Dr. Michael Kalinski loves his role as an Associate Professor in UK’s Department of Civil Engineering.
“To me, this is a dream job,” he says with notable enthusiasm. “I get to teach. I get to work with young people. I get to do research, and I get to think about clever ways to do new things. It’s a great job.”
Dr. Kalinski’s passion for teaching arises from his respect for students who desire to study civil engineering, as well as his awareness that few students grasp the subject matter the first time. “These students want to learn the material. They’re taking the time and effort, so I want to help them learn it. I think what makes me an effective teacher is that I understand what it’s like to not understand. I know what it’s like to have a professor explain something to me and not get it. I think we’ve all felt that way. So when I’m explaining something to a student, I try to see it from their perspective. I try to appreciate that even if I’m explaining it in a way I think is clear, I may not be getting through to them. Everybody learns differently, so it’s a fun challenge for me to figure out how each student learns.”
“Figuring things out” is a skill Dr. Kalinski has honed over a 25 year career studying engineering geophysics, earthquake engineering and landfill geotechnology, among other subjects. After graduating from the Colorado School of Mines in 1985 with an undergraduate degree in geophysical engineering, Dr. Kalinski became an exploration geophysicist for Tenneco Oil Company in Lafayette, Louisiana. At Tenneco, he used seismic data to map geological structures deep within the Gulf of Mexico. Mapping the structures allowed him and other geoscientists to identify locations where oil and natural gas may have accumulated. The accuracy of Dr. Kalinski’s maps, as well as his interpretation of the seismic data in conference with other geoscientists, ultimately determined whether or not Tenneco would spend millions of dollars drilling a well. “No matter what the maps said, there was never a guarantee we would find oil or gas,” he says, “but our mapping efforts helped us to increase the likelihood of successfully finding oil or gas.”
Dr. Kalinski left Tenneco in 1989 and filled a similar role with Shell Oil, based in Houston. At Shell, rather than making maps and interpreting data, he was a part of a team that acquired the data—planting sensors into the ground and positioning wires, cables and large, shaking trucks, and recording the seismic waves as they transmitted from the trucks to the sensors. He also developed computer processing programs to convert the field seismic data into usable cross sections that would aid the geologists making maps of subsurface geological structures. In 1991, he left Shell to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Texas in Austin. “Being an exploration geophysicist was an enjoyable experience, but I wanted to go back to school and broaden my horizons and opportunities—working other areas of geosciences and engineering rather than just looking for oil.”
Broadening his horizons led Dr. Kalinski into a new area of exploration: earthquake engineering. “Earthquake engineering entails understanding the effects of earthquakes on the ground surface,” he explains. “We, as engineers, need to understand the dynamic properties of soil— how stiff it is and how it tends to attenuate seismic waves—so we can predict how the soil at a particular site will behave when subjected to earthquake-induced ground motion.”
At the local level, Dr. Kalinski’s earthquake engineering research is impacting cities in western Kentucky, such as Paducah and Owensboro, that reside near the New Madrid Seismic Zone—a geographical area susceptible to earthquakes. “Since buildings are constructed on various kinds of soil, there is concern regarding how each soil type will behave if an earthquake occurs.”
From assessing ways to mitigate the strong ground motion of earthquakes to discerning new ways of helping students comprehend the material in his classes, Dr. Michael Kalinski relishes the challenge of making new discoveries in civil engineering, as well as preparing students to become civil engineers. “If you look throughout history, you constantly see examples of civil engineering—most of which we take for granted: drinking water systems, waste water treatment systems, solid waste disposal systems, bridges, dams, highways and other structures that allow our society to function. I find it very satisfying to contribute to that legacy.”