Lauren Howarth

Lauren Horwath

Graduate Student
Masters of Engineering (M.Eng.) In Structural Engineering Program
2010-2011






March 20, 2011

Spring break has already come and gone, and we are now counting down to just six weeks of classes left. I'm sure I have said this many times before, but this Master's program is certainly flying by fast. I had a strong sense of déjà vu at the grad fair this past week, where I placed an order for my cap and gown. It only has been a year since I last did so, and now I will be receiving another Lehigh diploma in May. I've learned so much in this past year, and I can't stress enough how happy I am that I was able to have the opportunity and made the decision to go into this program right away.

As for an update on the design project, our 13-story office/retail building is moving right along. Right now, we are working on creating a model of each floor in RAM Structural System, which is an engineering software for building design and analysis. After we do so and input the proper loads that we determined by hand calculations back in the summer, we will be able to design the beams for the gravity loads. We then will need to work on completing the design for the lateral loads, which is a system that most likely will consist of shear walls and moment frames. We are continuing to learn about the components of lateral systems in our design class throughout the semester, which is something that was not really touched on in undergraduate classes. Next we will be working on the design of the foundation system, hand calculating a few moment frame connections, and more hand calculations to back up certain parts of the computer design. As all my professors say in reference to computer programs, "Garbage in is garbage out." You cannot trust the computer to design something for you if you yourself do not understand what the computer is actually calculating. Computer output must be checked and rechecked to ensure that the design makes sense. Unfortunately, a small bug in any computer program can lead to large errors in design.

Besides all of my design classes, I have really been enjoying my Advanced Construction Management class. It's very interesting to me since I have been able to compare what I did during my internship on the construction management team at Sands to what we are learning in class, such as performing material take-offs and learning how to run effective meetings. Before spring break, we were set up with employees at different subcontracting companies to learn about their company supply chain and how they played into the big picture of the construction project. I constantly worked with subcontractors at Sands, but I never was able to see things from their perspective until now. This was a great project, and I gained a better insight on how to improve relationships between subcontractors and construction managers.

With projects, homework, and exams coming up, it really will be a race to beat the clock by the end of six weeks. It will certainly be a great feeling of accomplishment once I receive that second Lehigh diploma in May.

January 24, 2011

Photograph of the underside of a highway bridge.

The last semester of my master’s program has officially begun! Winter break was a great way to slow things down for a few weeks and rejuvenate before having to tackle the numerous projects and reports that I am required to complete this semester. However, I didn’t take all of the winter break off to relax — there were still a few things that needed to be done and other assignments that I wanted to get ahead on before the spring semester arrived.

My individual project requirement was the main focus of my time off from classes. As I described in previous posts, I am investigating the dynamic response of a highway bridge by placing sensors on the structure and collecting acceleration data as vehicles drive across. After rescheduling numerous times due to the multiple snowstorms that we were hit with during break, I was finally able to go out to the bridge last Monday and collect the data. There was a catwalk directly underneath the bridge that enabled us to place the sensors on the floor beams running perpendicular to the two trusses on either side. Once the sensors were placed, a signal was sent from a laptop that we brought to order the sensors to begin collecting data for three to four minutes. It was a long process, and unfortunately, it was absolutely freezing outside, so being outside for three-plus hours was not very pleasant. Other than that, though, it was interesting to get in the field to collect actual data and I am intrigued to see how the results will turn out.

Photograph of investigation of the dynamic response of a highway bridge.

Also, as another part of the M.Eng. program, I had the opportunity to participate in a short externship at Ammann & Whitney in New York City over winter break. This was a really great way to actually see what a design company does on a day-to-day basis, and I was able to “shadow” a few of the project engineers and check over their calculations. It was refreshing to know that I had been taught well in class, since I was able to jump right in and understand the designs that they were working on. This experience was definitely one of the best things about the Master of Engineering program, and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to do this. I had only had an internship in construction management previously, so I was able to gain new insight on how a structural design company functions daily.

