Mullins named Professional Award in Civil Engineering recipient

October 26, 2018

Rob Mullins, 2018 Professional Award in Civil Engineering Award WinnerRob Mullins was presented with the 2018 Professional Award in Civil Engineering during the annual Speed School homecoming dinner held October 26 at the Brown Hotel.

A graduate of the J. B. Speed School of Engineering, Dr. Mullins earned his BS in Applied Science in 1977 and his M.Eng. in Environmental Engineering in 1978.  He also holds a JD (1984) and Ph.D. (1996) from the University of Louisville, as well as an MBA from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN (1989). Rob is currently Senior Vice President of Stantec Consulting Services Inc., a full-service architecture and engineering firm with offices in 26 countries. He is a licensed professional engineer and attorney in Kentucky and is a certified planner through the American Institute of Certified Planners.

After graduating from UofL, Rob started his career with the US Army Corps of Engineers and spent the next 25 years working through a series of increasingly responsible positions in civil works, military construction, and hazardous and toxic remediation programs before becoming the senior civilian for the Louisville District. Upon retiring from the District, he became Vice President of Program Management for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) working on high-level US Department of Defense projects. After leaving SAIC, he joined Stantec where he has worked on a number of large programs and projects including Design Director for the recently-completed $731 million Permanent Canal Closures and Pumps hurricane protection project in New Orleans, LA.

Rob has been active in the profession, his church, and the community, including the Leadership PE program to develop 15 of the most promising young engineers in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The program is sponsored by KSPE, ACEC-KY, and SAME. Dr. Mullins has taught classes in leadership, project management, procurement, construction programming, and other topics. He has published widely including a public policy book on urban planning, as well as articles in refereed and professional journals on civil works, project management, military construction, environmental engineering, elderly housing, and a variety of other urban-oriented topics.

Design innovation lands scholarship for grad student

September 5, 2018

 Civil engineering student Christopher Bird has received a total of three scholarship awards this year. In April of this year, Bird received the Charles Cunningham Scholarship from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Recently, Bird received two awards for $2,500 apiece, from the American Institute of Steel Construction and the Southern Association of Steel Fabricators, both for the AISC/SASF scholarship and the AISC Education Foundation scholarship.

He believes that his awards are not only beneficial on a personal level, but illustrate the acumen of the collective community at the Speed School.

“It was neat to receive the scholarship, because it’s a national scholarship where people are applying from school's all across the country,” said Bird. 

Bird discovered the scholarship when he purchased the AISC design code book, a fundamental text for the steel design course required of all civil engineering students. For Bird, the book is more than just a guidebook of manuals, but an opportunity to learn more about the often invisible components of structural engineering and how those principles foster innovation and creativity in his craft.

“I like structural engineering, because I know that I’ll never design the same building twice,” said Bird. “The things that I have learned through my classes like using the AISC and building codes, are the boundary of my work. I love being able to use creativity to turn challenges for building projects into opportunities.”

He recently began his fifth year at Speed School, where he is currently working on a Master of Engineering degree. Bird developed an interest in structural engineering in high school, admiring the tangible and lasting impact of the engineering on the landscape. He was drawn to the new bridge construction or alternative transportation systems during that he encountered during his travels.

It was that drive to make his mark that led him first to civil engineering in general and ultimately to his most recent co-op working in Washington, D.C. as an intern at the U.S. Green Building Council this last summer. 

“I knew I wanted to go into something with structure and building design. I love Speed School because of the co-op requirements. I was a fan of being able to work while I was studying,” said Bird. “I’m working with a team of engineers, architects, and environmental policy experts, basically anyone who has a stake in the building design and construction industry. I’ve really loved it.”

With his academic career nearing its conclusion, Bird has already made moves towards the next phase of his life. Building on his co-op experiences at the university and with the Green Building Council, he recently passed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design AP Exam. The LEED exam is professional credential expertise in green building design. He hopes to parlay his experience and credentials again in DC, where he wishes to return to work toward receiving my professional engineering sector.

“I’ve been outspoken on sustainable design. I came in passionate about the environment and engineering techniques,” said Bird. “How can we not only mitigate the impact of this structure on the environment, benefit our community, and promote resilience? I’m very vocal for the economic benefits of sustainable design.”

He will apply his awards to help fund his master's degree.

ASCE Team Places Second in Concrete Bat Competition

April 27, 2018

 The American Society of Civil Engineers took home second place this year at the annual Regional ASCE Ohio Valley Student Conference in Athens, Ohio. Held the weekend of April 12th-14th, the Speed team included Abby Miles and Jeremiah Partin, both juniors in department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The team participated in a number of the events this time, including the surveying and concrete bat competitions. They took this year to regroup on the concrete canoe project, another popular competition at the ASCE meet, focusing instead on the concrete bat project, which ultimately yielded a second place victory, as well as plenty of practical field experience working with the material.

