Author Archives: lukarl15

About lukarl15

Hey! I'm Karl, a civil engineer in my senior year at Lehigh University. I am from the Buffalo/Western New York area and am the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers on campus. I am also on the Running Club team, practice electric and classical guitar, and study music theory on my own. I enjoy playing and watching sports with my friends in my free time (or the times when I probably should be studying).

MOLES Field Trip – 2nd Avenue Subway

The CEE Department at Lehigh offered a field trip for all junior and senior CivE’s to the construction site of the new 2nd Avenue Subway being built in downtown Manhattan.  The bus left campus at 5:30am, a Friday morning and we were in New York City by 7:15, right above the site.  There were 16 of us students with a proctor and as we climbed down underneath the busy, traffic-filled street, we were handed hardhats, gloves, and safety vests and glasses.  We entered an underground chamber with hundreds of other students and sat down for a short introductory presentation.  The Moles are a special civil engineering society based around NYC that contains many of the designers and workers that helped construct a lot of big projects in the area over the years.  Every year they offer a tour of a current, active site for civil engineering students of all colleges around.  The site of the 2nd Avenue Subway is about as large as you can get.

Our tour consisted of 14 different stations, where a representative from a company explained their unique role in the project.  We were not allowed to take any pictures so I’ll list the stations as best as I can from my memory:

1.  Remediating concrete piles of any buildings whose foundations were damaged or settling unevenly due to the tunneling

2.  Removing sludge wastewater out of the tunnels to set concrete walls around launch zone

3.  Preparing the launch zone, or initial downward excavation where tunneling began, by digging around and redirecting utility lines

4.  Using form work to mold concrete sections of the underground walls

5.  Installing scaffolding underground to support concrete ceiling until fully dried

6.  The actual process of tunneling directly below the street

7.  The design of the station chamber that was 66′ tall!

8.  The excavation of the station chamber from the street level 100′ above us

9.  The geotechnical design of a single earth column at one end of the chamber

10.  Laying the subway track down along with the electronics (lighting) in the tunnels

11.  Earth freezing process – the tunnel cuts directly through solid bedrock except for one end where the weak soil layer dips down.  Tunneling through that would have caused a sink hole in the street above.  They decided to freeze that soil until the concrete tunnel was fully in place by running cooling pipes all throughout that ground area.

I forgot the other stations, but the ones here give an idea of how big the project really is.  I could physically see the scale of it and it amazed me.  All the firms that came together to work on this subway system cover every single aspect of civil engineering.  Walking through those tunnels as it was being constructed was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had at Lehigh.


Adventuring in Pennsylvania – Civil Engineering Everywhere

Since the snow has melted and the days have gotten warmer, the Outdoor Adventure House, which I live in, has started planning more trips on the weekends.  A week ago, seven of us drove out to a trail and hiked up to what is known as the Pinnacle in Hamburg, PA.  The four mile trek up to the rocky ledge allows you to see the whole Lehigh Valley which stretches on to New Jersey.  The starting point was only a 20 minute drive from campus.  A few people brought backpacks along to practice hiking with the extra weight but we all packed a small bag with lunch, water, and anything else.  It was a cool morning but as soon as we began, the sun came out and it warmed up to around 60 degrees.  We reached the top fairly quickly in just over an hour, took photos and sat on the ledge eating lunch.

Soon we climbed down the rock face and discovered some caves!  These caves were among the small openings between cracked boulders holding up the lookout ledge.  We crawled through as many spaces as we could, one was so small you had to inch your way through like a worm, taking videos on a GoPro.  Many of them fit at least four of us comfortably and were so dark we needed a flashlight.  The last one we went in was the largest.  The entrance was formed by a split in the ledge that went straight up about fifty feet.  Probably around 80 feet into the cave, we reached a T, to the right was a dead end but to the left was a tiny tunnel less than 3 feet in diameter.  Despite the wet rocky surface and limited flashlights, we all ventured onward, one at a time.  We were moving through the cave for over a half hour and it was impossible to tell how far we had gone.  I was last in line and couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, but could hear that the person leading was easily 50 feet in front of me.  When we all finally decided to turn around, I figured we were about 100 feet underground and almost 200 feet into the cave, and apparently we didn’t hit the end of it!  We’re all hoping to go back again and discover more with the proper equipment.

