Academics Blog

Archive for the Category Civil Engineering *


Civil Engineering

Name: Meagan Young

Year: 2012

Hometown: Dallastown, PA

Majors: Civil Engineering, Archaeology

Minor: Classics

Shaking Things Up

Why Civil Engineering?

I always wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid. It was my childhood dream to study whales and dolphins when I grew up. That dream ended as soon as I had to dissect a worm and a frog in middle school. I decided right then and there that biology was not for me. After that I turned to engineering and looked into various fields.  Out of my high school science courses, physics was my favorite. I also took what some might call an abnormal liking to calculus. I was deciding between civil and mechanical engineering. The civil engineering program at Johns Hopkins caught my attention – primarily because of the research backgrounds of the faculty and the small classes. The courses seemed really interesting. I knew I wanted a small school and Hopkins seemed like a great fit. As it turns out, the professors and classes really are fantastic. They are very easy to approach and genuinely want you to succeed.

Courses: Requirements and Favorites

If you’re interested in seeing what courses we have to take, the actual course requirements can be found here: http://www.civil.jhu.edu/current-undergraduate-advising/  I love the freedom we’re given in our department to choose our Humanities and Social Science courses. I was even able to fit in a second major in archaeology!   I really enjoy a lot of my engineering classes. “Perspectives on the Evolution of Structures” was definitely one of my favorites. It is taught by Dr. Schafer, my adviser and head of the department, and is typically taken by freshmen in their spring semester. The course covers the three “E”s of civil engineering design: economy, elegance, and efficiency. It’s cross-listed through MICA, so you get the best of both engineering and artistic perspectives, while going through a history of design principles.

I take a liking to classes with hands-on labs because the labs reinforce what you learn in class. You can see the physical application of all the equations written up on the board. Statics, Dynamics, and Soil Mechanics are a few of the classes where you get to participate in labs. We probably had a little too much fun in one particular Soil Mechanics lab; we had to trace the movement of water through soil using food coloring. Some of the blue dye got into the water and we decided to be creative with some whiteboard markers and a little bit of red food dye. Senior design is another one of my favorite classes. Engineers from two different firms come in each semester and teach us “what they wish they knew” before they graduated and entered the field of structural design. The courses have largely team-based assignments. Right now my team is working on our final project, which will be presented to our teachers, other engineers, our faculty, and students in the department. It’s really exciting to learn real-world applications before we actually get out into the real world.

Undergraduate Research

Each semester the department sends out a list of available research positions for undergraduates. You can check out their specific research interests here: http://www.civil.jhu.edu/people-departmental-faculty/I spent one semester in the Smart Structures and Hybrid Testing Lab and built a model suspension bridge, which is now used for experimental testing on a uni-axial shake table.

Student Groups

Aside from the general engineering student groups, the Civil Engineering department has its own professionally-affiliated student group chapter: the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). They host socials within the department, attend dinner lectures with the Maryland Chapter of ASCE (great for networking!) and enter various competitions. For the past two years I helped design a miniature golf hole which we brought to the Maryland Chapter event. Last year we built a miniature version of the upper quad and Gilman Hall. This year I’m planning on getting involved with the seismic design competition. Student chapters have to build a structure out of balsa wood within specific guidelines and have it perform to certain standards.

Study Abroad

The Whiting School of Engineering offers the Vredenberg Scholarship to engineering sophomores and juniors (and sometimes seniors who will stay for a fifth year). Students can write up a grant proposal to go anywhere in the world to do research. It’s the student’s responsibility to find an international host (institution, university, etc.), a project related to their career aspirations, and housing arrangements, and then they have to write up a budget and statement for their particular research topic. The scholarship will fund up to $8,000 for around 13 students.

I was fortunate enough to be awarded the grant to cover an 8-week adventure in Kyoto, Japan. It was my first time abroad and first time traveling alone. I did research in seismic design through Kyoto University and was able to attend several international conferences and summer school sessions in Tokyo and Kobe. I was able to visit engineering museums (with damaged material from the Kobe Earthquake) take part in various cultural festivals. It was a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. The pictures are of Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo and me in a yukata with a woman and her granddaughter. The woman’s family owns the little gift shop we’re standing in. I bought a kanzashi (hair stick) from her and in return she put up my then-short hair for the Gion Matsuri festival!