Practice Swing

The competition features around 430 students from 15 colleges, features rules for the competition which includes length and material density parameters, taking the practicality of the object along with the aesthetic design into equal consideration. The length of the bat is set between 27 and 35 inches, with a maximum half an inch amount of rebar, which requires an additional half an inch of concrete around it for safety reasons. The Speed Team went with a total of 33 inches to allow a little room for error, with a total weight of about 5.12 lbs.

According to Partin, “That comes out to most baseball players that come out to a pitchers, and that bat weighed about two bats.”

In addition to aesthetic and design requirement, the bat needed to work. Team members lined up to hit a softball off of a tee, garnering points based on how far the ball traveled. At bat was Miles, who managed to land within the top three in terms of distance achieve, hitting the ball around 156 feet, the equivalent of an outfield hit.

Earned Run Average

Both Miles and Partin, who have remained part of the ASCE Speed team for several years, look forward to their next opportunity. They see their second place victory as a start point, not the end, but maintain an optimistic attitude towards their experience as a chance to learn.

Partin explained, “With both that concrete canoe and this bat, our designs were solid. We didn’t win any of the races. With our concrete bat, we had a very light design, but we didn’t achieve any of our goals.”

Miles pulled equally from their work on the concrete canoe to build this year’s bat. She said, “We’ll go back next year. We had a really good concrete design (last year), but I think that could be improved on that.”

Set in Stone: Dr. Mark McGinley receives award for concrete research, named Masonry Society Fellow

October 3, 2018

Mark McGinleyDr. W. Mark McGinley has an affinity for stone, not only through his teaching service as the Endowed Chair in Infrastructure Research and Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, but through his 26 years of service in the Masonry Society. Through his experience and commitment to the process of masonry, McGinley was recently named as a Fellow of the Masonry Society, one of only 38 in the organization to receive that distinction in its approximately 40 year history.

“To be relevant to teach students, you have to practice. Otherwise they know,” says McGinley, “If you can’t bring in practical knowledge, you just don’t hold their respect. You can teach the basics, you can teach the tools, but if you’re teaching senior design, you have to have practiced.”

Reflecting that dedication to his teaching and masonic studies, McGinley, in tandem with the Conn Center for Renewable Energy recently received a $1 million, 2-year public-private partnership selected for funding by the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office. The purpose of the award is to study the process efficiency through the use of smart manufacturing techniques in cement manufacturing. The project is set to start this upcoming September.

A concrete plan

A component of concrete, which is one of the most largely used building materials in the world, the current process for creating cement is incredibly energy intensive. The process involves grinding elements including limestone and clay, and heating that using a rotary kiln. There, the materials need to be heated to approximately 1200 to 1400 degrees Celsius, but the kilns are typically primed for 1800 degrees in total, because of uncertainty as to the specific temperature of the materials while in the kiln.

“What we’re going to do is use smart manufacturing processes. If we can shave off 400 degrees, that represents a 20% reduction in cost for energy use,” says McGinley “We’re trying to reduce the amount of changes in the systems. How do you control it, how do you change the system, using these learning algorithms.”

He is joined by colleagues including Conn Center director Dr. Mahendra Sunkara, Dr. Thad Druffel, Dr. Mike McIntire, and Dr. Farag and his post-doc student. With the work split among the team, they are currently working at validating a numerical model, which they hope to port down in their second (and final year) of the project if possible.

McGinley and his colleagues hope to elevate the process in the United States to keep the country positioned as a global innovator on manufacturing. Ultimately, the process could be applied to a number of manufacturing systems that feature big centering dynamics like fire as part of the process. If so, the team may be able to solicit sponsorship to continue their work in efficiency.

“No one has done the research to see what there is to do,” says McGinley. “If this is successful we believe it can be ported down for the cement industry, which is the one of the largest industries in the world. This is the first step on that road.”


As part of the Masonry Society, McGinley has worked for decades to further the knowledge and employment of masonry techniques, both through his work as an educator, and his service to the society. In that time, he has served as a number of appointed positions, including his current role as the Secretary Treasurer. McGinley admits that he will likely serve a tenure as President in four years as well. But he admits his recent designation of fellow as a humbling experience.

“They have a fellow designation that I did not know I was being nominated for; you can’t self-nominate,” says McGinley. “It’s not a huge organization, but it’s reasonably prestigious.”

Ghasemi-Fare awarded grant for understanding the interaction of temperature, pore water pressure and pore fluid flow

September 26, 2018

Headshot of Omid Ghasemi-Fare

Dr. Omid Ghasemi-Fare, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was awarded a grant for his research to study the effect of temperature on soil behavior. Specifically, his research focuses on how interactions of temperature, Pore water pressure in soil media.

