From the Ediror: New Engineers Will be Creating the ‘Infrastructure of the Future’

I recently attended the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Indiana Chapter Annual Meeting in Carmel, Ind. I went to accompany some of the senior students at Valparaiso University who participated in the Senior Project Presentation competition. Engineering students from five colleges in Indiana presented projects and were judged on their presentation skills—not so much on the technical aspects of their projects. It’s a great exercise to hone speaking skills for future meetings and public hearings they likely will be part of during their future careers.

The meeting also included various sessions, exhibits, awards and a keynote speech from Marsia Geldert-Murphey, the president of ASCE. During the keynote, she introduced “Cities of the Future,” the new large-screen film production by ASCE. Obviously, it’s about the challenges civil engineers can expect as we move into the future and what our infrastructure may look like. I encourage readers to introduce this film to young and aspiring civil engineers. You can find more information and watch the trailer at

Seems Simple Now

When I began my career in 1971, it seemed a bit daunting at first. I started on a road construction project: a segment of I-64 across southern Indiana. In retrospect, this was an easy way to transition from studying to working. I was able to apply some of the concepts I learned in college and watch as the uneven terrain became a roadway. Soon I moved to a design position and remained in offices for most of my civil engineering career. Although there were some projects that included very complex solutions, I was mostly involved with straightforward solutions to providing safe, efficient travel for the public.

I’m not sure I would be as comfortable graduating today—there are so many more options and constraints to deal with these days. The infrastructure is more complex and in need of extensive rehabilitation and expansion. The environmental changes are much-more extreme, causing revisions to long-practiced standards and requiring innovative solutions. As readers may know, I teach senior civil engineers and try to help them understand what it may be like in their professional careers, but I don’t think I can prepare them for the technical aspects of what they most likely will encounter.

The following are some real assignments I never could have envisioned:

• Design the infrastructure and storage/maintenance facility for a fleet of eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft). These are drones capable of carrying 100 pounds of cargo (somewhere between 100 and 200 packages) for 600 miles. The FAA is beginning the process of approving flight corridors.

• Complete a preliminary design and technical report that includes economic benefits of capturing the energy produced by tides. Show how tidal energy can replace other non-renewable methods of producing electricity. Include the fact that tidal energy is much more predictable than solar or wind.

• What can civil engineers do to improve safety through construction sites? It appears the addition of orange striping is effective. Is this a long-term solution or will the motoring public get used to this and begin to ignore the “new look?” Are there other innovative ideas to keep our constructors and drivers safe?

• Electric vehicles (EVs) are the future. How does our industry prepare for the increased percentage of EVs, including trucks? Does this include managed lanes and different types of truck stops and rest areas for charging? When most vehicles are powered by electricity, how do we ensure our communities offer charging to those who don’t have access at home?

Changing of the Guard

This is an exciting time to be a civil engineer. The assignments can be as different as night and day and will most likely involve working with other disciplines. In my day, the drainage engineer told me the waterway opening required, and I told the roadway engineer the profile grade I needed, and then I designed the bridge pretty much on my own. These days, every discipline will be involved.

I recently had lunch with three of my former students. It was great to hear their success stories and made me wonder how it would feel to be starting as a young engineer today. Then I realized my tee time was in a half hour, so I stopped dreaming and decided to leave these new challenges in their hands.

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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company.

Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

The post From the Ediror: New Engineers Will be Creating the ‘Infrastructure of the Future’ first appeared on Informed Infrastructure.

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