Feature Stories

More than 100 years ago, our department started with only two faculty and a small but dedicated group of students. Today, we are one of the largest, most extensive civil engineering departments in the nation, with more than 10,000 living alumni, over 1,000 students, and over 60 faculty members. Even though we are top ranking and large in size and stature, we make it a priority to connect with our students and to foster a sense of community.

These stories illustrate both why our graduates are sought out by industry, government, and academia and why our research programs continue to improve the quality of life for many.

One of the nation’s elite engineering departments.

One of the nation’s elite engineering departments.

Dec.16, 2015

The CAEE Legacy Campaign was established in 2013 to support graduate and undergraduate research. Thanks to gifts from alumni and friends, five students were named Legacy Fellows and Scholars in 2015.


 photo of Lauryn Altena smiling

Second year civil engineering undergraduate Lauryn Altena is working with Dr. Lance Manuel to study strategies for mitigating urban heat island problems. The Urban Heat Island (UHI) involves the creation of elevated temperatures in urban spaces,sometimes up to 12 degrees °C higher than nearby rural areas. Such increased temperatures have implications for peak energy demand, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illnesses, and water quality. The UHI grows as cities and their associated infrastructure grow, and it is a problem that affects most of the world’s population daily.

Lauryn’s study will help to identify the variables that most significantly contribute to increased UHI while considering mitigations to address those effects in specific cities. “Specific variables that affect UHI include building design, building location, (close buildings can trap hot air) amount of impervious cover, and wind flow around structures.”

While it is generally agreed that surface modification is the cause of increased temperatures in urban areas, the particular ways in which factors like albedo, evapotranspiration, and canopy layer work together to produce a heat generating system requires still more study. Such research seeks to improve the performance and efficiency of infrastructure within cities.



Matthew Reiter is a civil engineering student skilled at uncovering the environmental impacts of transportation. Under the guidance of Dr. Kara Kockelman, Matthew will pursue a study of plug-in electrical vehicles (PEVs) to determine the degree to which they represent an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional passenger cars in Texas. His study will assess not only emissions, but also the energy impacts of battery provision and other manufacturing processes required to produce PEVs.

Prior to initiating this project, Matthew worked for Dr. Kockelman as an Undergraduate Research Assistant, investigating the air quality implications of electric vehicle adoption. Over the course of the study, they were surprised to discover, despite Texas’ relatively “clean” power grid, emissions associated with electricity generation appear to be worse than those from conventional vehicles.

Sustainable transportation is at the heart of sustainable cities, and Matthew is keen to determine whether or not the future adoption of PEVs will fundamentally change energy consumption in cities. Matthew has also co-authored a paper with Dr. Kockelman about reducing “cold starts” (when the engine of a conventional vehicle is cold, and therefore requires more energy to start) and will present it at the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting in January 2016.



photo of Melvin Goh smiling

Melvin Goh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. His research is dedicated toward the development of a practical computational tool that can be used to assess the performance of existing reinforced concrete slabs and shell structures that have been deemed deficient according to evolving structural design philosophies, or are exhibiting signs of distress as a result of degradation associated with ageing and deterioration. Melvin’s goal is to create a reinforced concrete modeling procedure that combines high-fidelity and lowcostmodeling approaches to perform adequately detailed analyses for full structural systems with limited computational effort.

This type of system-level modeling procedure can be used to more efficiently model the performance of reinforced concrete slabs and shell structures under critical loading scenarios that cannot be realistically examined at the single-element or subassembly level. Examples of such applications include the progressive collapse resistance of reinforced concrete slab systems and the seismic performance of flat plate systems under earthquake ground motions. Practical computational tools that can provide reliable structural performance estimates will be invaluable in the coming years as the inventory of ageing and distressed concrete infrastructure continues to grow. Melvin’s research is being carried out under the supervision of Dr. Trevor Hrynyk.



Nash Mock has been passionate about improving global environmental conditions since joining CISV International at age 11. Working with graduate student Aurore Mercelat and under the direction of Drs. Lynn Katz, Kerry Kinney and Frank Seibert, Nash is currently assisting with a research project involving the use of hollow fiber hydrophobic membranes to separate water/oil emulsions. Nash first became interested in undergraduate research in an Environmental Sampling and Analysis course taught by Dr. Katz.

The novel membrane process has been patented by UT researchers, and the group’s current research builds on previous studies examining its application to oil/water separation in biofuel production. Specifically, the focus of current work seeks to gain a more fundamental understanding of the process and to assess the potential of this process for separating oil/ water mixtures for other applications including oil and gas industries and cleanup of oil spills.

Nash is also optimistic that the development of a suitable membrane might also allow for the recovery of oil and its reuse in energy production (an attractive possibility, given its diminishing, non-renewable status).



photo of Ethan Howley smiling

Ethan Howley is an undergraduate civil engineering student with a passion for researching sustainable solutions to water purification and a deep interest in reconciling design and environmental necessity. “I am fascinated by the ways in which humans interact with the environment, and I want to find ways to improve the relationship.”

As an undergraduate researcher, Ethan currently assists on an EPA-funded project called the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS) under the guidance of Dr. Mary Jo Kirisits and Dr. Michal Ziv-El. Ethan’s role in the collaboration is to monitor biological nitrification reactors and the micro-organisms that make them work. “Traditionally, nitrification has been done chemically. Biological nitrification could offer an advantage inreduced chemical costs,” says Ethan.

Nitrification is an important stage in purification of wastewater. As sources of new water grow scarce, more cities will consider recycling treated wastewater to meet increased demand. Ethan is hopeful that additional research on the effectiveness of biological treatments to rid wastewater of contaminants like ammonia will ultimately provide more efficient drinking water solutions and contribute to the growth of sustainable cities.

More about The Legacy Campaign.

If you would like to create your own Legacy Fund to support student research, please contact Henna Tayyeb at hennat@austin.utexas.edu or 512-471-0469.

CAEE architectural engineering graduate helps carry out artist's vision on UT Austin's newly acquired sculpture of repurposed aluminum canoes and boats.