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Q&A with CME’s new faculty member Joseph Schulenberg

How did you become interested in engineering?
I’ve always been able to do math and science work, so a profession in engineering seemed to make sense. I would have to say that it may have begun playing in the sand as a child building sand castles. You learn that your structure will be stable until it dries, walls can only be built so high. Later this makes sense based on your understanding of surface tension and capillary pressure, but as a kid you just observe.

What experiences led you to this position?
The short answer is that I worked with a highway department and then a small consulting firm over summers while in engineering school. I worked in consulting for a few years out of graduate school and then took a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Despite having a Ph.D. I felt it was important to work in the “real world.” Later, a colleague encouraged me to get into teaching and since then I have gained an appreciation for the adage, “the best way to learn something is to teach it.” I’ve found that my teaching experience has enriched my professional practice and the students appreciate being able to bring examples from practice.

Have you received any awards or recognitions? What are your secrets to receiving them?
I worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers for 13 years. Of the awards that I am most proud was Lakes and Rivers Division Engineer of the Year. I would say the secret to achieving this award was to be fortunate to work on a highly visible project and hopefully, to enjoy your job.

What is your favorite hardware/software?
I am a big advocate of Excel. I like this tool because it is intuitive, available, and much more powerful than many people know. Thanks to some encouragement, I was able to run a Fast Fourier Transform to convert square waves in the time domain to the frequency domain to evaluate the potential for railroad interference using Excel. Arc Map is another favorite. I like Arc Map because you can combine databases with pictures, so it’s a great communication tool.

Are you involved with any organizations?
An area that I need to develop is involvement with professional organizations. As a graduate student and periodically as a professional, I have enjoyed attending meetings of the ASCE Geo-Institute.

What are you currently working on?
My main job at the moment is to teach, so I am teaching CME 211, 311, and 405. I am looking into research opportunities funded through the National Science Foundation in the area of education.

Do you have an area of engineering that you specialize in?
My specialty is geotechnical engineering.

What do you usually do during your free time?
I enjoy spending time with my children, who are still at an age where they don’t mind my company.

What direction do you see yourself in a few years from now? Or What would you like to accomplish at UIC?
I would like to develop my understanding of education and its relationship to practice. Though UIC does have strong ties to professional practice, I would like to help to continue and develop those ties. It really seems that a powerful motivation for students is that the work that they are doing in school will result in professional application. I would also like to develop research regarding flood control and navigation structures. These are areas that have historically received very low marks on the ASCE American Infrastructure Report Card. I hope that my work with the US Army Corps of Engineers combined the contacts and resources of UIC will help develop this work.

What profession would you be doing if you weren’t an engineer?
I might be working in the natural sciences. As a civil engineer, we build in the natural world and what we do is highly influence by the environment both past and present. So, being able to understand these connections is very interesting to me.