News Release| Mud Flow Barrier; Cal State L.A.

August 11, 2011

Note to news desk and reporters: To request a team photo or to schedule an interview with Professor Rupa Purasinghe, please call the CSULA Public Affairs office in advance at (323) 343-3050.

NCEES awards Cal State L.A.’s civil engineering students for research, design of mud flow barrier  

Pile-structure barriers determined as more cost effective, time efficient in CSULA study

Los Angeles, CA – For demonstrating successful collaboration in engaging students with licensed professional engineers to solve real-world problems, Cal State L.A.’s Civil Engineering department garnered a $7,500 Engineering Award for Connecting Professional Practice and Education.  

The prize was awarded by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Pictured: CSULA civil engineering design team.

“We are extremely proud that our senior design students received this award two years in a row,” said CSULA’s Civil Engineering Department Chair Rupa Purasinghe, who is also the course coordinator. “They gained valuable experience and also served our community well.”

This year’s CSULA civil engineering student team—who conducted the award-winning study under the mentorship of practicing engineers (John Shamma, Howard Lum and Reinard Knur) and at the direction of CSULA Professor Purasinghe—concluded that a fortified pile-structured barrier is the most cost-effective and time-efficient solution to preventing mud flows from damaging structures below burned watersheds.

They analyzed the constructability, costs, environmental challenges, operations and maintenance related to three designs as viable alternatives to standard rail and timber barriers. The foundation pile, flexible wire mesh, and cantilever barrier designs all had to be tested to withstand minimum serviceability requirements with respect to detention and loading.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works engineers Ben Willardson, Diego Cadena, Youssef Chebabi, and Pat Wood guided the project.

“A pile-structure barrier was selected out of three designs because it provided structural integrity, safety and maintenance at a low cost, which met the requirements of L.A. County Department of Public Works,” said CSULA student Edgar Bautista, who is one of the structural engineers on the project. “A pile-structure barrier is a type of foundation composed of steel and/or concrete, which is like a column embedded in the Earth’s surface that supports a wall or structure, in contrast to a spread footing, which is typical for residential houses.”

CSULA’s senior design study was entitled “Connecting Professional Practice and Education through a Civil Engineering Capstone Project: Mud Flow Barrier.” This was the product of the L.A. County Department of Public Works challenge to CSULA civil engineering students.

“The project allowed CSULA students to implement theories learned in the classroom on a real-life project thus providing them with the skills they need for a career in engineering,” said Shamma.

All students in the CSULA team are civil engineering majors, and the project was conducted as part of the Civil Engineering 496A and 496B class curriculum.

“Working endless hours through six months of unexpected deadlines, complications and mental fatigue, our acquired skills and education were put to the test in this project,” said civil engineering major Jose J. Urquizo. “In conjunction with the hard work and dedication, a very strong camaraderie existed between us—the students—where by the conclusion of the project, we were no longer just classmates but family. It was sad to see the project come to an end, but yet proud that our project will safeguard human life and property.”

Bautista added, “My experience working on the senior design project proved to be challenging and difficult, which is why it was very rewarding when the project was completed.”

The NCEES Engineering Award for Connecting Professional Practice and Education was established to promote understanding of the value of licensure and to encourage collaboration between the engineering profession and education. EAC/ABET-accredited programs from all engineering disciplines were invited to submit projects that demonstrate a meaningful partnership between professional practice and education. The 2011 NCEES Engineering Award Book, listing the 2011 winners, will be published in September.

To reference CSULA’s complete study, go to  

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