Future Career

Right now I’m in the process of applying to graduate school for a Masters degree in Civil Engineering. There are two types of Masters: one-year coursework Masters, which are terminal degrees, and two-year thesis Masters, which can set you up for a Ph.D. later on.   I want to specialize in structural engineering and seismic design. After I get my degree, I’d like to design structures, retrofit existing structures, or work in earthquake reconnaissance.   If I can be of more assistance to prospective students in any way, feel free to shoot me an email at myoung43@jhu.edu!


Click here to access more information about the Civil Engineering Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Civil Engineering question thread.


Civil Engineering

Name: Blair Johnson

Year: Class of 2008

Hometown: Kingsville, MD

Major: Civil Engineering

Minor: Music (Piano)


Long before I had selected a college, I knew I wanted to study civil engineering. Television shows on the Discovery Channel about the world’s largest skyscrapers and bridges fascinated me, and I also found beauty in these massive structures. I planned to become a structural engineer, and I applied to schools with strong civil and other engineering departments. While applying, I wasn’t sure what exactly it meant to pursue “research” as an undergraduate, despite taking engineering courses in high school, but I knew it was a great opportunity to build relationships with faculty and other students, both graduate and undergraduate.  Johns Hopkins was a great place for such collaboration, as I would learn shortly after enrolling in the fall of 2004.

The Civil Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins is one of the smaller departments in the Whiting School. My classes had only 14 students at most, and by sophomore year, most of my courses only had these same students. Presently, the department has eight faculty members, 58 undergraduate students, and 29 graduate students. We became close during our years together, as we had team competitions in our Steel Design course junior year, in which we proposed uses for the vacant lot at the intersection of St. Paul St. and 33rd St., as well as our year-long Senior Design class, in which we learned about rehabilitation and restoration to design plans to restore an historic site that had been damaged in a fire.

Furthermore, our student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provided social networking functions for students and faculty in the department. Every fall, ASCE and the department sponsored a BBQ and Crab Feast, after which we would often play softball or kickball on the Wyman Quad. We had spring BBQs to celebrate the end of the year and relax before final exams. Our professors brought their children, and it was fun to get to know each other outside of the classroom.

Latrobe bowl Since civil engineering shares Latrobe Hall with the Mechanical Engineering Department, my classmates started the Latrobe Bowl, a flag football game between the departments. The two games both resulted in a victory for the civil engineering team. We have not yet figured out a prize, other than a fictitious “key to the building,” but it is always a great time, despite some bruises and broken bones along the way! We also took trips to construction sites (the new Decker Quad and parking garage, and the Woodrow Wilson bridge in DC), historic buildings (George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon), and architecturally interesting locations (Frank Lloyd Wright homes), so that we could better understand the practical nature of buildings that we were analyzing and designing.

Every month, the Maryland-section of ASCE meets at the Engineer’s Club of Baltimore, a beautiful historic mansion in Mt. Vernon. We send student representatives to these meetings as often as possible, as there are interesting seminars and delicious dinners, as well as opportunities to mingle with local professional engineers in hopes of finding summer internships or job opportunities. Every spring, Johns Hopkins hosts one of these talks, and always features very engaging and inspiring speakers, such as Leslie Robinson. In the spring of my senior year, Johns Hopkins was also responsible for the annual “student night” workshop of ASCE, a responsibility that rotates between Morgan University and the University of Maryland at College Park. Another senior and I presented our research to the entire Maryland section. It was a great opportunity to share what I had worked so hard on in the past couple of years, especially since many undergraduates did not have the same experiences as I had.

I am very grateful that my faculty adviser during all four years was Professor Tony Dalrymple, a world-renowned coastal engineer, as he introduced me to the non-structural side of civil Gijon breakwater engineering. He sought the best in each of his students, and during advising sessions, inquired about my other interests and activities on campus. He encouraged my music minor, and ensured that I could maintain my creative balance throughout college. During my first year at Hopkins, my courses were the engineering basics – Physics, Calculus, and Chemistry, with the requisite labs, and music electives. I had time to take piano lessons at the Peabody Conservatory with Corey McVicar, and maintained these lessons throughout my four years. After taxing exams or exhausting hours in the library working on problem sets, it was refreshing to retreat to the Mattin Center’s music practice rooms to focus on something personal and allow different parts of the brain to get some exercise. I took music classes at the Homewood campus, taught by Peabody teachers, and I found it very easy to take my Theory and Music History courses alongside my Steel and Concrete requirements.

