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CEE PhD Student wins First Place in Engineering Mechanics Institute Granular Materials Technical Committee Student Competition

Druckrey_headshot2Andrew Druckrey, a PhD civil engineering student, recently won the first place in the granular materials technical committee student competition during the 2016 National ASCE: Engineering Mechanics Institute (EMI) conferenc
e that was hosted by Vanderbilt University, May 22-25, 2016. The competition was judged by a panel of EMI granular materials technical committee members based on the clarity, quality and technical content of the poster, and on a five-minute presentation. Andrew submitted an application and poster entitled “3D Experimental Investigation of Local Shearing and Fabric Evolution During Triaxial Compression of Granular Materials,” and was awarded first place in the competition that was recognized during the conference banquet and included a monetary prize. Andrew works under the supervision of Professor Khalid Alshibli on a grant funded by the Office of Naval Research Laboratory.

CEE Students Prepare For National Student Steel Bridge Competition

Steel Bridge

CEE students who competed in the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) student regional competition for the steel bridge display placed in the top four in the regional competition and finished first in visual display. This earned them an opportunity to compete in the ASCE/AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction) National Student Steel Bridge Competition (NSSBC) on May 27-28 held at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Competing nationally against 47 other engineering teams will be CEE undergraduates Matt King, Mark Nichols, Cody Stephens, Clint Lynch and Matt Lyons.

ASCE Faculty Mentor, Professor Z. John Ma, notes that it is very difficult to get to nationals because the Southeast region is very competitive. “I am very proud of our team’s performance at the ASCE student conference, and I wish them the best of luck at NSSBC,” he said.

The competition, now in its 25th year, is recognized as a national showcase where students can test their skills and prepare them for real-world bridge design. The mission of the ASCE/AISC Student Steel Bridge Competition is to supplement the education of civil engineering students with a student-driven project that provides many aspects of experiential learning. The competition helps increase awareness of real-world engineering issues and requires effective teamwork and project management. Students are pushed to innovate, practice professionalism and use structural steel efficiently.

Judging the competition is based on construction time, how much the bridge deflects under the 2,500 pounds of loading and how much the bridge weighs. The team can build it in about eight minutes and 30 seconds, and the bridge currently weighs 143 pounds.

Cody Stephens, one of the team captains, thinks they stand a good chance of performing well. “Since the ASCE regional competition, we’ve reduced our construction time by more than four minutes,” he said. “Because of this, I believe that we will have a good showing at the national competition.”

Instructor Jenny Retherford will be attending the competition and agrees that this year’s team of students will be extremely competitive. “They have it all – students who performed design and analysis of the bridge, students who labored over the construction and students who contribute to the competition build performance,” she said. “Overall, I look to see them placing well nationally – I hope within the top 10.”



Request for Google Map Participation to Honor Dr. Edwin Burdette

SnapshotProfessor Edwin Burdette is honoring after 50 years teaching at UT. His impact is far and wide, and we’re requesting help for all those who’ve worked with him to participating in mapping their location in the world using the following instructions:
Here’s what I need you to do: 1)Follow this link:…
Burdette’s Range of Influence

2) Select the “Work Location” or “Project” layer

3) Click the balloon and then the map location to add your project or office. This can be current or any or all of your office locations or projects. (make sure you hit save when you add it)

4) Share this with anyone you know who had Dr. Burdette. He has 50 years of students. I’m betting we can fill this map.

CEE PhD Student Selected as Outstanding Reviewer by ASCE Journal of Management in Engineering

Abotaleb 1Ibrahim Abotaleb, a first-year PhD student studying Construction Engineering and Management, was recently selected as an Outstanding Reviewer by the ASCE’s Journal of Management in Engineering in recognition of the timeliness, thoroughness and quality of his peer reviews for the journal. Abotaleb is a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow within the department and is advised by CEE Professor Islam El-adaway. “Peer review plays a critical and essential role in ensuring the quality of scholarship in engineering journals,” says CEE Department Head Professor Chris Cox. “It is very unusual for a graduate student to be named an Outstanding Reviewer. This recognition signifies Ibrahim’s dedication to and engagement in scholarly community and is a testament to the mentoring he is receiving from Dr. El-adaway.”


