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Molinaroli College of Engineering and Computing

  • Paul Ziehl and Sarah Gassman

CEC faculty recognized for outstanding contributions to the South Carolina engineering community

Two faculty members from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) have received prestigious awards from the South Carolina Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. The awards were presented on last month at the section’s fall conference in Columbia.

Associate Dean for Research Paul Ziehl was named Engineer of the Year, an award presented annually to an engineer who has demonstrated the most outstanding contribution to the profession in South Carolina.

“This is a true honor,” Ziehl says. “The award is not for me, but for all people who conducted the work. Most notably, the graduate and undergraduate researchers who brought their creativity and intellect to many projects over the years; the sponsors who allowed the work to happen; and many engineering consultants and other partners who graciously provided their time and expertise.”

Structural engineering is Ziehl’s primary area of training and expertise. In 2023, he was named director of the McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, indicating a broad impact on the greater engineering community.

Ziehl is currently primary investigator on several funded research projects addressing diverse topics in evaluation of physical infrastructure and advanced composites for aerospace applications. In collaboration with research teams, Ziehl has worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, South Carolina Department of Transportation and NASA. The projects are designed to better understand and evaluate physical systems based on sensed information to reduce costs, while improving safety and decision-making. His current research involves the automated evaluation of bridges, nuclear facilities and other systems, including urban air mobility vehicles.   

“It is very exciting to see this work recognized, and I am hopeful that we will have the opportunity to serve the needs of South Carolina for many years to come,” Ziehl says. 

Associate Professor and Graduate Director Sarah Gassman was named Educator of the Year, a distinction awarded to an educator who has demonstrated excellence at developing the next generation of civil engineering students.

Gassman has taught nine different courses in her 26 years at the University of South Carolina, where she has worked to expand and modernize the department’s educational offerings. She has developed four courses for the curriculum, including Earth Structures, Geosynthetics and Geotechnical Design of Landfills, Advanced Foundation Design, and Disciplinary Writing.

Developed in collaboration with the USC College of Education, Gassman introduced Disciplinary Writing to the curriculum in 2012. The course, intended to enhance the written communication skills of CEE graduate students, provides instruction on writing strategies, grammar, research and concept maps, while incorporating peer discussion and review.

“We have a very diverse graduate population. Our students come from all over the globe with very different writing backgrounds, but it’s critical that they are able to write technical papers for publication,” Gassman says.

In the classroom, Gassman uses state-of-the-art teaching methods funded by support from the National Science Foundation. Collaborating with colleagues, she developed and introduced incapsulated learning modules using the Environment to Foster Effective Critical Thinking (EFFECTS) framework, where students are presented with a question and undergo a series of inquiry-based methods to reach an answer.

“The EFFECTS technique is especially useful in civil engineering when students can think about the problems with a hands-on approach,” Gassman says. “They learn and retain more than with typical lectures and notetaking.”

Gassman’s students are actively engaged in research activities, as she has served as research advisor and mentor for a number of students at the undergraduate and graduate level. On being named Educator of the Year, Gassman says, “It’s all worthwhile. Having former students remember me and my class and knowing that I had an impact on their careers is meaningful.”

“The American Society of Civil Engineers is the prime organization for civil engineers across the country and around the world,” says Juan Caicedo, CEE department chair. “Dr. Gassman and Dr. Ziehl’s awards reflect not only the individual excellence of their work, but also underscore the collective strength and exceptional quality of the faculty at our department. These two distinguished awards recognize their contributions to the state of South Carolina and the profession as engineers and educators.”

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