In my evenings, I found meaningful activities to occupy my time and keep me off of the quieter floors of the library except before important projects or finals. When I grew tired of watching ESPN after studying with my all-male study buddies, common in engineering, I joined a sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, where I served as President and Membership Chair, among enjoying the formals and sisterhood that I missed. I was a pianist for the Hopkins Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble throughout college. I joined Hopkins Band for a year and a half to play French horn, and tried to best to attend concerts at Peabody, Homewood, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and the Baltimore Opera.

More importantly (for my degree, anyway!), my civil engineering requirements were very clearly listed on the department website, leaving time to plan ahead and spread out my humanities requirements, though I waited until senior year and took a “fun year” filled with my non-engineering courses such as Black & White Photography. I knew my lifetime would be filled with engineering – I needed a short vacation! My favorite course at Hopkins was Perspectives on the Evolution of Structures, which I took in the spring of freshman year. It opened up a new critical but creative avenue for me, and many students from other departments signed up to learn how to judge and appreciate structures for their design simplicity and innovations as engineering methods progressed in time. Several students from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art) enrolled in the class as well, and shared their knowledge of art and architecture to complement the engineering aspects of the course. Most of my required courses were taught in the CE department, along with a couple Environmental Engineering classes, and electives offered in Earth and Planetary Sciences that I took in place of more traditional courses, like Thermodynamics or advanced Chemistry classes.

Though my concentration according to my transcript is that of a structural engineer, my Berm4 research experiences directed me more towards coastal engineering. The summer following my sophomore year, I engaged in research with my advisor, Professor Dalrymple, on a multi-university (and multi-million dollar!) collaborative project regarding waves over mu, which his other graduate students are still pursuing in the university wave tank in the Stieff Building, just off-campus. I was entrusted with designing a wave absorber for the wave tank, as well as other structures and materials (like seven tons of mud) that were necessary for the project. It was both frightening and exciting when my decisions often went unquestioned by Professor Dalrymple and his other students, and it was inspiring to know that I was making a difference in the project.

Following my junior year, my adviser found me a laboratory opening with a colleague at the University of Granada in Spain to continue learning about coastal engineering and its opportunities through the Whiting School of Engineering’s Vredenburg Scholars program. I was funded by the Whiting School to travel to Spain and design breakwater experiments at the Centro Andaluz de Medio Ambiente (CEAMA), led by one of the world’s top coastal engineers, Dr. Miguel Losada. I attended a conference and visited the construction site of a huge port expansion project.

DSCF0129 After these research experiences, I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school following college. I loved the creative aspect of research, and the ability to collaborate and learn just for sake of learning. I became a teaching assistant for Professor Michael Karweit’s Computing for Engineers course during the fall of my senior year, and refined my patience and determination as I worked to help students understand their homework assignments in the HAC (Hopkins Academic Computing) lab and during exam review sessions. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I have ever had, and I’m not sure I would have had such an opportunity at a different university.

I applied for graduate school during the fall of senior year, and am now thrilled to be at Cornell University, completing my MS/PhD in the Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Hydrology group in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. A mouthful to say, but a wonderful program with research and teaching opportunities that will lead me to a great position in academia (I hope!).

I am very grateful to the Johns Hopkins Civil Engineering Department, always full of energy and imagination. The professors are all brilliant in academics, but more importantly made it a point to get to know the students personally so that we could each grow into our own futures. I have classmates who are pursuing graduate degrees like me, while others have gone straight into industry, engineering consulting, or (for a small few) into completely different fields such as law or business. As a senior in high school, there is no way I could have predicted I would have had the college experience that I did. I knew from the start that Johns Hopkins had an incredible academic reputation, and that I would be successful after graduation no matter what I studied. But I had opportunities to connect with wonderful professors and students, who have certainly impacted who I am and where my life is going more than I ever could have imagined.


Click here to access more information about the Civil Engineering Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Civil Engineering question thread.