CEE Alumnus Now Helps Construction of Campus Renovations

IMG_0056Native Knoxvillian Jay Emison followed in his family’s footsteps when he chose to attend UT for his undergraduate degree, and he followed his own calling when he stayed for his Master’s. After graduating with a CEE in 2011, he rolled right into the department’s graduate program where he concentrated in Construction and Structures.

Now that he’s employed by Knoxville-based construction firm, Rentenbach where he’s worked for two and half years, Emison has a hand in helping with the renovation of UT’s Student Union renovation. Over the years, Rentenbach has built several sections of Neyland Stadium, Hodges Library, Stokely Management Center, the Howard Baker Center and is currently constructing The Student Union, Strong Hall and the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building.

“My education at UT prepared me for my career in construction in several ways,” he said. “It helped me learn how to multi-task to meet deadlines while developing an understanding of structural components.”

In his role at Rentenbach, he is responsible for the submittal process of Phase 2 of the Student Union, which entails procuring all materials that are used to construct and finish the building and maintaining constant communication between suppliers, trade contractors (installers), the design team and UT to ensure the correct material is procured and installed.

All structural, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, life safety systems, utilities, building envelope, skylights, framing and drywall, millwork, floor finishes, ceiling finishes, kitchen equipment, classroom furniture, auditorium equipment (seats, curtain, lighting and audio systems), security, telecommunication, lighting, restroom fixtures, landscaping and irrigation and all other materials and systems go through Emison to get approved by the design team. It is his responsibility to ensure that all of these materials make it to the jobsite on time, as well as updating the contract drawings and communicating changes, among many other administrative and project management tasks.

“My greatest satisfaction comes from pleasing a client by providing a building that was constructed with integrity,” he says. “I enjoy observing construction activities and being a part of an ever changing professional environment that is evolving from lessons learned from previous projects.”

U.T. not only provided Emison the education he would need to succeed in his career, but it also gave him the connections to meet the right people and land a job right out of school. He thanked the person who put him in touch with Rentenbach, and in response was told that he had earned it. “It really made me look back on what all I accomplished throughout my education and feel proud of being a part of UT CEE,” he says.

Emison couldn’t be more pleased with landing at Rentenbach. “Our motto is ‘Building with Integrity,’ and our goal is to be the most sought after contractor in the markets we serve,” he says. “These core values are why most of our business is from repeat clients. We have been and always will be the contractor clients can count on to make every decision with integrity.”

George Hyfantis Honored by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

Slide1On April 20, 2016, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) awarded George J. Hyfantis, Jr., PhD, P.E. an award for long term contributions to the environmental industry and TDEC’s annual conference entitled “Environmental Show of the South.“ The onstage presentation mentioned that he is a “Giant of the Industry.”  Dr. Hyfantis is president of QE2 (Quantum Environment and Engineering Services, LLC). Dr. Hyfantis has served as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for almost 40 years, teaching courses in solid and hazardous waste management. He also serves on the department’s Board of Advisors. He currently serves as a Governor’s appointee to the Tennessee Underground Storage Tank and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board, and he has served as a Governor’s appointee to the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Board for 12 years. Dr. Hyfantis is a leader in the industry, and has served the public of the State of Tennessee by protecting the environment throughout his career.

Student Spotlight: Andrew Druckrey Blazes Path in Geotechnical Research

Druckrey_headshot2Since joining the PhD program in 2012, Andrew Druckrey has developed an impressive record in pursuing his geotechnical engineering research. So far he has published six journal papers, with four more under review, and published seven conference papers. He’s also made presentations at conferences in the U.S. and overseas and received five academic scholarships. In June, he’ll defend his dissertation, entitled, “3D Multi-Scale Behavior of Granular Material using Experimental and Numerical Techniques,” and he’s expected to graduate in August.

