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A Quarter Century of Resounding Success for a University/Federal Laboratory Partnership

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Institutional Capacity and Supportive Structures in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Robert W. Whalin Jackson State University

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Dr. Whalin, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Director, Coastal Hazards Center, Jackson State University. He is Director Emeritus of the Engineer Research and Development Center, Vicksburg, MS. He received his PhD in Oceanography from Texas A&M University in 1971 and is a Registered Professional Engineer. Dr. Whalin was Director of Army Research Laboratory (1998-2003; Adelphi, MD), and Technical Director /Director of Waterways Experiment Station (1985-1998; Vicksburg, MS). He has authored/co-authored over a hundred technical papers and reports during his career in private industry, government and academia. His current research interests are nearshore wave transformations, coastal structures, tsunami inundation, hurricane surges, high performance computing, and engineering education.

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Ismael Pagán-Trinidad University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus Orcid 16x16

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Ismael Pagán-Trinidad, Professor (1982-date) and Chair (1994-date), Department of Civil Engineering and Surveying, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM); Principal Investigator/Program Manager of the Educational and Research Internship Program (ERIP) under the UPRM-ERDC (US Army Corp of Engineers) Partnership Agreement (1994-date); Principle Investigator of the Education for Improving Resiliency of Coastal Infrastructure project under the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (2016-2020); Cofounder and Member of the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium of Engineering Education (LACCEI). He earned a BS in Civil Engineering, MS in Civil Engineering (Environmental) at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and conducted PhD (ABD) studies in Hydrosystems at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1978-82).

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Evelyn Villanueva US Army Engineer Research and Development Center

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Mrs. Evelyn Villanueva is a Special Assistant to the Director of the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL) at the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) located in Vicksburg, MS. She received a bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez and a Master’s degree in Geosciences from Mississippi State University (MSU). She assists in the management, coordination and focus of GSL’s organizational development activities and internal/external communications. In this role she works closely with the GSL leadership in a manner fully supportive of the mission, philosophy, vision and goals of the Laboratory. Mrs. Villanueva has the leading role in the execution of university initiatives such as the coordination of the ERDC recruiting strategy, the summer internship program and assisting in the development of mutually beneficial research opportunities. She is also the GSL Coordinator for the USACE Career Program 18, Interns Rotational Assignment Program. Mrs. Villanueva is the recipient of the ERDC Outstanding Achievement in Equal Employment Opportunity Award and the ERDC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Human Capital Development.

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David W. Pittman PE US Army Engineer Research and Development Center

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Dr. David W. Pittman is the Deputy Director of the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center, headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi. With seven laboratories located in four states, ERDC is the lead research and development organization for the Army Corps of Engineers, and employs over 1,000 engineers and scientists focused on research in military engineering, civil works, environmental quality, installations, and geospatial engineering. Prior to becoming Deputy Director at ERDC, Dr. Pittman served as Director of ERDC's Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL), and served in several other leadership roles in GSL, after spending ten years of conducting research in the area of airfields and pavements. Dr. Pittman also served as an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at Auburn University. Dr. Pittman received his bachelor's and master's degrees in Civil Engineering from Mississippi State University, and his doctorate degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a registered professional engineer in the State of Mississippi.

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An enduring vibrant partnership began in spring 1986 when the Commander and Technical Director of the nation’s largest civil and environmental engineering laboratory made a university recruiting visit where Hispanic enrollment exceeded 12 thousand. Annual collaboration and recruiting visits continued for 30 years. Two civil engineers were hired during the 1986 trip (a BS and a MS). Both remain in laboratory research positions. An annual seminar was provided for University Army ROTC cadets regarding missions of Army laboratories. In a spirit of partnership, laboratory leadership asked how they could assist the Department in addition to recruiting graduates. In 1991, the Civil Engineering Department Chair asked if the laboratory could accommodate two or three student summer interns. The Department was growing; it was experiencing challenges providing internships to undergraduates and research experiences to graduates during summer sessions. Graduate students were leaving without completing degrees. Laboratory leadership offered to accommodate 10 student interns in summer 1991. This began a research internship program that is arguably the best in the federal government.

Laboratory engineers are student mentors and research supervisors. They prepare two page research topics for 10 week internships. Research topics are transmitted to the university Program Manager (PM) who matches student’s interests and qualifications to research topics. Housing and transportation are arranged for students. Students are required to write a proposal, a technical paper and a technical poster on summer research. A non-technical written essay is required on values cultivated during the internship. They give an oral presentation before their peers, mentors and PM (professor for 3 credit-hour course). Questions from the PM and faculty members are intense and thorough. Usually 50-60 students, mentors, and engineers comprise the audience. Student research works are placed in the Program web library. Over 480 interns performed research since 1991.

The initial summer research internship evolved to an Education Partnership Agreement signed by both institutions. It expanded to host faculty and laboratory researchers’ participation in both places. Laboratory engineers participate as Adjunct Professors, members or Chairs of Graduate Student Committees and teach university short courses; professors perform joint research during summers, jointly compete for research contracts and an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration has become the partnership culture. The laboratory has hired over 60 university graduates since 1986 (30 years) and 38 remain today. One recruit is a Laboratory Director and Senior Executive Service (SES) member. About 30 earned MS degrees and two earned PhD degrees.

The prescription for partnership success is genuine, dedicated and continuous leadership commitment by both the university and the laboratory. A SES Laboratory Director leads annual university visits (the first for 13 years) and the same PM led the university partnership for over 25 years. The paper quantifies partnership metrics including internships, permanent hires, career advancements, joint research, and other endeavors.

Whalin, R. W., & Pagán-Trinidad, I., & Villanueva, E., & Pittman, D. W. (2016, June), A Quarter Century of Resounding Success for a University/Federal Laboratory Partnership Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26419

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