How I embraced the CEE legacy of innovation and leadership
January 12, 2022
Hi, my name is Jack Lawrence, and I’m a sophomore studying Civil and Environmental Engineering with a primary focus in Geotechnical Engineering. I am originally from Long Island, New York.
It’s been about two years since I decided to attend UIUC. At the time, I remember numerous questions were rushing through my head. Will I fit in? What will it be like to live in another state? Will I be a successful student?
Much has changed in those two years. I currently serve as President of the Underground Construction Association (UCA), Mix Design Captain for the Concrete Canoe Team, and Executive Conference Chair for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Student Chapter here on campus. I additionally conduct tunneling research under the Professor Youssef Hashash Research Group.
One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had while here on campus has been organizing the 2022 ASCE Western Great Lakes Student Symposium (WGL 2022). As part of this event, 500 students representing 20 universities scattered across the Midwest, Canada, and even Egypt will travel to Champaign to compete in 12 competitions and participate in 4 professional development events. Examples of competitions include Steel Bridge (where students design, build, and test-to-failure a 20-foot-long steel bridge) and Sustainable Solutions (where students are tasked with digitally modeling a neighborhood of sustainable tiny homes). Some of the competitions will serve as regional qualifiers for a national symposium hosted by ASCE in June. Our professional development line-up will include sessions on how to be an effective leader and an awards banquet where the winners of each competition will be recognized. To provide a sense of scale for just how massive this event is, our budget is about $90,000. In addition to planning the symposium itself, our ASCE Student Chapter is further responsible for securing funds through registration fees, grants, and corporate sponsorships.
My favorite competition to plan, by far, has been the concrete canoe races. As part of this event, students annually design, build, and race a 16-foot-long concrete canoe. Before you ask the inevitable follow-up question, yes, they float. I am in a unique position as I am both organizing the event and I am also one of the captains of the UIUC team. My job as Mix Design Captain entails of making sure that our concrete canoe does not turn into an expensive concrete paperweight. This year has been especially exciting for the UIUC team as the last time we hosted the WGL Symposium was in 2014. Our team hopes to qualify for nationals this year by placing first at the symposium.
Another rewarding project I’ve had the opportunity to work on is conducting tunneling research with the Professor Youssef Hashash Research Group. I learned about the group when Prof. Hashash gave a guest lecture to my CEE 198 class during my first semester. After a few emails and an interview, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a research assistant position. Our group is currently building artificial intelligence models to predict what happens to existing nearby structures and the ground when a tunnel is dug. Most of my day-to-day work involves extracting and processing tunnel boring machine (TBM) and geotechnical monitoring data, from real-world projects, which will be used to train our model.
Recently, I have also tested some preliminary artificial neural network structures and evaluated their effectiveness. Across the country, very few research groups are conducting cutting-edge tunneling research and even fewer have access to the level of high-quality data that we work with. The group has also provided me with plenty of rare networking opportunities with industry leaders. Combined, the hands-on data analysis experience and the networking opportunities will be invaluable for a future career in tunneling.
I’m proud to say that in the two years since I made my decision, I’ve never looked back. I’ve made long-lasting relationships with incredibly compassionate, hardworking, and genuine people while working on projects I never could have imagined two years ago. If I could give one piece of advice to future students, it would be this: live in the moment and embrace what makes you happy. At UIUC, you never quite know what awaits you in the future.