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Civil and Environmental Engineering

Andrew J. Guswa ’94

Director, Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability; Associate Professor, Picker Engineering Program, Smith College

To be honest, my decision to major in civil and environmental engineering was to some degree happenstance. In high school, I excelled at math and science, and I especially enjoyed using the language of math to develop understanding of behaviors in the world around me. I applied to Princeton intending to be a physics major and then switched to engineering when I received the course catalog over the summer. I can still remember sitting in the office of Professor Kenneth Steiglitz (my freshman adviser), trying to decide among computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical and aerospace engineering, though I had very little experience with any of these disciplines. In the end, I took fluid mechanics as my first engineering course, and, that semester, the Department of Civil Engineering and Operations Research announced the creation of a new program in environmental engineering. This confluence, coupled with my love of the outdoors and commitment to the environment, led me to major in the newly named Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with a focus on hydrology and water resources.

After Princeton, I earned a Ph.D. in environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology at Stanford University, where I focused on modeling groundwater flow and contaminant transport. In 2001, I joined the faculty at Smith College to help launch the Picker Engineering Program—the first engineering program at an all-women’s college. It has been exciting to develop an engineering program from scratch and in the context of a liberal arts institution. I teach courses on fluid mechanics, hydrology, water resources, and design, and my current research focuses on the mathematical representation of plant-water interactions. At the end of 2009, I was named the inaugural director of Smith’s new Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability, and some of my energies are now focused on creating opportunities for students to integrate knowledge across disciplines and apply their learning to environmental challenges.

My Princeton education prepared me for these endeavors in myriad ways. Of course, one does not go on to become a professor of fluid mechanics and hydrology without having taken those classes. More than specific knowledge, though, the greatest value of my education came from improving my abilities to think and learn independently, to communicate effectively, and to view the world through multiple lenses. Outside the classroom, I learned a great deal from leadership opportunities with the Club Sports Council, WPRB, and Colonial Club. Engaging with my peers in my courses prompted me to see the world from multiple perspectives and enabled me to practice sharing my knowledge and expertise in effective ways. Professor David Billington’s course on “Structures and the Urban Environment” brought home the message that engineering solutions and great design must be informed not only by technical skill but also by social and cultural context. Completing my senior thesis gave me the confidence and ability to take on a large research project, and the guidance provided by Professor Michael Celia ensured a successful transition from able student to independent thinker. My experiences in civil and environmental engineering were outstanding, and I am grateful for the interactions with my peers and the dedication of my professors.