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From the Editor: Learning Is a Lifelong Endeavor

Robert Schickel on June 5, 2023 - in Articles, Column

I look forward to this time of year for many reasons. Of course, the warmer weather is one of my favorites. New spring growth changes the landscape every day. The farmers are in the fields planting their crops for the year.

This also is the time of increased construction—at least the type visible as you drive along the roadways. Many people complain about construction zones, but, as a civil engineer, I find it comforting that infrastructure improvements continue.

Graduates Embody the Learning Process

In addition, it’s graduation season. I was fortunate enough to be part of a few celebrations this year. In my family, we had one student graduate from high school and another from college. Also, there are all my senior civil and environmental students at Valparaiso University. It’s rewarding to be part of launching new engineers into the world of our profession.

One of the benefits of working at the university is the opportunity to learn from the students. Valparaiso University has a strong undergraduate research program, and this—along with the senior project courses—provides multiple chances to hear about their studies and accomplishments.

As the academic year ends, students present their work in various settings. Our students participate in formal presentations to their professors and fellow students for grades. We also had an engineering presentation competition where all engineering majors worked on their speaking skills and then presented to a varied audience. Another opportunity is the poster displays throughout the engineering building for the entire campus and public to review.

These activities are valuable to young engineers as they prepare to start their careers, but I find them to be wonderful opportunities to learn new things in the engineering world. The amount of work engineering students complete is massive. The subjects they research are inspiring. The quality of their reports and presentations is impressive. Topics I learned about include the following:

• Roundabouts—more than I ever thought I would need to know.

• Structural software that didn’t exist during my design career.

• Environmental processes that will remove any manner of unwanted particulates from soil and water.

• Every incredible project from the mechanical and electrical engineering programs. It seems like everything can be automated these days.

• Yes, they’re still constructing concrete canoes and building robots that play football.

Always Be Learning

Valparaiso University, along with four other universities, competed in a senior project presentation at the Indiana Section of the ACSE Annual Meeting. These students gained experience by being in front of and talking to a varied audience. I encourage you to attend student presentations. You will have time to interact with the upcoming generation of engineers as well as the opportunity to learn something new.

This magazine also offers learning opportunities. Not only are there articles that offer professional development hours (PDHs), but many of the features and columns have information and opinions and descriptions of new ways to do or think about something. The previous issue of Informed Infrastructure was focused on “Smart Engineering,” and pretty much the entire issue was a learning experience for me.

This issue (June 2023) includes articles and columns on bridge information modeling (BrIM), protecting precious water, a fascinating new museum in Hong Kong and an informative feature article by Carol Brzozowski, “Wildfire Endangers Drinking Water: Lessons from Colorado’s Marshall Fire.” There are many other pieces of writing in this issue that surely will provide new information to continue the learning process.

With myriad educational television channels available (e.g., PBS, History, StoryTV, etc.), there’s no shortage of ways to increase your knowledge. I try to take advantage of many of these various methods of education, including the old-fashioned reading of books. I never fool myself into thinking I will remember all I’ve “learned,” but the enjoyment of experiencing new information is enough for me.

I tried looking up a good quote about continuing to learn throughout your lifetime—the internet has a countless supply. Most of them are good, so I will refrain from choosing one for this column and let you seek out your favorite. I will just say that I am still learning … and enjoying every minute of it. 


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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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