This rising star in the geotechnical field jumped at the opportunity to pursue his PhD at UT after receiving his Masters in Geotechnical/Pavement Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Dr. Khalid Alshibli, who had been on Druckrey’s Master’s thesis committee, had an opening, and Druckrey knew it would afford him the rare opportunity to work under the advisement of someone whose work he admired in a place that was a great fit for him.

“It is fun to work with Andrew,” said Alshibli. “He is a very talented creative researcher. He progressed in his research with minimum supervision.”

Druckrey’s research involves experimental and numerical investigation of granular material response at various length scales. At the micro-scale, he quantifies physical sand particle properties with the use of high resolution synchrotron micro-computed tomography (SMT), as well as investigates experimentally and numerically the mechanisms involved in single particle fracture. At the meso-scale, he researches particle-to-particle interaction during global loading by analyzing particle kinematics and formation of localized shearing bands. Also at the meso-scale, he studies granular material fabric and fabric evolution, and the properties of the material that influence fabric. He is also involved with modeling the continuum response using micro- and meso-scale input, seeking to link the behavior across the scales. This fundamental research is a first step towards more accurate predictions of soil behavior during loading. Better ability to predict soil behavior will minimize experimental efforts and costs, leading to safer and more cost efficient foundations.

In addition to his research activities, Druckrey has also proven to be an outstanding lab instructor. He has taught many courses, including the CE210 lab where he is fully responsible for teaching a challenging laboratory. Geomatics (CE210) involves the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data relating to the earth’s surface, which is of vital importance to any civil engineering project. The geomatics lab gives students hands-on surveying experience in collecting data for use in engineering design and staking out potential construction. Druckrey typically worked with two-to-three labs per week, where he gave a demonstration of the equipment use at the beginning of class and supported the students as they performed surveying work in the field. Most notably he was asked to develop tutorial videos to replace his own teaching demonstration to use well into the future. The tutorial videos are designed to thoroughly and correctly demonstrate each lab while keeping teaching consistency throughout each semester.

Druckrey has accepted a job at Caterpillar in their geomechanics group beginning in July, where he’ll apply his knowledge to further research machine-soil interaction. There, he will help develop virtual simulations of machine interaction with soil to help determine the best design for each component of each machine. “My long-term career goal is to advance my career within Caterpillar into management of geomechanics involved research,” he said.

Druckrey feels that UT has been a superior place for him to further his expertise in soil behavior and modeling and prepare for a career in the field. “Throughout my PhD career at UT I have developed and refined many valuable professional qualities,” he said. “My experience here has provided me with fundamental and advanced research abilities that will allow me to handle any research problem.”

CEE Senior Design Students Win Second Place in College of Engineering Design Division at EUReCA Competition

A CEE Sen20160429_115840ior Design group of six students spent the past semester designing a bridge for a rural faith-based organization in Clay County, Kentucky, and went on to win 2nd place in the College of Engineering Design Division at UT’s Exhibition of Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (EUReCA) competition. The competition is an annual event that showcases research and creative activities by undergraduate students in an effort to encourage, support, and reward undergraduate participation in academic research.

The Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project, a three-year grant funded project supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (UD7HP26205), provides the opportunity for these Senior Design students to make a difference for residents in Clay County. This county is one of the poorest counties in the U.S., and many residents lack adequate access to clean water, health care, food, education and safe housing. The New York Times even called it the “the hardest place in America to live.”

The project, which gained funding in 2013, effectively provides opportunities for The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The College of Nursing, The School of Art and Architecture, and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center to collaborate on community solutions and experience hands-on learning. Teams work in partnership with the Clay County Emergency Management Services (CCEMS) and Red Bird Mission, a ministry helping rural Appalachians since 1921 to solve community problems. The portion of the project that utilizes the help of CEE and Art and Architecture students was designated for a bridge design concept to solve an infrastructure problem on Red Bird Mission, Inc. property. The area is prone to flooding, and the current bridge is the only one available to access the property.

“Coming together as an inter-professional team, we have been able to use our knowledge, skill, and specialized expertise to engage each other as well as the community to identify and solve critical problems that are contributing to disaster vulnerability,” says Lisa Davenport,  ACHDR Project Director. “A bridge design, though theoretical at this point, will ultimately provide the community a fundamental resource that can now be used to advocate for funding of additional infrastructure vital to improving accessibility and egress.”