“This is a fundamental research, so that the next step can be to design waste disposal, etc.,” said Ghasemi-Fare. “This will help us to find out how the temperature changes the soil behavior. The daily temperature changes needs to be considered.”

His current efforts are a continuation of his research in geomechanics, geothermal energy and energy geo-structures. Through his study on potentially utilizing that geothermal energy as a localized fuel source, he became interested in how those changes in the soil medium impact the soil permeability and soil behavior.

The study looks the thermally induced pore fluid flow in coarse and fine soil, and how fluctuations in temperature effect both. For coarse soil, as the soil temperature increases the heat convection through pore water flow begins. Fine soil however, is more difficult for water to flow through, as temperature changes increase pressure in the ground. Beside dissipation of thermally induced pore water pressure makes soil displacement and can lead to thermal consolidation.

“As the temperature rises and we get the thermal consolidation, for the deep soil, we could use the thermally enhanced ground, and soil will be better for load bearing. Thermal consolidation makes the soil stiffer,” said Ghasemi-Fare. “For reducing the settlement of infrastructure on clay soil we have to do ground modification. In the design phase, we always have to check for consolidation. Preloading is the first option we study in the design phase. However preheating the soil, can also make the pre consolidation.”

As different soil mediums react differently to the fundamentals of temperature, his focus is on quantifying those disparities to more effectively calculate the permeability variation with temperature and integrity of the ground. Ideally, the results of his experimental models can be applied not only to streamlining processes for strengthening a structural base, but have applications that will help with waste disposal design, as well as the permeability changes of landfills due to chemical reactions.

Additionally, he hopes that the outcomes of the current study will be useful for multi-physics, a field of research that consider computational simulations to model flow in porous media and similar complex problems.

“During the literature review phase we found inconsistencies in research. There is no certainty in how temperature impacted soil permeability, and changes in permeability has not been considered in thermal consolidation,” said Ghasemi-Fare. “In terms of the practice, they don’t do a thermal consolidation, they do pre-loading. We’ve done it for years, but this is a new tool. The problem with pre-loading for deep soil is that it is not as efficient as shallow depth.”

The grant from the National Science Foundation started on August 1, 2018, running three years until July 31, 2021.

Dr. Richard Li Receives Grant For Automated Driving Research

May 22, 2018

Tucked quietly away in WS Speed Hall is the Center for Transportation Innovation directed by Assistant Professor Dr. Richard Li, a member of the Department Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) who focuses on Transportation Engineering. Li was recently awarded an EVPRI grant, as well as a KYTC grant for his work on “Assessing Kentucky Drivers Acceptance and Behaviors of Automated Driving.” He uses his center to conduct tests on the various mechanisms required for autonomous automated vehicles -self-driving cars- to respond under a host of conditions, a precursor to the inevitable deployment of AI piloted transportation.

“In fact, many auto manufacturers, shared mobility companies such as Uber, as well as tech companies such as Waymo, have already been testing their automated vehicles on public roads," Li said. "Most companies claim that they plan to release their autonomous vehicle models around 2020-2025.”

His current research is directed at evaluating the public acceptance of automated vehicles, model and evaluate driver’s behaviors at different levels of the automated driving via quantitative and qualitative analysis.

While there is a lot of competition from industry in terms of manufacturing safe and reliable vehicles, researchers in CEE are an essential component to helping to keep the roads safe by helping informing decision makers with logistical needs to support the influx of automated vehicles.

“The foundation Civil Engineering can lay for AV implementation is focused on the following aspects: policy support, infrastructure readiness, data support readiness, safety support, and mobility enhancement," said Li. "In my opinion, these five aspects are sequential.”

In order to satisfy those concerns, researchers need to remain a step ahead by collecting data on what to expect, from traffic flow, from roadway inventory data to real-time traffic and closures. Funded by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Li’s research will focus on the collection of data to help identify problems in advance to help provide qualitative and quantitative information to KYTC and the state government for making decisions on policies related to automated vehicles legislation, developing road map, and field testing.

“We will invite Kentucky drivers, and perform driving simulation experiment, collect data and evaluate driver’s behaviors and safety performance under automation levels 0, 2, 3, and 4," Li said. "At the same time, we will conduct a statewide public survey to assess the public acceptance of the automated vehicle technology, and understand the affordability, and desired automated vehicle transportation serviced by the Kentucky public.”

The project began on April 1st, 2018 and is expected to continue until June 30th, 2020, a continuation of his overall research initiatives in smart cars.

