Reminiscing in Happy Valley: Civil engineers reunite for the first time in three decades

This past summer, three former Penn State civil engineering classmates reunited when they came to State College to attend a wedding. One of them, Jim Foreman, contacted the college’s alumni and marketing/communications offices to tell their story.

“Before the wedding, Bob (Lee), Jim (Moore) and I met at Spring Creek Park (near Houserville) to see if the covered bridge project we completed in 1976 was still standing.  As you can see from the photo, it was and the three of us were able to relive that time working together.”


ASCE Bridge             Jim Foreman, Bob Lee, and Jim Moore (L-R) near the bridge at Spring Creek Park

“The bridge was built to provide pedestrian access over Spring Creek as part of a public park development. The Penn State student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) sponsored and completed the work.  Our adviser was Ralph Mozingo.  The three of us were ASCE members and performed the surveying, layout and project management/documentation (photo/movie/time lapse). We also participated in and studied other aspects of the construction in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Chi Epsilon for Dr. Willenbrock’s CE 432 Construction Management course.

We have kept in touch since we all graduated in 1976, but this is the first time we all had a chance to be together in more than 30 years. We still acted and treated each other as good friends always do!”


James E. Foreman III, P.E. retired from Champion Aerospace as manager of manufacturing services. He resides in Spring, Texas.

Robert L. Lee is division administrator at the South Carolina Federal Highway Administration. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina. His wife, Gloria, is also a 1976 civil engineering graduate.

James P. Moore, P.E., CCM is chief, construction management at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. He resides in Washington, D.C.



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It’s always 65 degrees at the Eco-Machine

Rachel Brennan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, back, shows Ozgul Calicioglu, a new doctoral student in her research group, how to clear out the duckweed in one of the Eco-Machine's ponds.

Rachel Brennan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, back, shows Ozgul Calicioglu, a new doctoral student in her research group, how to clear out the duckweed in one of the Eco-Machine’s ponds.

On a campus where everything’s draped in white, there are precious few spots where greenery can be found.

One of those places is the Eco-Machine , an artificial wetland laboratory sheltered in a greenhouse south of Medlar Field just off Porter Road.

Run by Rachel Brennan, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, the Eco-Machine is designed to clean wastewater through the use of natural ecological processes.

Only a handful of plants occupy the 540-square-foot facility during the winter. Once spring arrives, the Eco-Machine will be teeming with more life.

Only a handful of plants occupy the 540-square-foot facility during the winter. Once spring arrives, the Eco-Machine will be teeming with more life.

Employing various plants and organisms, Brennan’s Eco-Machine replicates the biofiltration process that removes pollutants in wetlands.

Brennan explained that during the winter, many of the plants in the Eco-Machine go into a ‘resting phase’ where they don’t grow much, but the microorganisms in the system still keep the water quality high. Since the system contains so many living organisms, the machine can’t just switch off.

Inside the greenhouse, it’s a balmy 65 degrees and the vibrant colors of the resident Black Magic Taros and Water Callas are a stark contrast to the blanket of snow outside.

“I reduced the temperature over winter break to help conserve energy, but the plants really didn’t like it,” Brennan stated.

Water callas are among the few plants that live at the Eco-Machine facility year-round. Brennan's team stops by the greenhouse every few days to check on the plants.

Water callas are among the few plants that live at the Eco-Machine facility year-round. Brennan’s team stops by the greenhouse every few days to check on the plants.

She said the plants that are currently in the greenhouse are just a small part of the Eco-Machine. Once the weather gets warmer, the roughly 540-square-foot facility will spring to life with more than a dozen tropical plants to enhance the filtration work.

Until then, Brennan and her team will continue visiting the machine every few days to check on things.

“Every week, this place needs some minor maintenance like trimming the plants.”

And because the relatively warm environment can be a haven for bugs, her team keeps vigilant for unwanted pests.

“Earlier in the winter, we had a bit of an aphid problem because we can’t open the windows, so they tend to multiply,” Brennan said. To solve the problem, she purchases ladybugs to keep the aphids in check without the use of pesticides.

On this particular day, she’s introducing Özgül Çalicioglu, a Fulbright Scholar from Middle East Technical University in Turkey who just started her doctorate in Brennan’s group this semester, to the facility.

