Civil engineering seniors learn, bond on Pittsburgh trip

April 03, 2023

Nine seniors from the Reiners Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering traveled with to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 16-18, to learn about the types of projects they may be involved with after graduation.

William Barry, Ph.D., dean of the Allen School of Engineering and Computing, and Gary Greene, Ph.D., department chair, took the students to locations such as the Emsworth Lock and Dam and Fort Pitt Tunnel.

The trip gave the seniors the opportunity to not only see real-life applications of engineering concepts, but to spend time with faculty and fellow students outside of class.

Emsworth Lock and Dam

The Emsworth Lock and Dam, located west of downtown Pittsburgh, is operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps maintains a navigable channel upstream on the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

Several students operated the lock gates, which allow ships to enter the lock. While the Trine group was visiting, an empty coal barge came through the lock, allowing the students to observe the entire process of lock operation up close.

“The man who gave the lock and dam tour was excited to share all that he knew about the river,” said Trine senior Jacob Barkey. “I learned a lot about the how lock and dam systems maintain navigable waters and all the behind-the-scenes work required to keep a major tunnel operational.”

“The behind-the-scenes look at the technology and equipment used to maintain the normal flow of commerce along the Ohio River was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” agreed senior John Nash.

Fort Pitt Tunnel

At the Fort Pitt Tunnel, the group saw the tunnel’s power and computer systems, the eight enormous suction fans that pull exhaust fumes out of the tunnel, and the main control room.

The control room monitors traffic on roads near the tunnel as well as many roads around the downtown area. This allows workers to notify emergency response teams if an incident occurs, even before motorists could call 911.

“The most interesting thing about the tunnel was that it was more than just a tunnel,” said senior Aspen Fisher. “There is a group of people working there full-time to ensure that all traffic flowing through is traveling safely and, if there is an accident, respond immediately. The lead engineer who gave us the tour was very personable and did a great job explaining the processes and answering questions.”

At the end of the tour, the Trine group was able to climb to the roof on the north end of the tunnel, experiencing a panoramic view of Pittsburgh downtown.

“I will never forget looking at the Pittsburgh skyline from the private access area of the tunnel, a view not many people get to experience,” Fisher said.

Rail car and bridges

The group also visited the Duquesne Incline, a historical inclined wooden rail car that for over a century has moved people up and down the side of the mountain south of downtown Pittsburgh.

The trip ended with a walk along the waterfront in downtown Pittsburgh to visit four bridges along the Monongahela and Allegany rivers. The bridges had spans between 400 and 700 feet and were built between the 1920s to the 1980s. 

“During the trip, we learned how a great portion of civil engineering relies on the human element, which can react to issues that arise on site,” said Nash. “The human element includes an engineer’s problem-solving skills, as that is perhaps the most important characteristic an engineer can possess. Hearing stories of civil engineering projects our professors Drs. Barry and Greene worked on, along with some other truly hilarious anecdotes, allowed me to see that all civil engineers are of the same breed.”

“Overall, the experience had a great balance of learning experiences and good social experiences,” said Fisher. “While all the tours were amazing and were definitely worth going to Pittsburgh for, the truly great part of the trip was spending time with peers and professors before all of us seniors go our own ways in life.”

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