A well-rounded college career

by Joe Selmont  |   

UAA civil engineering senior Kacy Grundhauser was recently recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the 2020 New Faces of Civil Engineering - Collegiate Edition, making her the first Seawolf to receive the accolade. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

When she graduated from high school, Kacy Grundhauser chose to pursue a B.S. in civil engineering at UAA. Speaking with characteristic humility, she said, “I figured, hey, I’m OK at math and science, and I thought civil engineering was a way to do some good.” And now that she’s wrapping up her final semester, it’s fair to say that Grundhauser is objectively better than OK at just about everything she does.

In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers — or ASCE, a national association of professional engineers — recently recognized Grundhauser as one of the 2020 New Faces of Civil Engineering – Collegiate Edition, making her the first Seawolf to receive the accolade.

But what has Grundhauser done to deserve the honor? 

A glance over her resume may help explain. Through student clubs, internships, and research opportunities, Grundhauser has maximized her time at UAA and achieved an impressive amount in four short years. 

Getting involved

To begin with, Grundhauser is president of ASCE’s UAA student chapter. She joined during her freshman year, slowly working her way into positions with greater  responsibilities. Grundhauser believes that joining ASCE changed the course of her collegiate experience, guiding her to important mentors, new friends and unexpected opportunities.   

“One of the best parts of joining a club is getting to learn about other people — their interests, their dreams and their different perspectives,” said Grundhauser. “I’ve loved being in ASCE.”

As Grundhauser prepares to graduate from UAA, she’s excited to watch ASCE’s student chapter continue to grow. She views the Steel Bridge Team, which travels across the country for competitions, as a promising tool for recruiting new students. The goal is to design and fabricate the strongest and lightest steel bridge as possible, and then to construct all 20-plus feet of it as quickly as possible. As extracurriculars go, it’s a real whirlwind. 

“But the steel bridge is only one part of ASCE,” said Grundhauser. “Another great thing is that we get to grow our professional networks. And, really, that’s a big piece of our core mission, along with getting kids interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and preparing college students for jobs in the real world.”

Entering the real world

Grundhauser has never shied away from opportunities to do meaningful work. That’s why for the past two years she has interned at the Anchorage location of HDR, an employee-owned engineering firm headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Grundhauser helps HDR’s full-time engineers with a variety of tasks, like designs and permitting related to drinking water, storm water, sewage, culverts and bridges. The internship has been challenging and satisfying, driving home  that she has what it takes to be an engineer. 

One of her favorite projects has been periodically inspecting the Westchester Lagoon Dam.

“In general, being in the field is a highlight because of the change in scenery, and it lets me spatially understand a project,” said Grundhauser. “The Westchester Lagoon Dam is fun to inspect because it’s a marvel in plain sight. You know that multi-use trail running on the west side of the lagoon? That’s actually a dam and most people who use it have no idea that the lagoon is man-made.”

Grundhauser isn’t 100 percent certain about what the future holds, but she can see herself doing more like this, because she loves the idea of making a direct and visible impact on her community. But there’s still time for UAA’s professors to convince Grundhauser that she belongs on the cutting edge of the engineering profession doing something else she loves: research.

On the cutting edge

To date, Grundhauser has served on three research projects, mostly related to water resources, and there is one more on the horizon.

The project that first introduced her to the possibility of research was a traffic study conducted for the Alaska Department of Transportation on the Seward Highway — one of Alaska’s deadliest roads. The project’s goal was to determine if decreasing the speed limit for passing lanes would encourage safe drivers to slow down and enable speedy drivers to pass in the safest way possible. 

“Unfortunately, the idea didn’t pan out like we expected. Everyone just wanted to be in the fast lane,” said Grundhauser. “But it was still a really cool project. It’s also important to learn what doesn’t work.”

The next two projects Grundhauser joined were more directly related to her area of interest.

“First, our team was looking at water usage per capita in Alaska’s different regions. This can help inform future research and community decisions around water,” said Grundhauser. “And then last summer I went to Lyon, France as part of a project with the University of New Orleans. We were studying humic acid — which turns water brown but is mostly harmless.”

And this coming summer, after Grundhauser walks across the stage at commencement with her diploma in hand, she will hopefully be accepted to join a research team that’s studying hydraulic modeling at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

More to come

Clearly, Grundhauser is the type of person who goes above and beyond, who says yes to opportunities, who will do whatever it takes to develop herself and make a difference in her community. From the work she’s done with student clubs, on the job, and in the lab, she is beyond deserving of the accolade given to her by ASCE — even if she’s too humble to brag about it.

But it’s also clear from talking with Grundhauser that being nationally recognized is just an added bonus. The real reward was in doing the work itself.

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