Students are accustomed to filling out application of all kinds: undergraduate scholarship applications, grant applications, graduate fellowship applications, job applications, etc. Once the paperwork is submitted, the waiting begins. Days become weeks and weeks become months. Sometimes the waiting pays off with good news…and sometimes it doesn’t. It all comes with the territory of being a student.
So when civil engineering graduate student Mike McHenry filled out his application for a Dwight David Eisenhower Graduate fellowship this past February—which required obtaining four letters of recommendation as well as official transcripts and copying the entire application multiple times—he knew a certain amount of waiting would be involved. February became March and March became early April. Early April became mid-April; Mike still hadn’t heard.
And, as it has been famously sung, the waiting really is the hardest part.
Last Friday, April 13, Mike’s waiting ended when Dr. Jerry Rose called to say he had just received a letter stating Mike had won one of the financially substantial fellowships. Mike, who was also awarded a Charles T. Wethington Fellowship earlier this spring, will be able to pursue his master’s degree relatively free of tuition and research expenditure concerns.
“I hope that the Eisenhower Fellowship will serve as a strong foundation for my future in transportation and railroad related research and teaching. This is a tremendous opportunity. The fellowship is a direct reflection on the excellent faculty I have worked with at UK,” said Mike shortly after receiving the news.
Awarding Eisenhower Fellowships is one way the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program fulfills its objective—“to attract qualified students to the field of transportation and research, and advance transportation workforce development.” Applicants outline proposals regarding how they intend to improve transportation, and Mike ventured ideas pertaining to his scope of research—railroad engineering.
“Railroad transportation is making a comeback,” notes Mike, who also serves as president of the RailCats student organization. “Railroad companies are better able to compete with trucking companies because railroads have less of an environmental impact and better fuel efficiency, and rail’s speed and network capacity is greater than that of waterway transportation. Further, the United States used to have the best passenger rail system in the world and I think some of what made it great can be recovered.”
Mike’s interest in railroad engineering began when he took one of Dr. Rose’s railway engineering classes during his junior year.
“It was like a bug bit me,” he says. “When I worked with Dr. Rose as an undergraduate researcher last summer, I was fascinated by how many areas of the railroad industry have problems and questions that need to be researched. That compelled me to take the next step and start a graduate program.”
Mike graduated with his bachelor’s degree in December of 2011, and immediately began his graduate studies. He is most interested in discovering new ways to approach basic concepts, such as track construction and rail maintenance.
“The design of the track has changed very little over the last 150 years, so I think we could improve not only each component of the track, but also how they fit together,” Mike explains. “Also, railroad maintenance is not like highway maintenance where you can close off one lane and still use the other lanes. If you close a track for maintenance, it’s done. So I’m interested in figuring out how to perform maintenance on what are becoming increasingly busier tracks.”
In Mike, Dr. Rose sees a student already making significant contributions to the railroad industry.
“I have advised and directed graduate students for 41 years,” the professor reflects. “In my opinion, Mike has demonstrated as high of a level of educational interest and potential as any of my former students. Furthermore, his research area addresses a topic that substantially impacts the continued vitality and standard of living for each U.S. resident.”
In addition to getting to know Dr. Rose, Mike has also benefitted from Dr. Reginald Souleyrette’s experience and influence. Dr. Souleyrette joined the civil engineering faculty last summer as the Commonwealth Chair Professor in Transportation Engineering.
“Recently, Mike and Dr. Rose were scheduled to meet with rail researchers and officials in Portugal, France and Austria. Because Dr. Rose’s flight was cancelled, Mike made the trip alone. He capably filled in for Dr. Rose by making conference presentations and conducting meetings to foster collaboration. Mike represented the university in outstanding fashion, receiving several compliments from our international colleagues,” shares Dr. Souleyrette. “That’s the kind of maturity, leadership and vision Mike possesses.”
Mike hopes to one day become a professor, teaching and researching transportation engineering, specifically railroads. To that end, winning an Eisenhower Fellowship is a positive trend.
“When I was teaching at Iowa State, I was fortunate to mentor five Eisenhower Fellows,” says Dr. Souleyrette. “Three went on for PhDs and two became professors. Mike is certainly on that path.”