The trail looped back down a different way which we followed to a man-made reservoir.  Walking around the body of water, I recognized many characteristics I had been learning about it in Hydraulics (CEE 222).  A small runoff stream was flowing down the mountain into one end of the reservoir while the other end was dammed.  We walked across the earth dam to check out the concrete spillway on the other side.  There was a steady flow over the section that continued into a more controlled stream below.  There was a pier that stuck out into the middle of the reservoir directly above an underground pipe running through the dam.  It connected to the end of the spillway but was most likely powering a turbine for electricity.  All the water led to a water-treatment house near the parking lot.  The reservoir was serving a duel purpose: controlling and storing the fresh water and powering the treatment facility.  Being able to understand the entire concept and design of the hydraulic structure made it so fascinating.  It also made me realize how prevalent civil engineering is all around us, even in the middle of the woods.


The Pinnacle looking out over Lehigh Valley

The Pinnacle looking out over Lehigh Valley

Some crevices in the rock face.

Some crevices in the rock face.

Upstream side of the reservoir.

Upstream side of the reservoir.

The dam with spillway on the other end.

The dam with spillway on the other end.


Club Track Meet at UPenn

The Running Club opened the spring season with a relay meet at UPenn in Philadelphia.  We had eight guys drive down and race in three different relays, the 4x800m, distance medley relay (DMR), and 4x1600m.  It was a very rainy and cold day, not quite ideal conditions for racing.  Despite the weather, everyone ran fairly well considering our limited training prior to it.  It wasn’t the greatest day for me though as I was carsick the entire ride down.  I ran the second leg of the 4x800m which placed 8th of 13.  It was a smooth race for me until the last half lap where I “hit the wall” and my hamstrings tightened up in the wet cold.  About ten minutes after finishing I threw up for the first time ever from running.  Even though I felt much better, I asked someone else to run the 400m leg of the DMR for me.  Our DMR team killed it and finished 4th of 12 behind Penn State, Princeton, and Rutgers.  I huddled underneath an umbrella trying to stay warm while taking splits for the DMR and 4x1600m.  Still, I really enjoyed the day and getting the chance to race.  The UPenn track (Franklin Field) is a historic arena where the Philadelphia Eagles used to play and where Olympic qualifying events are held.  I’ll be racing once more this semester here at Lehigh.


College Pranks

With not much going on this week, I was reminiscing on some fun things my friends and I have done over the past few years at Lehigh.  Be it Thursday, I decided to do a “throwback” post on some of the pranks we pulled during our freshmen year.  Pranking is one of the most inherent activities in college life and a great way to have fun and connect with hallmates, *as long as its not hurting anyone.  Years later, these memories still come up in conversation and provide comic relief to a normally stressful routine.

Here are some pictures from my freshmen year:


The first one was the classic toilet paper prank that we did when a hallmate left his door unlocked.  It took just 10 minutes to unravel a whole roll around his desk, bed, posters, and closet hangers.  The second prank shown was a lot more involved and not nearly as spontaneous.  I collected 100 empty gatorade bottles from friends for about a month and late one night, stacked them against another hallmate’s door.  I just wrapped a row of 10 bottles in masking tape and then taped those to the door frame.  In the morning, my friend opened his door to find a wall of plastic.

One prank my roommate pulled on a fellow hallmate took some engineering skill.  We were all taking Engineering 097, an intro programming and circuitry course for all freshmen engineers and had been working with an Arduino micro-controller.  My roommate put together a device that started slowly beeping when a light sensor picked up darkness.  The beeps would gradually get faster until a flat tone was reached, resembling a stereotypical bomb.  He placed it in our friend’s room who heard the beeping after turning off the lights to go to bed.