I have a feeling that this semester will be very challenging; however, I know that it will be all worth it once May comes around and I have that familiar cap and gown on once again. But for now, we have to focus on finishing the design of our 13-story office/retail building.

Until next time, Lauren

November 8, 2010

It's the beginning of November and fall is now in full swing—consequently, so are all of my projects, reports, and homework. Deadlines are creeping up now that we only have about four weeks of classes left, and I am trying to cram as much in now as I can so that I don't have a pile of work to finish by December. I haven't been cooped up working on homework this whole time, though. In the past month we have had many opportunities to go on field trips and hear from other practicing engineers in order to learn how structural designers must interact with all people on a project. I find these field trips and seminars very interesting. It is highly valuable to understand the best ways for a structural engineer to relay his or her designs to other people on the project so plans are communicated as clearly as possible.

Our M.Eng. class recently visited High Concrete, a precast/prestressed concrete plant in Denver, Pa. We were able to see how different kinds of precast products were made, such as insulated wall panels and bridge double-tee beams. I wasn't aware of the large versatility of precast concrete — practically any geometry (such as size and shapes) and finish (such as colors and texture) can be created. Therefore, we learned that precast products can serve both structural and architectural purposes in a building.

As for one of my projects, I have decided that I would like to investigate the dynamic properties of a highway bridge in the area in order to go along with my Structural Dynamics class. Soon I will be going on site to the bridge location (hopefully before it gets too cold) and placing sensors along the span of the bridge. These sensors will take data of the acceleration of the bridge as vehicles drive across it, which I can then input into a computer program to determine the dynamic properties of the bridge. I also plan on creating a finite element model of the bridge using SAP2000 and compare the results that I obtain from the computer program to the actual data I collect. This is quite an in-depth project, and I will be working on it from now until February of next year.

My other main project right now is creating a prestressed concrete beam for the Big Beam project. My group has designed a T-shaped beam that is supposed to hold 20,000 pounds without cracking and fail at a little above 32,000 pounds. We will find out by next week which two beams will be selected to be built, and then we will go through testing the beam and seeing how accurate our design calculations were. I'm pretty confident that our design will perform well, so I hope that our team will be selected because I am interested to see how well it performs under the loading.

Tomorrow I will be registering for my final semester of classes. After some thought, I have decided to take Behavior and Design of Earthquake-resistant Structures and Advanced Project Management, along with my required courses of the Design Project and Advanced Structural Analysis. I feel like these classes will definitely help to prepare me well for a career in structural design. It's weird that I am finally registering for my last semester of classes in college, but I know that I am ready to get out into the working world and start putting my education to good use.

October 12, 2010

It’s a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, and I am enjoying the last few hours of my four-day pacing break weekend. Tomorrow I will head back to class and begin the two-week period of studying for my midterms, which will finish up near the end of October. Needless to say, if I thought I had a lot to do now, I can’t imagine how busy I will be for the rest of this month! Exams, projects, homework, interviews ... lots of hard work ahead, but it all is worth it as it brings me closer to my master’s degree.

Last Friday our entire Master of Engineering class was able to take a trip down to Bensalem, Pennsylvania to tour Samuel Grossi & Sons, a structural steel fabrication company. After just having a lecture on connections the previous week, we were able to see how Grossi & Sons took information from the structural engineer and created a new model in order to make sure that the loads were being properly transmitted through the building through the connections. It was very interesting to see the steel fabrication side of structural design, and I think we all learned just how imperative it is for the structural engineer and steel fabricator to have frequent communication.

Pictured above is Mr. Grossi explaining how this specific piece of equipment transfers the connection designs from the computer model onto an actual steel beam. The picture at left is a pedestrian bridge that was transported from the campus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Grossi & Sons for repair.