The first five weeks of the project were spent meeting weekly with Art and Architecture and Nursing faculty and students to look at the physical layout of school property and do precedence studies that would help them design a bridge that was not just structurally sound, but also one that would fit the history and feel of the community situated in what’s known as “The Land of Swinging Bridges.” The interdisciplinary approach challenged the team to think outside the box with their bridge designs and incorporate what they had learned to come up with three bridge designs.

Once the three designs were complete and presented to numerous people on the project, then they were presented to Red Bird Mission and CCEMS for further evaluation. Pros and cons of each bridge were discussed, and with the feedback a new bridge design concept was adopted. The final is a combination of the original three bridge designs.

Aaron Sheppard is working as a project manager to help ensure that the project is a success. “As an aspiring engineer, there is no greater honor than using our knowledge to better the lives of others around us,” he says.  He notes that teamwork, communication and time management are important lessons they are learning while utilizing all of the of the group’s skills within four areas of civil engineering: geotech, structures, water resources, and construction.

Other members of the team each has their own responsibilities. Matthew McCarter, is responsible for the geotechnical aspects of the project. This involves collecting soil samples from the site and performing laboratory tests to obtain information about the soils where the bridge will stand. Cody Stephens is in charge of the structural design of the bridge, which has entailed using RISA-3D software. While the software is a necessary tool, he must still perform hand calculations in order to validate the software’s results. Alex Kiser is in charge of turning Cody’s design ideas into reality by tweaking the design to reduce materials and increase constructability. He’s also responsible for producing the final design drawings in AutoCad, which include everything from a site grading plan to detailed drawings of the member connections. Colin Szklarski is in charge of the river modeling for the project, which incorporates the topography of the existing stream and floodplain and is used by the design team to review potential scour at the bridge foundations and abutments. The model is not just a benefit for the bridge project design, but could also aid in many other projects that will be taking place in the adjacent area. Finally, Trevor Cloar’s job is to identify the construction equipment needs for the project, which is a challenge considering the remote location, harsh climate and poor soil quality in the area. He’s also in charge of cost estimating so that the leadership at Red Bird Mission will have a detailed estimate at the end of this project.

All of the members of the team have expressed that the project has helped them grow in some way. “As engineers, we’re exposed to another side of thinking that we had to adapt to,” says Cloar. “I also believe I became a better engineering student afterwards.”

Szklarski said that in addition to having the opportunity to see a new perspective of design and creativity, the team gained a sense of purpose. “We saw how major projects like the Appalachian Community Health and Disaster Readiness grant can empower such a diverse group of people to work together toward a common goal,” he says.

“All in all, this senior design project has provided us with the most realistic exposure to an engineering project possible, and we all walk away with a deeper understanding of an engineer’s role within the community,” adds Kiser.

“This semester has been a great example of a senior design project that allows students to spend a portion of the time in discussions outside the norm – with architecture students studying design, experience in a built space, and awareness of elements of surrounding infrastructure,” says senior design instructor, Dr. Jenny Retherford. “We’re not designing a bridge, we’re designing a connection between spaces that enhances the experience of a walk home from school for many students in rural Clay County, Kentucky. The experience is a social experience that is great for civil engineering students.”

“The Appalachia Community Health & Disaster Readiness project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under UD7HP26205 and Nurse Education, Practice, Quality, and Retention Inter-professional Collaborative Practice grant. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.”


Weaver’s Impact Extends from College of Engineering to Honduras

Weaver-posed-200x300A passion for engineering and the environment led Liam Weaver to transfer to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

That drive for a more sustainable planet, combined with an unquenchable love for visiting its cultures, countries and ecosystems, led him to find a way to improve lives on a substantial scale.

Weaver, a senior from Franklin, Tennessee, graduates Saturday with a degree in civil and environmental engineering. One of four students to have earned top honors in the College of Engineering, he will next attend the University of California, Berkeley, in pursuit of a doctorate, starting this fall.

