I truly enjoy teaching classes where I can join the students in their learning. For example, in my First-Year Seminar, “Understanding Design,” the class works together to create a field guide to interesting designs in the local area. While learning about basic design principles, the students and I study objects and spaces on campus and in the city of Easton. Each student then chooses an interesting or intriguing object or space and, with their fellow students serving as reviewers and editors, writes a chapter for the field guide. For students to be able to create designs—whether that is the design of a physical thing, a space, a website, an essay, or any product—they need to have a vocabulary to talk about design. They need to be able to look closely at designs they encounter every day and to understand why the creator of each design may have chosen to use certain features in their designs.
As part of the first semester of the senior capstone course, I partner each student in the class with a graduate from the Civil Engineering program. During the semester, students reach out to their alumni partners and ask questions about a range of topics including the business structures of their partner’s employer, the technical and nontechnical skills that are needed in their job, the definition and development of leadership in their company, and the organization’s views on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Each student then shares what they learned from their partner, and everyone in the class benefits from hearing about the range of our alumni’s experiences in their jobs and the different types of organizations that employ our graduates.
My Research Interests
During my time as a professor at Lafayette, I’ve conducted research on a number of different topics but questions I’ve been working to answer all focus on a common theme—how we can improve the safety of structures that rely on the support provided by soil and rock.
My research initially focused on developing models to understand the causes of failure that can occur in structures like retaining walls and dams. However, because I wanted to get more students involved in my research, I later began to work on the problem of locating voids and fractures below the ground surface that can create sinkholes. Features that cause sinkholes can be difficult to locate when engineers are first investigating a site, but the problems that can be caused if a void or fracture is present at the site can be catastrophic. More recently, I’ve been working with Prof. Laurie Caslake in the Biology Department and with students in both biology and engineering to see if we can use the microbes that are naturally present in soils to improve the engineering properties of those soils. We’re currently working on a project where we’re using those microbes to change loose sands into a solid material, a material that is more like a soft rock. By improving the strength of loose sand under an existing building, that building may be more likely to survive an earthquake.
It’s that combination of liberal arts and engineering. As a student, I wanted to be at a place where I could study engineering but where I could also continue to pursue my love of music and theater. And then when I left Lafayette and went to graduate school, I began to realize how special Lafayette was. I had received an excellent education at Lafayette, not only because of the small size of the College but also because of the many relationships I had with students and faculty from across all areas of the College. And I began to realize how Lafayette’s size created an environment where the faculty also benefited. Faculty at larger institutions can easily become isolated in their areas of focus and may only rarely encounter students or faculty from other disciplines. I wanted to be at an institution where I could develop close personal and professional relationships with students and faculty from all disciplines, and I have always been grateful that I had the opportunity to come back to Lafayette.
Personal Interests/Community Work
I still enjoy making music, and my musical focus for quite a few years has been playing the English concertina. I enjoy playing classical music on the concertina, but I also enjoy playing in Irish sessions and playing music for contra dances and English country dances. Recently, I also tried playing the French horn—something I hadn’t done since high school. I took lessons from the Music Department here at the College and even sat in with the concert band for a while.
I’m also involved in professional mentoring. On campus, I’ve been part of the steering committee for the Minerva group—a group that supports women and nonbinary faculty on campus. I also served for many years as a mentor and leader for the Association of American Colleges and Universities Summer Leadership Institute, and I now serve as a program evaluator for ABET and enjoy the opportunities that ABET provides me to work with engineering programs around the world.