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Paving the way

 

Every day millions of people travel on interstates, state highways, county roads, and city streets without thinking twice about them. That is, until a pothole rattles their thoughts or road construction halts their path.

Making sure roads are safe for travel, however, is always on the minds of civil engineers like Bradley University faculty member Dr. Kerrie Schattler, whose research interests include highway and pedestrian safety. For almost two years, and thanks to a $99,150 grant, Peoria Countyís roads have been of utmost importance to Schattler as she, her crew of 11 students, and faculty member Dr. Suresh Immanuel developed and implemented a pavement management system (PMS) for the Peoria County Highway Department (PCHD). Immanuel, whose specialty is pavement design, assisted in the summer of 2008 by training students to identify pavement distresses by type and severity.

According to Schattler, a pavement management system helps decision-makers find optimum strategies for keeping pavements in serviceable condition. The professor states that todayís focus is on preventative maintenance. A road agency can preserve the overall pavement life significantly if smaller repairs are made early and routinely. This strategy is more effective than waiting until the pavement fails and then fixing it, which is more costly.

Collette Glauber

Collette Glauber, a graduate student at the time, surveys a Peoria County road as Utkarsh Pandey records information about the pavement.

"To an actual driver that means you might not have to close down too many lanes for long periods of time. Overall, it would provide a better driving condition of road over the long haul. It may take a while for these benefits to be realized once the system is in place, but itís a more systematic approach to maintaining the quality of the surface," she adds.

Schattlerís work on the county PMS began in April 2007 after the project proposal was approved and the contract was signed. Preliminary discussions with the PCHD management, county engineer Thomas McFarland, and head design engineer and BU alumna Amy Benecke-McLaren revealed their need for the development of a PMS for the county and their concerns with maintaining the system. Schattler says, "They seemed interested in partnering with Bradley and providing the students with opportunities to gain practical experience." Her full proposal for the PCHD included planning, development, implementation, and training. Collette Glauber, a graduate student at the time, assisted in many aspects of the project from its inception until near completion, over a year-and-a-half period while pursuing her masterís in civil engineering.

In developing a PMS, the professor wanted to make sure the system suited the countyís needs and would be one they could maintain in the future based on their resources. To achieve this, the county was extensively involved in the planning aspects of the system.

Once the design of the PMS was completed, the undergraduate students started work in fall 2007. Joining the team were recent civil engineering graduates Nicholas Homerding, Luke Nelson, Matthew Mathien, Bill Pearsall, Daniel Frohlich, and Jason Shurtz; senior civil engineering majors Mitchell Wedell, Phillip Keller, and Utkarsh Pandey; and junior organizational communications major Cyndi Stenwall.

Wedell says, "Activities that needed to be performed in order to get the task done included measuring the length of the section of road that needed to be inspected. We then needed to take a picture of the section and survey the section for any kind of deformations." Schattlerís team inspected the countyís 311 miles of roads, which they broke down into segments and then into inspection units.

Describing the faculty-student collaboration, Schattler relates Glauber shouldered much responsibility. "I try not to micromanage too much, especially with my graduate students, because I believe this is a learning experience for them. With Collette, I advised her to experiment with leadership and management responsibilities."

"Hands-on work is integral to long-term knowledge retention principles and learning principles."
Dr. Kerrie Schattler
Bradley University

Glauber adds, "Working on a project with a professor allows the student to use research methods to come up with alternative solutions to problems instead of narrowing in on one solution because that is how it is typically done."

Schattler stresses, "Everything is done in consultation with me, but Iíll let the graduate student take a stab at a task first to enhance their learning experience." The students always came to Schattler with questions. "Iíd ask Collette to assist in training the undergraduate students and answering their questions. I think itís a really good learning tool for the students. I like to make that opportunity available to the students because they can really grow and challenge themselves in a very comfortable environment."

Collaborating with students on projects is important, Schattler states, because "hands-on work is integral to long-term knowledge retention principles and learning principles."

She adds, "For a lot of it, they are in the field and working independently so their ethics, integrity, and responsibility really have to be there. They built a lot of team skills, and a lot of other byproducts came out of it."

Wedell agrees that the project enhanced the teamís skills. "If we did not communicate what we were doing and what we had done, the project could have gotten very disorganized."

Before presenting the PMS, Schattler says, "I did a quality assurance quality control check on some of the inspections. If a batch was off, then that batch was reinspected."

Schattler and the team successfully delivered the fully developed system to the county in December 2008.