Another idea I had was to play around with my roommate’s desktop wallpaper.  In Windows you can set the wallpaper to be a slideshow of photos from a folder.  I made a folder on a flashdrive with around 80 identical pictures of his background and the last one being some embarrassing picture of himself.  When he went to the bathroom one day late in the spring semester I saved the folder as hidden and changed his background to a slideshow of the folder with the pictures changing every 24 hours.  Some day in the middle of the summer he opened his computer to see that picture, only I was 400 miles away.

Eventually, pranks like this catch up to you and you begin to expect some retaliation.  Sure enough, I came back to my room late one night to find my mattress was gone.  My friends had moved it to one of their rooms at the opposite end of the hall.

Bridges to Prosperity

Bridges to Prosperity is the newest club at Lehigh, getting jump started this year by a few senior civil engineers.  Over the past few months they have made unbelievable progress which has given everyone involved in the club a chance to help design and build a footbridge for a small community in Panama.  Seeing all the work being put into the project, I became more and more involved and will have the chance to go down to Panama to aid in the building process this early summer.  This project has been one of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had at Lehigh so far and it’s only just getting started.  The club is open to anyone, not just civE’s or other engineers, there is a lot to organize yet.  We have been successful thus far in fundraising and if you or someone else is willing to donate please follow the link below.  All funds will pay for bridge materials and travel expenses.  Thank you!

Spring Break in Vermont


A lot of college students go on vacations during spring break, mostly down south to the beach.  After a long, cold winter many people I talked to went to Miami or New Orleans for the week we had off.  Well, I went north with two friends, chasing the snow and tearing up three ski resorts in three days.  Despite skiing my whole life, I never experienced skiing true mountains and Vermont has the best on the east coast.  After classes officially ended Friday, we drove up to Camelback to ski for the evening and then stayed two nights in northern PA at one of kid’s house.  Sunday afternoon, we took the 5 hour trek up to Rutland, Vermont where we had picked out a really nice, but cheap inn to stay for three nights.

Monday we woke bright and early to check out Killington, which was just 15 minutes away.  The resort was huge!  Going up the main IMG_1121gondola, we could see all the slopes around us, many of them a couple miles away.  Since we only had the day to ski the area, we limited ourselves to the just the best runs we could find.  These happened to be strictly black and double black diamond runs, the toughest levels.  Our first run of the day was Lower Ovation, which I think is the steepest slope on the east coast.  Soon we discovered a glade trail which ran through the woods and immediately found our groove.  Glade skiing has always been my favorite because of the technical skills it requires.  You have to be looking 20 feet in front of you as you fly through trees just a few inches away.  The glades in Vermont were exactly what I was looking for because the few you find elsewhere aren’t nearly as challenging.  I was disappointed at first to hear that there is no night skiing in Vermont and that the slopes shut down around 4pm, but by the end of the day at Killington my legs had had enough (and that’s coming from a runner!).  I think I fell asleep around 8:30 that night after relaxing in the hot tub.

The next morning we woke up even earlier, around 7, to drive about 45 minutes north to Sugarbush.  My friend had been talking up the IMG_1124mountain big time, saying how technically challenging it was…and it turned out he wasn’t exaggerating.  Once again our first run of the day was a double black diamond, Paradise.  The view from the top was incredible, but looking down as you can see was intimidating.  We all dressed extra warm after getting cold the day before, but we got halfway down this run and had to stop to take some layers off because we were sweating so much.  Once again we found all the glade trails and even made some of our own!  Rather than following the icier hills down, we sought out powder in the woods.  The easiest run we did that day was an extremely fast, winding blue square and it no doubt would have been labeled as a black diamond at any other mountain.  Sugarbush was our favorite of the three and really beat us up.  I wish I pushed myself harder; I held back a little after being out the day before and having to ski again the next day.

