Construction Engineering and Management Highlights

The Vecellio Construction Engineering and Management Program (VCEMP) persevered through change in 2020 and sustained over 50 graduate students in the program for the academic year. A highlight for the faculty was a visit to the Vecellio Group to engage with members of the Vecellio family who endowed the program in 2001. Since the family endowed the program, over 80 undergraduate students and over 20 graduate students have received more than $600,000 in scholarship funding. VCEMP looks forward to working with the Vecellio family to maintain and advance the program’s excellence for years to come.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the 20th Vecellio Distinguished Lecture, which is typically delivered in the fall semester. Once conditions permit, this signature event for the program will be rescheduled. Still, four undergraduate Vecellio Scholarships and four Vecellio Fellowships were awarded to students who have demonstrated leadership, academic excellence and an interest in pursuing a career in the construction industry. Scholars are Kyrsten Dallanegra, Sean Foley, Connor Sandway and Tammy Trinh while Fellows are Manik Ahmed, Joseph James, Dwayne Jefferson and Esteban Radillo Amezquita.

Faculty from the program remain very active in research, teaching, and outreach. Michael J. Garvin completed a research project for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that developed a decision support tool that will aid public agencies in their selection of alternative project delivery methods. He is now supporting FHWA initiatives to deploy and improve the tool. Mike continued his efforts to establish the Center for Infrastructure Delivery Excellence by formalizing a partnership with the Barchan Foundation. In addition, he coordinated and presented the proposal for VT to co-host the 2022 Construction Research Congress with ASCE’s Construction Institute. He published a book chapter on financially distressed PPP projects, a book review, four journal papers and three conference papers.

Farrokh Jazizadeh continued his research on two NSF grants that focus on enabling intelligent physical and virtual environments that support human interactions with the built environments for energy efficiency enhancement and learning new skills. He has further secured funding from the Department of Transportation – Federal Railroad Administration to develop Artificial Intelligence tools for human-in-the-loop and data-driven assessment of infrastructure performance to move towards automation and supporting human operators with improved decision making in day-to-day maintenance activities. He has received a VT COVID19 Rapid Grant to investigate how smart building systems could be leveraged to assess and mitigate viral exposures in indoor environments to enable safe operations of buildings. The findings of his research efforts have been documented in eight journal and five conference articles.

Frederick Paige completed a VT Engage Faculty Fellowship and has continued working with community partners to develop solutions for reducing energy consumption in affordable housing. The STILE Research team has been monitoring energy consumption behaviors and providing energy education interventions for communities in Virginia and South Carolina. The team has been augmenting technology solutions with social interventions that improve the efficiency of housing which is an inseparable socio-technical system. Dr. Paige has also strengthened department relationships with industry partners to influence the improvement of commercial energy monitoring equipment and green building certification guidelines. In collaboration with VCEMP graduate student Brooke Baugher, Dr. Paige supported the execution of another service-learning trip to Rilima, Rwanda. Through a partnership with Fondazione Marcegaglia Onlus (FMO), Virginia Tech students successfully built a water pumping system for residents.

Tripp Shealy began a new NSF funded research project studying systems thinking in engineering students. The project will use concept maps to prime students to think about the complex and dynamic relationships in engineering problems. Dr. Shealy’s research team will use a novel neuro-imaging tool to measure students’ brain activation during engineering problem solving. The neuro-imaging data will quantitatively describe the effects of concept maps to aid engineering students to solve complex engineering problems. Dr. Shealy used the same neuro-imaging tool to complete a project for the VDOT about driver response to dynamic message sign safety campaign messages. Messages like “May the 4th be with you, text I will not” are increasingly used to catch drivers’ attention. These messages attempt to provoke an emotional response among drivers. The results of the study indicate messages about distracted driving, messages with humor, and messages that use word play elicit higher levels of cognitive activation in the brain, which is a proxy for increased attention. Recommendations for creating new messages and targeting specific groups of people are in a report now on VDOT’s website.

Sunil Sinha is working on a Water Research Foundation (WRF) Project titled “Case Study Compilation on Applying Risk Management Principles and Innovative Technologies to Effectively Manage Deteriorating Water Infrastructure.” He is working closely with more than 700 water utilities across the country for water pipeline performance analysis and artificial intelligence applications. Sunil received an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) planning grant for development of a national strategy for Smart One Water (SOW) and hosted five workshops this year.