Fuss & O’Neill employees take pride in providing creative technical solutions for our clients’ projects. We shared that creativity with the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Engineering Department, providing mentorship to students in their senior year. According to the UNH website, “The Capstone experience is typically completed by senior students within the major and is designed to elicit opportunities for educational reflection and synthesis of knowledge and skills.” As part of the process, consulting engineering firms and other agencies present ideas for Capstone projects that the students could work on. The students, after watching the presentations, select which project they would like to participate in, likely the one that most appeals to their career goals.
Steve Reichert, PE, a Senior Project Manager from Fuss & O’Neill’s Manchester, NH office, presented an opportunity for a hands-on experience to work directly with a Fuss & O’Neill client and provide that client with a deliverable. Steve presented a project on behalf of the Town of Jaffrey, NH, which focuses on a pedestrian bridge at the end of the Monadnock Branch Rail Trail. The existing steel plate bridge is in poor condition, is unsafe, and is in need of replacement. The project is to provide at least three design alternatives for a multipurpose bridge. Two options have already been proposed, one is a design that incorporates recycled windmill blades within its structural system and another option is a steel girder bridge with timber decking. The third option would be up to the students to suggest and evaluate. After students attended and evaluated more than 20 presentations, a group of five UNH seniors selected this project to pursue for their Capstone.
Steve looks at this as a great learning opportunity for the students to get real-world project experience while still finishing their educational journey. “We have worked with the Town of Jaffrey on several pedestrian improvement design projects and studies, and when I brought up this idea to our client, she was all for pursuing it with a student-led team.”
During the project, Steve has essentially been the Project Manager and has corresponded and coordinated with the Town on behalf of the student team. Ryan Trudeau, EIT, a Structural Engineer in Fuss & O’Neill’s Transportation Department, has served as the Bridge Design Technical Advisor and mentor to the student engineers. Trudeau says that, as a young engineer himself, this project has given him more perspective on how to manage projects and interact with people during the process. “I enjoy acting as a mentor for the students, and I’m happy to share knowledge that I’ve acquired, but I also want them to learn from their own mistakes, as that is all part of the process of developing into a competent engineer,” said Trudeau. “I have been exposed to some great mentors in my brief time at Fuss & O’Neill, and they’ve given me the space to be curious and figure some things out on my own, so I’m trying to serve that role now for this UNH group. It has been very beneficial to take part in something like this early on in my career.”
This project has allowed the students more of a hands-on experience than other projects may have provided. As Trudeau put it, “This situation is unique because the students are not confined to what has already been done or to theoretical design exercises. They can create their own path with this project, make decisions based on what they see, and balance that with the needs of the client. The students have been to the project site multiple times, so they have been able to see the site firsthand, which I think is valuable when trying to visualize potential solutions.”
Ryan has been impressed with both the aptitude and dedication of the UNH student team during the project. “They are young engineers, so there is always going to be a learning curve with standards and some concepts, but the team is very organized. They are always prepared during our status meetings, they correspond well, and they often come to us with questions to further clarify their understanding of different concepts. They have been great to work with and I’m looking forward to their final recommendations.”
During the fall semester, the UNH team prepared a feasibility analysis and cost comparison for the three different design options. For the spring semester, the team is working on the detailed design and calculations for the option selected by the Town. The end result will be fully designed and constructable bridge plans, and will be completed and presented to UNH and the Town by the student-led team in May of 2023.
Steve Reichert, PE is a Senior Project Manager with Fuss & O’Neill. He has more than 30 years of experience working on utility, transportation, environmental, water resource, and construction projects.
Ryan Trudeau, EIT is a Structural Engineer working for Fuss & O’Neill’s Bridge Team out of the firm’s Manchester, NH office.