Santa Clara University


Winter 2008 Newsletter

Letter from the Department Head Dr. Steve Chiesa

With 2007 coming to an end, the faculty, staff and students of the Civil Engineering Department look toward a new set of challenges and opportunities. This past fall term brought a record number of freshman engineering students to campus with many expressing an interest in civil engineering. 

The University administration and the new Dean of Engineering, Dr. Godfrey Mungal have set a target engineering enrollment of 15 percent of the overall undergraduate student population. This freshman class goes a long way towards meeting the goal. Increased enrollment will necessitate that the Department and School carefully manage their resources to provide the high quality educational experience that all students expect at Santa Clara.

The University and the School of Engineering can claim national bragging rights for its third place finish in the U.S. Department of Energy's recently completed Solar Decathlon Competition. Civil Engineering professor Mark Aschheim and students Raymond Lam and Andrew Smith were instrumental in the success of the SCU entry. Planning is already underway for the next edition of this international competition and the Civil Engineering Department again hopes to make important contributions to the development and
practical application of sustainable building technology.

Congratulations are also in order for Civil Engineering alum Georgi Hall (BSCE 1996, MSCE 1998). Georgi receive the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award from the SCU School of Engineering Alumni Board in front of family and friends at the December 2007 Awards Banquet. The award recognized Mr. Hall's efforts in developing new concepts, products, and services for the light-guage steel industry. Georgi is currently
the Director of Engineering for California Expanded Metal Company (CEMCO) and has also been very active in a number of community service ventures.

In closing, I would like to thank all of the companies and organizations that helped the Department complete its tri-annual employer survey. The results will be used to help identify areas of improvement for our curriculum so that our graduates will leave campus with the skills necessary to succeed.

Student News

The SCU School of Engineering's entry in the Department of Energy's International Solar Decathlon competition took third place this past October. The Solar Decathlon is an
international competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design , build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy efficient solar powered house.The competition includes judging in ten different categories that serve to represent a collective measure of the structure's ability to provide a long-term sustainable living environment.During the operational phase of the competition, the public is invited to tour the homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and listen to presentations given by student team members representing their participating institution. Each small(650 ft2) house, as well as an associated vehicle.

On the surface, the SCU entry looked to be the most conventional of the 20 houses
developed for the 2007 competition. Upon closer inspection, however the SCU house
incorporated a number of innovative mechanical and structural systems.
The house's structural included a rigorous testing and documentation
process to achieve the first-ever approved use of bamboo I-beams for residential construction a technology developed here by SCU Mark Aschheim. In spite of getting to the Washington D.C. fabrication and test site a few days late because of a trailer axle failure during cross-country shipping of the disassembled house, the SCU team made excellent progress in getting everything put back together, inspected, and officially approved before the actual judging phase began.The SCU entry scored very well in most of the ten categories with the notable exception of the architecture very well in most of the ten categories with the notable exception of the architecture component (attributed to SCU being the only institutional participant without any type of architecture program).

Additional details and a large collection of photos taken during competition on the National Mall can be found on the official U.S. Solar Decathlon web site ( After the formal competition finished, the SCU Solar Decathlon house was disassembled and returned to the SCU campus. This spring  the house will be carefully reassembled and then permanently located on a site between the Bannan  Engineering Building and the University's parking structure. When installation is completed, the house  will serve double duty as a living laboratory/research facility and a demonstration site for a variety of School of Engineering educational outreach activities.

Planning has already begun for SCU's participation in the 2009 Solar Decathlon competition. If the School of Engineering's recently submitted proposal is selected and SCU again becomes one of the final 20 competitor's, a team of students, faculty members, alums, local industries, and diverse mix of dedicated supporters will once again take on the technical, financial, and logistical challenges that made our first foray into the competition such a rewarding success.

Department News

We are very saddened to report the death of long-time University and Department benefactor Wilmot (Bill) Nicholson. Bill passed away peacefully on October 8, 2007 and leaves a void that many will fell. While Bill's generosity and willingness to devote his time to a wide number of deserving causes has been well documented, his impact on SCU's Civil Engineering Department has been truly astounding. For many
years, Bill was the instructor for the department's introductory Construction Engineering course and inspired many young Bronco civil engineering students to pursue careers in the construction industry. Bill presided as interim department chairman one year and was instrumental in acquiring improved testing equipment for the structural engineering and materials laboratory. His service to the department continued with a position  on the industry Advisory Board and a general willingness to help the department in any way possible.Bill holds the unofficial record for the continuous service as a judge each year at the annual Engineering Senior Design Conference. He thoroughly enjoyed providing students with practical feedback on their designed systems and encouraged them to take on more innovative approaches to solving problems. Bill was a strong supporter of the Solar Decathlon project and was a regular visitor to the on-campus construction site this past summer. Always a contractor at heart, Bill would closely examine the construction
and make suggestions to improve the project.

Fortunately for all of us here at Santa Clara, Bill Nicholson has left a lasting legacy for the Civil Engineering Department and its students.An endowed professorship in Civil Engineering, currently held by Dr. Sukhi Singh, bears the name "Nicholson Family Professor." Bill spearheaded an effort to establish an endowed equipment and renewal fund for the department's laboratories. The fund's balance continues to grow and now provided monies annually to purchase the new equipment and software needed to  help maintain the undergraduate program's national accreditation. Bill also established an endowed scholarship fund for civil engineering students that provides between five and ten undergraduate students with financial assistance each year. Through these forward-thinking acts of generosity, future SCU students will come to know Bill Nicholson as the world-class nice guy that we have had the honor and pleasure to have known. Bill, you will be missed but not forgotten.

