual work, with as much as 80% wasted as heat.   Much later in the century, James Watt, (yes, that “watt” as in a 60-watt light bulb) worked as instrument maker at the University of Glasgow.  He was shown a small model of the Newcomen “atmospheric  engine”.  Watt studied it and in 1765 realized it could be greatly improved by introducing an external condenser.  Watt became famous for his steam engine designs as they became the backbone upon which the American mass production was built.

Yet, the actual science underlying the steam engine, namely “thermodynamics” was virtually non-existent in the late 1700’s.   Sadi Carnot, the so called Father of Thermodynamics, published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire in 1824, nearly a half century after Watt’s findings were well known.  The first and second laws of thermodynamics were not known until the late 1850s, based on the works of William Rankine, Rudolf Clausius, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin).  Rankine’s thermodynamic textbook, the first of its kind, was not written until 1859, nearly 100 years after steam engines were commonplace.

Now, I will admit, this is but one example of science trailing engineering, but we can see similar results in many other fields such as electro-magnetism, computer science, chemistry, medicine and more.  Look no further than the work of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and their success with building and selling complex computers while the field of computer science was still forming.  Again,  we see the engineer “tinkerer” in the garage making an invention work, to improve the quality of life for someone,  without the benefit of well-formed scientific principles to help guide the design process.

Fortunately, we are now seeing the lines between science and engineering blur significantly, especially on the cutting edges of additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, genetics and bioinformatics, data analytics and cyber enable discovery.   Scientists and engineers now work side by side to unlock the mysteries of mother nature and find ways to apply them to our new technological world.   I am enthusiastic and excited about the science and engineering professions and the roles they will play in solving some of the world’s most challenging problems, including, disease, poverty, terrorism, energy, sustainability, and more.

Thanks for reading!  If you want to learn more about becoming an engineer, check out our website at

Steel Bridge Team Beginning Design Phase

The Steel Bridge Team has begun its design phase, training new members on the software necessary to design a competitive bridge. AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction), the major sponsor of the Steel Bridge Competition, provides each team with STAAD software. This software assists the team in designing complicated structures.

Once the new members are proficient with STAAD, each member will be proposing a bridge design of their own. From there, the team will choose which bridge appears to be the stiffest, most efficient structure. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the team, as this design could go in many different directions!

If any student is interested in joining the team, Steel Bridge meetings are held Wednesdays at 6:00PM in the ASCE Office (W.S. Speed LL004) and the team can be contacted at