Bahnick to receive TE Connectivity Excellence in Engineering Award

June 26, 2018

 Out of a total 1800 applicants, Civil and Environmental Engineering junior Raychel Bahnick was one of twenty students awarded the TE Connectivity Excellence in Engineering Scholarship. The scholarship is designed to grant full-time engineering students from underrepresented backgrounds $5,000 in financial relief. In order to qualify, applicants have to demonstrate a number of strengths, from administrative details like their GPA, to an essay enumerating their interests in engineering.

It was initially a challenge for Bahnick. Made aware of the award through her connection and participation in the Society of Women Engineers, she passed on her opportunity last year, overwhelmed by her responsibilities in academia. This year, however, Bahnick felt emboldened to take a chance, and secured the letters of recommendation and materials required for application.

“This year I was more on the ball," said Bahnick. "I think that stops a lot of people, because the applicant pool is through SWE and that’s big, so you don’t think you’ll get it.”

Environmental Stewardship

Hailing from Owensboro, Kentucky, Bahnick grew up in an engineering household, as her father was an engineer. Encouraged by his experience, she decided to pursue her degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering as a platform to serve as a steward to her environment. Making the world a little healthier and better off in her wake is a priority that she has long fostered.

“I remember Pope Francis when he came along, I was in middle school or younger, and he was really into environmental causes. He made the point that it was part of the Catholic way to take care of the Earth,” said Bahnick. “In high school I started an environmental club, and we planted a tree that we called Pope Francis.”

It grew from there. Since high school, Bahnick has participated in the Sierra Club, and Watershed Watch, an organization that monitors waterways for intrusive substances, elements that might contaminate the biodiversity of the surrounding area. That passion led her to the Army Corps of Engineers, where she continues to work part time as a day-internship, helping resolve water related problems in the area that require her burgeoning engineering expertise.

Looking towards the future

Her interest in environmentalism is what led to her decision to join the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and her subsequent professional and extracurricular pursuits. Bahnick is overwhelmed at her success, and humbled by her recognition.

“’I’ve applied for a lot of scholarships and never gotten one,” she said. “It felt rewarding to be acknowledged.”

Bahnick will receive the award at the SWE National Convention in Minneapolis in October 18 to 20. An SWE Future Leader, her trip is paid for as part of her service, which includes her work with community outreach.

Dr. Omid Ghasemi Fare Explores Geothermal Energy

May 22, 2018

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recently granted Dr. Omid Ghasemi Fare, faculty member in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, an award for $8,200 for his research into geothermal heating, the first portion of a total $263, 473 sum, which runs for three more years. The project looks to utilize the existing geothermal energies, ambient heat trapped in the ground, to help keep bridges clear of ice by installing tubing that runs underneath the pavement, providing heating through shallow geothermal energy.

An Iranian native, Ghasemi Fare became interested in geothermal energies initially during his time at Sharif University in Tehran. With three active fault lines in Tehran, Iran, he began his research with an emphasis on geotechnical earthquake engineering. Through that process, he developed an understanding of the sandy soil behavior during the earthquake. After attending a conference on geothermal energy, Ghasemi Fare shifted his focus to geothermal energy piles in the United States in an effort to help best combat climate change.

For Ghasemi Fare, geothermal provides an opportunity for renewable, sustainable energy, one that works best in places that experience temperature extremes, like Iran or Kentucky.

“The areas that have the most climate variation are good, so Kentucky is good. Areas like Arizona or Florida, where it’s warmer regularly, harnessing geothermal energy might not be as efficient," said Ghasemi Fare. The system for geothermal, at the five meter mark, the temperature is constant, above that it’s variable. The first layer of the soil is varied, but 5 to 8 meters down, it’s a constant temperature. This works as a battery to charge and recharge.”

Working with the KY transportation cabinet to harvest energy from the ground below the slab, the goal is to embed tubing underneath existing roadways, existing asphalt layers, to prove the viability of the resource as a renewable source of power, that has the supplemental value of increasing public safety.

“In Europe, they’re beginning to use this type of energy. They’re working on using energy piles, using geothermal piles, they are really building it, not just testing it," he said. "In the U.S., we’re still testing it. There is not just one application in which we use it.”

Chuck Cordt is new development officer for engineering

Headshot of Chuck CordtChuck began his work in the Speed School in January 2019.  He brings well over 25 years of major gift fundraising experience to the University of Louisville. The Leavenworth, Kansas native began his higher education fundraising career at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas where Chuck earned his bachelors (communication arts) and master’s degrees (educational administration).  Following a 14-year stint at Washburn, he raised major gifts for the University of Kansas, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and San Jose State University.

Chuck will be glad to visit with you about a possible gift to enhance the Speed School.  Please contact him at (502) 852-1017 or at .

If you wish to write a check to Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, please specify “Donation to G0392” in the memo section.