Civils Abroad

It wasn't too many years ago that studying abroad was not a very common option for engineering students. That has changed greatly over the last five years with an increasing number of civil engineering students going abroad for the fall term of their junior year. Kristen Jackson, a senior civil engineering major, from Gresham,
Oregon chose to study at Queen Mary University in London in the fall of 2006 to experience Europe and still keep on track with her SCU curriculum. Queen Mary University offered the Fluid Mechanics, Materials and Environmental Engineering courses that were critical for Kristen to continue in several important SCU course sequences. It also allowed her to complete a Beginning Japanese course as a free elective.

While in London, Kristen found many differences between the American and British higher educational systems. Textbooks could be checked out from the library rather than purchased. Technology did not seem to completely permeate the British educational system as registration was handled manually and important notices were posted in hard copy form on bulletin boards rather than web sites. Lectures focused on theoretical concepts and students were then held responsible for translating the theory  to more practical applications Course grades were determined almost exclusively by finalexam scores and there were no regular assigned or graded problem sets.

Kristen lived in an on-campus "flat" with five other students who all quickly became close friends.There was a lively campus social atmosphere and Kristen even joined the University's football (soccer) team until a mid season  injury shortened her promising athletic career.Food was expensive and "different" but Kristen and her American colleagues were still able to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for their new British friends. With no car available, Kristen also quickly became an expert at using public transportation systems and navigating the local streets by foot to quickly get where she needed to go.The London experience was enhanced with shorter trips to Paris and Rome. While Kristen was glad to come back to SCU, leaving her new British friends was bittersweet (so much so that Kristen went back to London during the following spring break).

Kristen currently serves as the vice-president of the SCU ASCE student chapter, has recently passed her USGBC LEED Accredited Professional certification exam, and is looking forward to graduation this coming June. In looking back on her time in London, Kristen describes this period as an "experience of a lifetime" and would recommend this opportunity to all engineering students.

Faculty News

Dr. Mark Achheim had his white paper approved for inclusion in the 2009 National Earthquake Hazards reduction Program (NEHRP) Seismic Provisions. Professor Aschheim also had several papers published including "Enhancing the sustainability and Eartgquake Resistance of Confined Masonry Dwellings in El Salvador" in The Journal of Earthquake Engineering and "Yield Displacement -Based Seismic Design of RC wall Buildings" in Engineering Structures.

Dr. Rachel He had a paper entitled "Estimating Nationwide Link Speed Distribution Using Probe Position Date published in the January issue of The Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems.

Dr. Edwin Maurer gave an invited  presentation to several hundred engineers, scientists, and policy-makers at the California Energy Commission-sponsored Fourth Annual Climate Change Conference in Sacramento last September. The talk, entitled "Detection of the Climate Change Signal in the Hydrological Record," focused on methods used in recent studies to detect changes in observations such as temperature and streamflow timing.

Dr. Sukhi Singh will travel to New Orleans this coming March to deliver a paper entitled
"Sustainable Solutions for an Environmentally and Socially Just Society" that he and
Dr. Mark Aschheim have co-authored. Dr. Singh was also invited to chair a session at
the Eleventh International Conference on Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering Computing last September. He also had a paper acepted for publication in the conference proceedings.

Dr. Steven Chiesa was appointed to the University WASC Accreditation Steering Committee. The Committee will help coordinate efforts to continue school-wide accreditation under the auspices of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Dr. Reynaud Serrette is on leave for the entire 2007-2008 academic year. He is consulting for several national building component and fastener manufacturers and is actively involved in the International Code Council Evaluations Services acceptance criteria development process for building products. Professor Serrette is also working with the Structural Engineers of Southern California to develop requirements for improving the performances of light frame structures.

Melanie Massie, administrative assistant for Civil Engineering, Applied Mathematics and
Engineering Management, is completing her undergraduate degree in business/accounting at SCU on a part-time basis.

ASCE Student Chapter

For the Santa Clara American Society of Civil Engineers & Associated General Contractors (ASCE/AGC) Student Chapter, the 2007-2008 year has already been a busy and exciting year.As students returned to campus in September, the Chapter hosted a barbecue and volleyball competition to kick off the new school year. The event gave new and returning students a chance to meet with the new ASCE/AGC officer team and talk about ideas for future events. Chapter president Bryant Troung served as the master of ceremonies
with support from grill-master Professor Chiesa. The event, held in the Engineering Quad,  drew about 40 students on a sunny Saturday afternoon and provided many freshman civil engineering students with their initial exposure to ASCE and AGC.

The Student Chapter continued its involvement with the Habitat for Humanity program.A group of ten students spent one Saturday in October helping out with the construction of a house.Students were able to get some real "hands-on" experience in the filed of residential construction as well as work together closely as a team. The Habitat for Humanity activity was not the only endeavor where students were able to take a closer look at engineering in practice.Thanks to Devcon Construction, students were guided on a tour of the new on-campus Library and Learning Commons building during its near-final phase of construction. Students were given hardhats and were able to see integration of engineering
design and construction on an up-close and personal basis.

Now that the fall term is over, ASCE/AGC has started focusing on several annual winter
and spring activities. This includes the Civil Engineering Career Fair, the ASCE Mid-Pacific Regional Student Conference, and the ASCE San Jose Branch Scholarship Dinner Meeting. Many students have already been working hard preparing for the Mid-Pacific conference and the early results are very promising. The SCU canoe is already well under construction and will soon be completed and ready for practicing and racing. The stell bridge design is not too far being and with Student Chapter membership growing, there are lots of helping hands.