After touring Grossi & Sons in the morning, we spent the afternoon visiting a construction site in Center City Philadelphia. The Barnes Foundation, which houses Dr. Albert Barnes's vast art collection (including multiple pieces by Picasso, van Gogh, and Monet), is moving from Merion to Philadelphia. This building is made up of about one-third steel and about two-thirds concrete, so it was a perfect construction site for our group to tour. I always loved to get out on the site to see the construction in action when I worked as an intern at Sands, so I felt right at home walking through the structural frame of the unfinished building and observing all that was taking place. Actually getting to see a construction site in person and experiencing the process of creating a life-size building gives you a much better understanding of the design you are generating on paper. It gives you a sense of what will work in the field and what will not work, which is something that every structural engineer should know.

Back in the classroom, we are getting more into our semester-long projects for Prestressed Concrete and Structural Dynamics and our year-long individual project for the master's program. In Dynamics, my group will be studying the effects of seismic forces and wind loads on different bridge types, including truss bridges and long-span bridges. Similarly, my individual project will be taking actual data from a specific bridge in Easton and analyzing it using a finite element model in either one of the two computer programs SAP or ABAQUS. By doing these two projects in addition to the building design project, I feel that I will get a good understanding of the design and analysis of both bridges and buildings.

That's about it for now, but I'm sure I will have more to talk about once we start designing our prestressed concrete beam for the Big Beam contest. Only two beams in the entire class will get picked to be fabricated and tested for the contest. I'm crossing my fingers! Until then, you can find me studying for midterms.

September 4, 2010

It is the middle of September, and I am officially nine weeks into the Master of Engineering program with about 26 weeks of classes left to go. A new round of classes has started up for the fall semester and I, along with many of the other master’s students, am taking Prestressed Concrete, Structural Dynamics, Mechanics and Behavior of Structural Members, and the second part of our required design project. All of these classes are very useful, and I expect to gain pertinent knowledge from each of them that will greatly assist me in practice.

We have been moving forward in our design project by reviewing how to select steel members for the applicable design loads and learning about different kinds of structural systems. We have been busy working on submitting small portions of design that have to do with our project; for example, last week we were required to analyze a typical beam, a typical girder, and an interior column under three different load cases for an office building in order to determine the one particular load case that we would recommend to use. Currently, each member in our design group is investigating a different steel structural system to use for our building and then we will collaborate to decide which system would be the most economical. By doing each of these assignments, it brings us closer and closer to completing the design development drawings that we are eventually required to submit.

Our design project is not the only project we are currently working on. In Prestressed Concrete, our semester-long project is to design and fabricate a prestressed concrete beam to submit in the 2011 Big Beam Contest (sponsored by the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute). By taking the information we learn in class about prestressed concrete, we will break off into small groups to design a beam that we believe will be perform the best while being the most cost- effective. From these groups, the best beam will be entered into the contest by being fabricated and tested under the supervision of a PCI Producer Member. For more information, click here for a great article on Lehigh’s website about last year’s team.

Structural Dynamics and Mechanics and Behavior of Structural Members are both moving along very quickly. I haven’t really had a background in dynamics before, so I am learning many new things in this class. Right now, we are focusing on learning about the equations of motion, free vibration, and harmonic excitation of single-degree-of-freedom systems. For reference, a single-degree-of-freedom system can be represented by structures such as a water tower or a parking garage. Both have a large mass at the top that is sitting on a structure that, in comparison, has a relatively small mass. Later on in the semester, we will be learning about multi-degree-of-freedom systems, which are structures that have two or more modes of vibration instead of just one. This class will provide an excellent background for determining wind loads or earthquake loads on skyscrapers, among having many other applications.

Mechanics and Behavior of Structural Members has so far had many similarities to the undergraduate Mechanics of Materials class that I took, but it is an advanced course and goes much more in-depth concerning the behavior of structural members under different loading conditions. Our main focuses so far have been on the analysis of stress in a member and the strain, displacement, and stress-strain relations. As a structural engineer, it is imperative to understand how members will deform under different loading conditions. Therefore, learning to “see” how a member will deform when subjected to such loads is a very valuable skill to have.

As I wrap up my third week of fall semester classes, I also have a career fair to attend in a few days. I have my resume updated and I am excited to talk to potential future employers. I feel that by being in this master’s program, I have come a long way since last year, and I am ready to show just how much I have learned. Wish me luck!