At UT, he helped start a chapter of Students Helping Honduras, an organization dedicated to the betterment of that Central American nation.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a number of places, and I try and always make a habit to live as the locals live and not just do the touristy things,” said Weaver. “Honduras is a place where there aren’t a lot of ways for people to move out of poverty, to escape violence—something our organization seeks to change.”

Weaver pointed out that the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula recently had a rate of 187 murders per 100,000 people—significantly more than second-place Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which had 148 per 100,000, and almost three times more than Flint, Michigan, which had 62 per 100,000, the highest rate in the United States.

A lack of jobs and educational opportunities, together with a large number of orphans, fuels the problem, with kids who age out of the care system having nowhere to turn but gangs in order to find work.

Education, in particular, is one of those areas that Weaver and SHH are actively working to change.

“The goal is to build a thousand schools by 2020,” said Weaver. “So far we’ve passed around 21 or so, and we’re well on the way to showing that through education there’s another way out, that they don’t have to join gangs.

“Whether it’s by 2020 or 2050, we’ll keep working with the locals to ensure every village that needs a school has the opportunity to build one.”

Job skills have also gotten the group’s attention.

They’ve helped bring about libraries and create vocational education possibilities through farming and business.

One of the things that SHH prides itself on is—well, lack of pride.

The group learned from other well-intentioned groups doing similar work that improvement that isn’t sustainable won’t last.

Because of that consideration and a commitment to “sweat equity,” SHH also added a way for Hondurans to get food through a more sustainable system of farming.

“We’ve worked to set up tilapia ponds in villages in a way that is pretty self-sustaining,” said Weaver. “By positioning chicken coops over the ponds, the chicken excrement provides nutrients for algae blooms, aka fish food, and the chickens can feed on duckweed and other surface plants.

“It also provides the children of the village training in a method of producing food with limited space and resources.”

Weaver said that commitment to the environment came naturally.

Growing up in Middle Tennessee, he said, his family was always spending time in the forest.

His father, Greg, is head of a group focused on restoring the American chestnut after a blight wiped them out, an effort that landed him recognition from the American Chestnut Foundation, among others.

And it isn’t just Honduras that has benefited from the younger Weaver’s input. Before his involvement with SHH, he spent time in New Zealand interning on its Green Building Council.

When he heads to the Bay Area this fall, Weaver will leave behind a legacy and a hope for the future of the group and the planet.

“One of the big goals is to leave the group with a healthy future ahead of it, and with an energetic group of young officers, I think we’re in great shape,” Weaver said. “As far as sustainability efforts, I really do think travel can play a key role.”

“Once you’ve been somewhere and seen it, you appreciate it more.”

Weaver said that travel can mend the cultural disconnect between people and the planet, and that working to design and manage greener villages, infrastructure and cities shows that people and the rest of life on earth can coexist.

CEE Recognizes Outstanding Students, Faculty and Staff at Annual Awards Banquet

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering held its Awards Banquet on April 22, 2016 at the Southern Depot. During this annual event, faculty, staff and students are honored for their accomplishments in the areas of teaching research, teaching, scholarship, and service. In addition, American Society of Civil Engineers, Institute of Transportation Engineers, and Chi Epsilon student chapters described their activities and accomplishments over the last year. In addition to the awards listed below, nearly 50 scholarships totaling more than $80,000 were announced. Ms. Sharon Habibi was also recognized as the department’s outstanding alumna; stay tuned for a story highlighting her career in the print version of The Cornerstone.

John Callaway Academic Achievement Award


Senior Class: Liam Weaver


Junior Class: Matthew Davis and Ryan Marine


Sophomore Class: Sydney Reeder

Outstanding Teaching Award  


Dr. Lee Han

Teaching Recognition Award


Dr. Angel Palomino

Research Recognition Award


Dr. Jon Hathaway


Dr. Dayakar Penumadu

Scholar Recognition Award


Dr. Joshua Fu

Service Recognition Award


Dr. Khalid Alshibli

 Staff Recognition Award


Samantha Allen


Larry Roberts







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