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Civil Engineering Grad Shares Life Lessons

What better way to illustrate the goal of strengthening the bridge between Old Dominion University and its alumni than by inviting a graduate who works as a bridge designer to speak at his alma mater?

Tom Jenkins Jr., a 1999 magna cum laude civil engineering graduate, recently was given the honor of being the first speaker in the inaugural ODU Alumni Association Lecture Series. He spoke on April 22 to students and faculty at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Jenkins, 37, is a senior bridge designer for the FIGG Engineering Group in Tallahassee, Fla. Among other projects, he is currently part of a team of engineers that is working on a new structure to replace the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed Aug. 1 last year.

In his talk, he highlighted the technical details of the project and issued a warning about other aging bridges. "Our infrastructure needs repair - roads, dams, levies, grids, you name it," he said. "Anything you use on a daily basis needs repair and cleaning up."

He noted that out of the 597,000 bridges in the United States, half were built before 1964. He cited the Minneapolis bridge as one that had been given too many Band-Aids over the years.

"The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $1.6 trillion will be needed in the next five years to upgrade our infrastructure," he said, adding that only $1 trillion has been budgeted so far.

Oktay Baysal, dean of the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, said the new lecture series is designed to connect the real-world experience of success with academic drive in the classroom. "Prominent college alumni will be invited to return to the campus in order to demonstrate their leadership and service experience that they have gained since their graduation from Old Dominion University."

Thinking back to Jenkins' days as president of the school's chapter of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in his senior year, Gary Schafran, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department, said, "I have been a faculty adviser for 19 years, and a lot of presidents have faded from memory. Tom is one of the ones still very strong."

While a student, Jenkins was captain of the ODU Steel Bridge Team, which was invited to national competitions in successive years in Fairbanks, Alaska, and Dallas. He received both the Civil and Environmental Engineering Faculty Award for Student Excellence in Civil and Environmental Engineering and the William J. Thompson Memorial Award for Most Outstanding Civil Engineering Student.

This article was posted on: April 27, 2008

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