August 4, 2010

With just a few short weeks left of summer, we are already beginning to wrap up the first session of the structural M.Eng. program. Fall registration has been taken care of and, starting in less than a month, we are on our way to tackling an even busier semester. But before that, I am definitely looking forward to our two-and-a- half-week break so that I can freshen up and fit one more vacation in before diving back into our design project and new classes.

The first part of our design project is due next week, where we have to present load maps and code review calculations for our 13-story office/retail building. I am beginning to become much more familiar with the ASCE 7-05 and 7-10 codes, as we are constantly looking through them in order to determine all of the forces that will be on our building for our code review. Once we establish the snow loads, wind loads, seismic loads, live loads, and dead loads (such as mechanical equipment) on our building, we will be able to move forward and start designing the structure. During these past few days we have also been taking online training courses in RAM Structural Systems and RAM Elements in order to learn how to use them for our design project, since we will be working quite frequently in these programs to model and test our structure.

Today was our last laboratory experiment in our Structural Behaviors class. We tested a 9’x12’ reinforced concrete slab by placing a concentrated load right in the center of it. By pure observation, this experiment was the most fascinating to me because the concrete slab actually looked like a trampoline as it began to severely deflect. Although the slab did not fail how we expected it to, we learned that even the simplest, most obvious failure modes always need to be considered.

For a few weeks in our structures lab, we took a short break from concrete and tested three steel tension connections and a W8x15 steel beam. I learned quite a lot from seeing the yield lines and failure modes of the steel plates and beam—there are certainly many things to note that occur before the connection or beam eventually fails. We were able to observe tear-out failure, fracture of the net section, and shear failure in the steel bolts for the three connections, and plastic hinges and lateral-torsional bucking for the steel beam. Previously, I had only read about and studied these things in textbooks, but I now feel like I am able to understand it much more now that I have had the opportunity to see it in person.

Now that I am finishing up these two classes, I will be moving on to take pre-stressed concrete, structural dynamics, and mechanics and behaviors of structural members in the fall, along with the second part of the design project. I’m excited to learn more since I feel like I have already gained so much valuable knowledge in these past five weeks. I look forward to updating once the fall semester begins. For now, though, I’ll focus on wrapping this last week up and heading down to Florida for a quick rejuvenation before our new classes start.

July 21, 2010

I cannot believe how fast this summer is flying by. It feels like I just started class a few days ago, and now we are already almost halfway through the first session of the M.Eng. program. Granted, the summer session is only six weeks long as compared to 14 weeks during the fall and spring semesters, but we are still cramming (and learning) as much as we possibly can in this short amount of time.

In our Structural Behavior labs, we have moved from testing reinforced concrete beams to crushing 10-foot tall reinforced concrete columns. As we did with the beams, we have been calculating the load at which we predict the columns to fail prior to testing them. Our main purpose in testing the columns was to observe the differences in failure between a tie column and a spirally reinforced column. The failure mode of the tie column was actually very startling—even though we all knew it was about to crush, the enormous bang and chunks of concrete suddenly flying off of the column in all directions was enough to make most of us jump. The failure of the spirally reinforced column was much more ductile and wasn’t as brief (and thankfully, it was not nearly as startling) as the tie column. Even though a spirally reinforced column gives much more warning than a tie column when it is about to fail, tie columns are commonly used in construction because they are less expensive than spiral columns. I had always been warned about the severity of overloading a column, however, after seeing it fail firsthand, I now can certainly understand why.

Our design class has so far mostly consisted of reviewing and learning the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) 7-10 code in preparation for our 10-month long design project. We recently found out that we are going to be designing a complex of buildings that is located in Moscow, Russia. I’m very excited to start on this project. By working our way through the schematic design phase, design development phase, and about half of the construction document phase, it will greatly help to prepare us for what we will be doing in the future.