On our final day, we drove to Okemo, a half hour away.  It was a very nice mountain that had just gotten IMG_1127two inches of powder overnight.  It had a few challenging runs but was mostly a family-friendly resort for all levels.  It was the perfect place to go to after having taken such a pounding the past two days.  We sought out the best glade trails again and recorded some great footage of us flying through the woods.  It was the only day I didn’t fall!  As we were packing our car in the parking lot, another group of guys walked by and saw the Lehigh bumper sticker.  They happened to be Lehigh students as well and were at Okemo for the day!

We drove down to Worchester, Massachusetts to stay the night with my friend’s brother at WPI.  I met some fellow engineers, whom we convinced to come visit Lehigh on their spring break this week, and got to play racquetball for the first time ever.  We have courts here at Lehigh but I never took the opportunity to try it out despite always wanting to.  By that point, I was over-exhausted and completely satisfied with my spring break experience.  I was hesitant to make the trip at first, worried about the cost.  But after realizing that my time in college was the only opportunity to take a vacation like this, I couldn’t regret it.  I spent just over $400 for everything (food, gas, hotel, etc.) and the lift tickets alone were half of that.  The best part of the trip was being able to actually do what we did.  When skiing in a group, you’re always limited to what the worst person is able to do, but with the three of us capable of any challenge we were free to do anything and everything.  We all improved noticeably and that was what made our spring break so enjoyable.

Midterms Before Break

Everyone at Lehigh, from the students to the cafeteria workers, is looking forward to spring break this coming week; everyone except the majority of the professors who will be stuck grading exams.  There is nothing much worse in the educational realm than having multiple exams separating you from a highly anticipated break, and that has been the case for me this week.

I have had an exam scheduled for Wednesday night, Thursday morning, and Friday morning – the three days just before spring break.  Compared to most others I’ve talked to, my situation is actually fairly nice.  I’ll have taken an exam for each of my six classes once we get back from break but at least I don’t have five exams this week or 3 in a 30 hour span like I’ve heard from some friends.  The exam periods are usually crowded and hectic because almost all classes at Lehigh have two midterms and a final (most colleges just hold one midterm), but it is even more so this semester with the snow days we’ve had.  All of my classes have had to be cancelled at least twice at some point and that lost time limited the scheduling options professors had.  Most of them would have loved to hold an exam last week so they could grade them before taking off completely over the break.

I had my Concrete Design exam yesterday evening which was more reasonable than expected.  I was confident about knowing the material and problem solving process so I held off on studying until that afternoon so I could focus on other things.  Handing in the exam, I felt that everything was right but while walking back to my room I realized I didn’t multiply one of my answers by a certain factor.  I even checked over my work twice for that problem because I was doubtful of the relatively low answer I got and also wondered why the professor gave an extra parameter in the problem statement that I didn’t use.  Of course I didn’t notice the mistake until just after turning in the exam!

After concrete, I had engineering planning and economics in eleven hours.  I happened to get too engrossed in the Buffalo Sabres – Boston Bruins hockey game though, which was being aired nationally (one of the few times I could watch the Sabres here), and didn’t study at all.  I would NEVER suggest going into an exam blind and this is first time I’ve ever done that, but I don’t regret it at all because the exam was easy enough and the Sabres played their most exciting game all year tying the game with less than a minute left and winning in overtime.

Tomorrow, Friday morning, I have Geotech which is open-book.  I need to organize my notes and skim over the sections in the book so I am familiar with where all the information is.  Once that exam is over I’ll be free!  Me and two others have planned a ski trip up to Vermont for spring break.  I know – most people go to the beach or whatever.  But I can never get enough of the snow and skiing so this will be one of the best trips of my life.  My parents were a little hesitant, mostly about how much it would cost me, but I felt that I wouldn’t have a better opportunity to do this outside of college so I was willing to go broke for it.  The three of us are planning to hit three different mountains, one each day, and tear-up some of the toughest runs on the east coast.  I can’t wait for spring break!

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