VICKSBURG, Miss. ⸺ Four presentations highlighted the Sept. 23 virtual ceremony for the Class of 2020 graduates of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) ERDC University, with topics ranging from a comparison of healthy forest soils and those created for restoration projects; Unmanned Aerial Systems’ (UAS) mapping of former river channels’ crossing levees; Engineering With Nature® (EWN) resilience benefits; and extensive data results from forest volume measurements.
These graduates represented four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) districts: Jason Knight from Tulsa District; Aaron McFarlane from St. Paul District; Ian Pumo from Seattle District; and David Robison from Louisville District.
Sponsors of the six-month program ⸺ which matches ERDC mentors with USACE district and division participants and offers participants the opportunity to serve as interdisciplinary research and development team members ⸺ include ERDC’s Office of Research and Technology Transfer (ORTT) and the Directorate of Human Capital.
As ERDC U program coordinator and chief of ORTT’s Technology, Knowledge and Outreach Division, Antisa Webb served as emcee for the event, which opened with a slide show featuring photos of March’s kickoff week briefings and participants touring four of ERDC’s laboratories as well as the National Military Park, all of which are located in Vicksburg.
Flexible Project Solutions
Following participant introductions, Webb described how COVID-19 struck the very next week, resulting in everyone searching for innovative ways to continue what they started. “The FY20 ERDC U participants and their ERDC lab mentors did a remarkable job under this very difficult, uncertain circumstance,” she said. “They worked together remotely through email, teleconferences and various video platforms to complete their focused scopes for the projects they will be presenting today.”
In his welcome to participants, mentors and virtual attendees, ERDC Director Dr. David Pittman congratulated the graduates and thanked them for their flexibility in completing their research projects during the COVID-19 pandemic challenges.
Following Pittman, ERDC Deputy Director Dr. Beth Fleming praised the selectees for their perseverance and expressed her keen interest in their projects and ERDC U benefits for their districts.
Knight’s Forestry Project
For his project with principal mentor and ERDC-Environmental Laboratory (EL) Research Forester Dr. Nathan Beane, Natural Resource Specialist Knight performed site visits, collect field data and created analyses and reports on current efforts at the Tulsa District’s Kansas Project Office; he also pursued research efforts for the U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Belvoir.
His project presentation featured slides of his data collection field work, with follow-up to determine possibilities between his district and ERDC’s geometric magnitudes, lengths, areas and volume measurements of forests.
Named the 2014 USACE National Innovator of the Year, Knight was creator and team lead for the Multi-District Innovations Team now expanded to 11 districts. In this program, park rangers learn how to become innovative leaders while producing prototypes and products to pilot in the summer months.
McFarlane’s Soil Comparisons Project
Biologist McFarlane demonstrated how his ERDC U project was about examining differences in existing healthy and diverse floodplain forest soils on the Upper Mississippi River as compared to soils created for restoration projects, with principal mentor guidance from EL Research Ecologist Dr. Charles Theiling.
“Since my St. Paul district dredges about one million cubic yards per year, I strive to develop and encourage opportunities for beneficial use of dredged material,” McFarlane said, as a team member for St. Paul District’s Regional Planning and Environment Division North.
Citing the thousands of acres restored through the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program since the 1980s, McFarlane seized the opportunity to compare living microbes and soil development within created versus more naturally developed sites. His project goal was to identify useful information to help Mississippi River resource managers better understand the differences between natural soils and created soils. He sought to develop recommendations from this understudied area for planning or construction techniques for more successful and desirable floodplain forest species.
Pumo’s Risk and Resilience Project
As chief of cost engineering, Civil Engineer Pumo leads his district team of interdisciplinary engineers who make construction estimates, schedules and risk analyses for various military and environmental agency civil works projects.
Pumo discussed how his main project built a business case for natural infrastructure investments in response to how the existing USACE planning process determines suitability for EWN projects.
“I investigated how to quantify the resilience benefits associated with these projects and how to change the planning process so it can consider the full scope of benefits provided by EWN projects,” Pumo said.
Serving as his primary mentor, Research Physical Scientist Dr. Igor Linkov leads the EL’s Risk and Decision Science Team focus area based in Concord, Mass.
Robison’s UAV Mapping Project
Highlights of Geologist Robison’s project included earning his certification to fly UASs and using geospatial software to learn the equipment for collecting accurate data using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) from a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the Earth.
Working with multiple mentors, including the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory’s Julie Kelley and Dr. Joe Dunbar, along with the EL’s Jenny Laird, Tommy Berry and her UAS Team, he learned how to operate the equipment and absorbed best practices to transition technologies to his district and strengthen his technical knowledge base.
His project slides illustrated the testing for the efficacy of and feasibility for detection and mapping of former river channels that cross levees, using LIDAR. With areas of expertise in Louisville District’s Dam and Levee Safety Risk Cadre, Robison serves on a team of engineers and scientists who evaluate hazards and assess the risk of dams and levees.
In closing remarks, Dr. Gary Anderton challenged the graduates to promote ERDC U among their colleagues and continue the relationships developed with ERDC team members.
ORTT Director Rhonda Taylor congratulated the 2020 session graduates on their successes in spite of the pandemic challenges and limited field and laboratory access.
ERDC U 2021 Applications Open
Webb said that applications for the Class of 2021 with proposed kickoff in March are now open through Dec. 20. “It is a wonderful opportunity for USACE employees to apply for cross-command developmental assignment to ERDC, the host and collaboration partner,” she said.
“The participants work in world-class laboratories on number of activities to develop, improve or test R&D technologies related to solutions in support of multiple mission areas,” she continued. “These assignments provide for collaboration between USACE districts and divisions and ERDC, through development of innovative technical solutions to the Nation’s problems, resulting in a safer and better world.”
For more information on the ERDC University program, visit https://wiki.erdc.dren.mil/index.php?title=ERDC_University