We have also finished our summer reading assignment for the book Skyscraper: The Making of a Building by Karl Sabbagh. I highly, highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning about how a building is constructed, from getting the city’s initial approval to putting the finishing touches on the roof 779 feet above the ground. This book goes into vivid detail of the many problems and obstacles the project team of Worldwide Plaza in New York City had to face, and how they overcame (almost) all of them to finish the final product. On page 82, Sabbagh quotes the construction project manager as stating, “After it’s all gone, you forget all the aggravation, you forget all the problems. You just look up in the sky and say, ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful building.’ That’s the reward. You feel that great sense of satisfaction, and that makes everything else go away.” I believe that that quote speaks for many people in the construction industry, and I have a feeling that every single one of us in this program is waiting patiently for that moment where we are able to look up in the sky and see the breathtaking structures that we have helped to create.

July 8, 2010

A mere two months ago I was walking across the stage at my graduation, shaking professors’ hands and finally receiving my hard-earned undergraduate diploma. I packed up the last of my belongings in my apartment, shared a few goodbyes with fellow classmates, and left Lehigh.

But not for long.

A few short weeks of summer, a vacation or two thrown in there, and I am back at Lehigh in July as both an alumnus and as a graduate student, ready to take on the 10-month Structural Master of Engineering program. I am here to share my experiences with you as I go through the different stages of this program, and I am excited to have as many people as possible learn about this field of study here at Lehigh. As a student who is handling calculations 75 percent of the time and writing lab reports for the other 25 percent, I am not quite used to writing a blog, so I apologize if I sound a bit rusty at first. However, before I get into what we have done in the M. Eng. summer session in the past four days (and trust me, it is a lot!), I’ll tell you a little about myself.

I’ve been a resident of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for my entire life, and consequently, that did not change when I moved to Lehigh. I attended Liberty High School, which is literally a five-minute drive over a bridge that separates Lehigh from the North Side of Bethlehem. In high school, I was always interested more in math and science, so naturally I decided that I wanted to focus on those areas in college. Researching different majors during my junior year of high school led me to choose engineering as a prospective field of study, and after sending out a few applications to schools that I heard had great engineering programs, I was off to become a Lehigh Mountain Hawk.

During my freshman year of college, I was a bit torn over what field of engineering I wanted to enter. I mostly debated back and forth between mechanical engineering or civil engineering; however, once I participated in the TV tower design project as one of my freshman-year courses, I knew that civil engineering (and structural engineering, specifically) was the path for me.

The summer of my sophomore year really opened up my eyes to what I would be doing after college, and it confirmed that I made the right choice about my structural engineering path. I interned as a member of the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem construction management team for 18 months, and it provided a great experience for me to learn about the construction of a building and actually see how things are built in the field. I was able to interact daily with the architects and structural designers, and I learned valuable information about how each division of the project team works. I made sure to take weekly site walks and soak up as much knowledge as I could about what designs worked, what kinds of problems happened in the field and, most importantly, how to solve them when they occurred. I was truly fascinated by the entire process, and I knew for a fact that I wanted to be involved with designing large-scale structures.

As my senior year at Lehigh started to pass by, I realized that there was so much more for me to learn about structural design, and I decided that I wanted to continue on with a Master’s program. This has lead me to where I am now, and I am excited to keep learning as much as I can in the next 10 months.

During the past four days, we have started the program and are moving quite fast. In the afternoons, we have been calculating the loads of where different reinforced concrete beams will initially crack and then, after more load is applied, eventually fail. Each of the following mornings, we have put our calculations to the test by conducting actual experiments of placing over a 100,000 pounds on 19-foot- long concrete beams to see how accurate our calculations were. I don’t get to see concrete beams being crushed every day, so the process of seeing it crack and fail is very interesting. It is also reassuring to see in person just how close some of the load calculations are. Learning through experience is always one of the best ways to understand things, and I am glad to see that’s what we will be doing in the M. Eng. program.

I’ll wrap up this post for now, but I will keep updating as much as possible. Judging by our progress in just four days, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to talk about by the end of the second week. Thanks for reading!