This fall, the UK College of Engineering and Department of Civil Engineering welcomed Dr. Reginald Souleyrette as the first-ever Commonwealth Chair Professor in Transportation Engineering. Dr. Souleyrette arrived after an 18 year tenured residency at Iowa State University, where he served as a professor of civil engineering and associate director of the Institute for Transportation.
So why leave a distinguished career in Ames for UK? “I was born in Lexington,” Dr. Souleyrette grins. “I’ve always kept an eye on UK, hoping to get back here. This is my dream job, and the only one that could have taken me away from Iowa State.”
Dr. Souleyrette is energetic, and his enthusiasm for his role as a professor is infectious. He is dedicated to motivating students with a positive, optimistic vision of the future. “We are bombarded by negative visions of the present and the future and, while I don’t want to minimize unemployment or other national and global issues, we certainly aren’t doomed! I like to make the argument that there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the present and the future. It’s definitely different from what most students hear, whether on the news or in the community,” he claims.
One reason for optimism is the ongoing need for civil engineers in today’s workforce, in addition to surprising job satisfaction statistics in favor of transportation engineers. “According to a recent CNN Money article, transportation engineers have the second least-stressful job in America. Sixty-nine% of transportation engineers say their job stress is low because they get to work with real people who utilize what they create and because their fear of job loss is small due to cities often putting transportation projects in their budget” he explains (to see the article, visit http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2010/pf/jobs/1010/gallery.best_jobs_least_stress.moneymag/2.html).
Dr. Souleyrette’s passion and appreciation for civil engineering has its roots in summers spent operating a jackhammer bigger than he under a merciless Texas sun. “My friend’s father was an estimator for construction projects and he got us summer work,” he recalls, “I got to see what it takes to put something together and, in the end, I got into civil engineering because I wanted to build something I could see and not just work with conceptual issues.”
After deciding to focus on transportation engineering rather than structural engineering in graduate school at the University of Texas, Dr. Souleyrette continued his study of transportation by earning his Ph.D. at Cal-Berkeley. “Transportation is extremely interdisciplinary,” he says. “There are two things that underlie most of my studies in transportation: human factors and information. So I’m not just thinking about highways, waterways, airports and railroads, but also about psychology, economics, politics, statistics and information technology. They’re all related.”
Thus, Dr. Souleyrette brings a well-rounded perspective to his position as Commonwealth Chair Professor of Transportation Engineering; but what does it mean to be the Commonwealth Chair? The professor explains that because the position is supported by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, he is dedicated to doing something for the state. “My work in this position shouldn’t be primarily academic, but show practical application. I am interested in all modes of transportation and maximizing Kentucky’s advantages for better economic growth and quality of life.”
Dr. George Blandford, Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, regards his newest hire as a strong addition to the faculty. “Dr. Souleyrette brings a ‘big picture’ view of the transportation profession to UK. He has numerous national contacts that will be very important in securing additional research funding for UK as well as the recruitment of additional graduate students.”
Grateful to have returned to Kentucky, Dr. Souleyrette has hit the ground running with classes underway and graduate students studying under his tutelage; both are key components to the people-oriented field he enjoys. “I like working with students on what I see as detective work—looking for relationships, solving problems and helping students grow in their ability to do it themselves. The students often come up with better ideas than I do” he smiles. “We benefit from working with the students as much or more than they benefit from us.”