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Core Connections: Three CEE Seniors Connect Through Prior Military Experience

Senior Design team stands behind a wooden fence.

Senior Design team. Back row, left to right: David Swinney, Nicholas Manley, Ross Armstrong, and Joshua Clanton. Front Row, left to right: Francis Nunez, Lauren Meffe, Korbin Hinson, John Newman.

CEE seniors Ross Armstrong, Joshua Clanton, and David Swinney each pursued careers in the military before coming to UT.

In their senior year, they all ended up on the same senior design team, where they were tasked with designing a prefabricated bridge to mitigate the level of recurring flooding at the Maryville Little League baseball fields. While the work was engaging and grew their skillset, having the shared military experience between them gave them an even deeper bond of lasting friendship.

When deciding on a career in civil and environmental engineering, Armstrong says he saw similarities to the Marine Corps, where he served for four years before coming to UT.

Serving the community is an honorable attribute I admire and one of the things that attracted me to the field of civil engineering.”

—Ross Armstrong

Armstrong, who was responsible for environmental and site surveying services such as water quality testing, streambank mitigation, environmental permitting, and topographic surveying, loved working with the team.

“Every member contributed substantially, and each member had a mutual respect for each other’s ideas and motives,” he said.

Clanton joined the Air Force in 2004 and worked as an electrician in a combat engineering squadron whose mission was to go anywhere in the world and build air bases capable of sustaining missions. He was a part of some of the Department of Defense’s largest military construction projects and got to watch buildings go vertical in record time.

“My passion for construction really transformed as I gained more responsibility on the projects,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to go back to school to learn the engineering behind the dirty work. So, in 2015 I separated from active duty and joined the Tennessee Air National Guard and enrolled at UT.”

Clanton’s role on the senior design project evolved over the past two semesters. He was part of the initial site survey, geotechnical exploration, and hydrology analysis, but in the second semester he took on some of the structural and geotechnical design by designing the wing walls to accompany the bridge designs.

“I will always remember the friends I made on this project,” said Clanton. “This project forced me to connect to other students that I normally would not have had a chance to get to know. Of course, getting to work with two other veterans definitely is something I will never forget. Those guys understood me in ways that a traditional student or faculty couldn’t even fathom. I am very proud of the work we did but mostly I proud to call my teammates friends.”

Swinney joined the US Navy Seabees in 2009 as a heavy equipment operator. During his six years he was deployed to Afghanistan, Spain, Cambodia, and Romania and worked on projects ranging from building entry control points, to drilling water wells, and even paving a few roads.

My passion has always been construction, so when my enlistment was coming to an end in 2015, I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue my degree in civil engineering at UT.”

—David Swinney

Swinney enjoyed being the senior design team’s geotechnical engineer, working with other team members to gather information about the soil conditions and creating soil reports of the site so it could be used to assist in design, but said the most memorable park of the project was being able to get to know other students.

“Transitioning from active duty to full time student wasn’t easy, but sharing the struggle with other people who have the same goals made it enjoyable,” he said.

After graduation, Armstrong plans to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to be closer to his fiancé and work as a field engineer for a railroading company called Railworks.

Clanton will begin a new career with the Army Corps of Engineers in Knoxville, while Swinney will begin working at the Y-12 National Security Complex.