Mark French seeks practical applications for his interests and teaching

Headshot of Dr. Mark FrenchBefore Dr. Mark French became a member of the faculty in May of 1987, he was a student. Dr. French has called Louisville home many times in his life, attending high school in town, and receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Louisville, before attending MIT for his Master’s Degree and the University of Iowa for his PhD. A member of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, Dr. French specializes in all things water, including water resources, hydraulics, hydrology, and water treatment.

Since his childhood, Dr. French has had a keen fascination for science and math, and during his education sought a practical application for his interests, which ultimately led to Civil Engineering.

“Almost everything civil engineers do is visible out in the world. You can see roads. You can see drinking water. You can see bridges and dams. We’ve got the soils, we’ve got the structures, the roadways, and the water. Those are the four traditional areas of CE. I always wanted to do something I could see,” says Dr. French.

He has taken that commitment to effecting to tangible change into the classroom. His efforts in the classroom were recently realized as he was honored as a Faculty Favorite, which recognizes faculty by vote for how they have impacted their respective constituencies. Dr. French works with his students to realize their projects, which includes a water filtration system completed just last year that utilized clean energy sources to chemically free filter water in Bear Grass Creek.

“Nowadays we have a lot of what’s called the flipped classroom, where students do a lot of the work outside of class. I feel like mine should be called the tilted classroom. I think today’s generation of young people; they came from a different view than old timers like most of the faculty. I always try and remind myself as freshmen, they were born when? You’ve got to think about that. When you refer to things, when you try to put things in a context, that it makes sense to your students.”

He continues adding, “In the classroom, some faculty say I don’t want students on a computer, I don’t want them on a cellphone. I take the inverse approach: how can we use a computer or cellphone in the classroom.”

Dr. French is practical about his responsibility as both an educator and engineer. He believes, “There are still so many challenges in what we’re trying to do, which is to understand natural variation. For example, take rain fall. That’s a very familiar thing to the public. How it changes from month to month, how it changes day to day. Now as an engineer, I need you to put an equation on that, so that if you’re designing a drainage pond, irrigation for your crops, tell me what I need to do. That’s impossible. I can tell you how much it might rain in a year, but I can’t tell you what it will do this week.”

He has a pragmatic and measured response to environmental change and how he can engage that. He says, “civil engineers have to account for is the environment that we live in. There is climate change and there is climate variation. One you might say is a natural variation of climate on the earth. Climate change is induced by something. Regardless of that, we don’t have to care about why it’s happening, or rather we do, but we have to account for how it’s happening.”

Looking to the future, Dr. French offers a few simple solutions to the big problems facing water conservation. He explains, “A neat area is water re-use. By water re-use, I mean recycling of water rather than waste water treatment being dumped back out into a stream or river. This is already done in parts of Southern California. Once the water is treated, it’s put back into the water supply. This could really reduce water shortages. You take all the toilets that are being flushed, all the other industries putting all that water into the water supply, you introduce it into the water supply. Then it goes into the water treatment plant, mixed with raw water, and treated; that could really reduce water shortages.”