Brennan shows Çalicioglu how to scoop out duckweed from the artificial ponds. She explains that the emerald plant does a fantastic job of trapping nutrients in water.

The environmental engineer thinks that duckweed’s nutrient-trapping ability could be used to prevent runoff into waterways and potentially serve as a substitute for chemical fertilizers.

“Using duckweed in this capacity hasn’t been studied very much,” Brennan said. She said she hopes to test duckweed as a fertilizer substitute in the nearby community gardens this summer.

After Çalicioglu finishes cleaning the duckweed out of the ponds, the two head back to campus, but will check back again in a few days.

“It really just takes care of itself,” Brennan said. “It’s great.”

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Civil engineer Jovanis testifies before congressional subcommittee


Paul Jovanis, professor of civil and environmental engineering, testified before a congressional subcommittee on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Jovanis, who serves as director of the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute’s Transportation Operations Program, discussed how proposed changes in truck driver hours of service safety rules will affect road safety before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce.

An expert on transportation system safety, Jovanis has developed statistical models of crash occurrence using data supplied by trucking companies. He has conducted research in this area for over 25 years for a series of government and private sector sponsors.

His other areas of research include collection and analysis of naturalistic driving study data and modeling the relationship between roadway and roadside geometric design and safety.

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Breaking down the U.S. News rankings

Earlier this week, U.S. News & World Report released its “2014 Best Colleges Rankings,” where Penn State was ranked No. 8 among all public national universities and the College of Engineering was ranked No. 19 among undergraduate engineering programs.

U.S. News ranked the following undergraduate programs:

  • Aerospace Engineering: 12th
  • Chemical Engineering: 17th
  • Civil Engineering: 14th
  • Engineering Science and Mechanics: 10th
  • Industrial Engineering: 6th
  • Materials: 10th
  • Mechanical Engineering: 16th

The University’s undergraduate programs in biological engineering, bioengineering, computer engineering and electrical engineering were not ranked.

According to U.S. News, the undergraduate results are based solely on the peer judgments of deans and senior faculty who rated each program using a scale of 1 to 5 in a mail survey.

U.S. News does not include the disciplines of architectural engineering, computer science and nuclear engineering as part of its survey.

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PSFEI serves all of Pennsylvania

The Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute (PSFEI) proudly boasts on its website: WE ARE PENN STATE to thousands of Pennsylvanians who come in contact with us everyday.

I got the opportunity to hear just how that happens from PSFEI Director Jim Myers, PE, when I visited the Institute today.

PSFEI works with government-related organizations across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to consult on the maintenance and operations of their facilities, including energy-related issues. Jim explained that a client may call the Institute to uncover a simple maintenance item, consult on a large building or renovation project, or provide training and education for employees.

And when Jim says they ARE Penn State to many Pennsylvanians, he’s not kidding. PSFEI does work in all 67 counties – through relationships with the State System of Higher Education, PA Department of Transportation, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Department of Corrections, PA Historical & Museum Commission, and many more.

What I found amazing, beyond just how efficiently the Institute serves its clients (there are 31 engineers, technicians and staffers on the team, supplemented by student interns who have the opportunity to learn from experienced engineers and take this real-world experience to jobs in the ‘real’ world), is that the Institute was working with clients to deal with energy markets, energy procurement, and energy savings programs long before it was ‘cool.’ Jim joked during our conversation, “We were Green before it was even a color!”

Jim has been with PSFEI since 1985, rising to director in 1995 and seeing the 66-year-old organization through a period of intense growth. And it’s easy to see how he’s contributed to that growth. Jim’s passion for the work PSFEI does is truly contagious. He’s just hired an assistant director, John Hajduk, MBA, to help in the next phase of growth for the Institute.

I look forward to working with Jim and his team to highlight the value that PSFEI brings to its clients, the residents of Pennsylvania and the many, many others who are touched by the work that PSFEI does. And, of course, to see what happens next!


Dana Marsh, director of marketing and communications for the College of Engineering, freely admits that she’s not an engineer but is fascinated by how the work of engineers impacts every aspect of a human’s day-to-day existence: from the houses we live in and the roads we drive on, to the smartphones and computers we rely upon. She’s now made it her mission to educate non-engineers about the real-world applications of leading-edge engineering initiatives. 

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