How a trip to Montana inspired one student to improve the infrastructure of dams
As categorized by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), South Carolina had 369 dams with a high hazard potential as of 2018. “South Carolina has thousands of dams and many of them play critical roles in terms of recreation, water supply and electricity production. Because water moves very fast, it is devastating if they fail," says Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Jasim Imran.
Senior civil and environmental engineering major Roland Herbkersman is one College of Engineering and Computing student who aspires to help improve the infrastructure of dams. He received the ASDSO Dam Safety Scholarship this past summer after working on several water resource management projects. Herbkersman says that receiving the scholarship has helped relieve some of his financial pressures. “I have more financial flexibility now,” he says. “I can focus on school and go to more study sessions."
Imran was Herbkersman’s professor for two civil engineering courses: Open Channel Flow and Fluid Mechanics. These courses guided Herbkersman’s interest in water resource engineering. Imran, who wrote Herbkersman’s letter of recommendation for the ASDSO scholarship, says that he nominated him because of his ambitious nature. “I like the types of students that take challenges and do something out of the box,” Imran says.
Herbkersman was a member of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) growing up, and at age 17, received his Eagle Scout badge, the highest honor attainable in the organization. Herbkersman’s involvement with the BSA fostered his love for the outdoors and taught him important skills, from survival basics like fire building to soft skills like communication and teamwork. The BSA also gave Herbkersman the opportunity to visit a family-owned horse ranch in Montana in 2018. Two years later, he was offered a position at the ranch and immediately moved west.
“I thought I was going to head out there and do this whole lonesome cowboy thing,” Herbkersman says, while recalling the unexpected self-discovery that occurred on his trip. “I remember sitting in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen and feeling genuinely lonely. There’s a lot to be seen and done, and it’s much more fulfilling when you do it with someone else.”
Herbkersman’s experiences also inspired him to seek one of his two water resource management-related internships earlier this year. In the spring, he interned with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control after being recommended by Imran. He shadowed engineers who approved dam construction or repair plans. “I got to see what is done when you’re on a dam safety team. It was all very new to me, and I’m grateful to those guys for showing me the ropes.”
Over the summer, he worked for Strike Consulting Group in Lander, Wyoming. The company employs a small group of engineers and provides a variety of civil engineering and environmental services to surrounding states. Herbkersman worked on several different water resource management projects that aim to help farmers in the region and address potential water shortages.
Herbkersman plans to continue his work in Lander and eventually find a full-time water resource management job. An avid rock climber, Herbkersman is also excited about the active climbing culture in Lander.
“I want to make an impact on the environment in whatever way I can,” Herbkersman says. “I realized I can do that through [civil and] environmental engineering. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given.”