University of North Florida
Focuses on Prestressed Engineering

One of the current PCI Foundation-sponsored educational programs  was the first all-engineering program is at the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville, Florida. The program has yielded exceptional results for students and industry alike.

UNF, Gate Precast and the Florida Precast Concrete Association (FPCA) built on an already strong relationship to create new program and student interest by proposing the educational program made up of many special events, classroom programs and research to the PCI Foundation five years ago.

Student support strong

Since the program began four years ago, almost 60 students have participated in the program. “We have 10 to 20 students take prestressed concrete and bridge engineering courses every year,” says Dr. Adel El Safty who runs the program. “I also have 2 graduate students per year working on prestressed concrete research topics. We also have 10 to 15 students participate in the prestressed concrete beam design and testing every year.”

Gate Precast has seen the program not only successful where UNF traditionally excelled, but has also seen improvements in other areas of precast education. “UNF has always done a good job testing precast DOT components and running test for DOT components that have been repaired,” says Dean Gwin President & COO?of Gate Construction Materials Group. “Now that UNF has a precast studio the students are exposed to commercial precast products such as garage components and architectural cladding. With all these new topics our industry is attracting many more engineering graduates. If a student isn't interested in DOT products he or she may be interested in architectural or structural components of another form.  They not only learn more about designing and testing these products in the classroom, they visit jobsites and plants.”

Local support key

Gate’s participation with the program is hands on and extremely active. An important element of the student’s experience is field trips to plants in Jacksonville and Kissimmee, Gate employees making presentations to the students and during workshops, donation of materials, assisting students with research, and supporting students to present papers at PCI and TRB.

“There have been a couple of experiences that increased my interest in precast.  One was the big beam contest in which we had to design our own big beam to carry certain loads and for the university came in second place regionally in 2010 and 1st place regionally and 4th nationally in 2012,” former student Nick Alterie, who now works for a Georgia consulting firm. “The other was tours to Gate Precast in Jacksonville FL, where we learned about how precast elements are fabricated and different types of elements were there.”

The hands-on participation of the local precaster made a big difference for the success of his work, and in the interviews that came after graduation according to Alterie.  “Through the help of the PCI Foundation I’ve been able go beyond the classroom into the laboratory and beyond,” says Alterie. “I’ve learned how to calculate moment capacity, shear capacity, deflection, stress strain relationships and other factors that affect precast concrete. My professors, Dr. Adel El Safty and Dr. Mike Jackson have helped me go beyond the theory and into the real world.”

Professor sparks interest

The success of the program also comes in large part because of the dedication and perseverance of the professor leading it. Over the course of the program, Dr. Adel El Safty has become a fixture at PCI meetings and has made several presentations at industry conferences becoming known as a national expert in prestressed design.

“Dr. El Safty’s students reflect his professionalism and dedication to teaching. He has attracted the best students to research projects because he also has a love of teaching that takes all the student research to a new level,” says Joe Lord, executive director of FPCA. “For example, during the big beam contest work, he took many opportunities to teach students about prestressed design. His excitement about teaching and about precast was infectious.”

“Studying precast has sparked my interest enough where I have decided to do my thesis on repair of impact damage bridge girders through the use of carbon fiber polymers,” says Alterie.

While some students have gone on to include prestressed concrete in their graduate work, others have made use of it professionally. “The PCI Foundation grant to establish this engineering design studios made a great positive impact on students’ lives and future,” says Dr. El Safty. “It opened doors for their professional career development and opportunities. Prestressed concrete had never been in the curriculum before and being able to learn it now helps them tremendously in student’s job prospects. Several of my former students got job offers in related fields to precast and prestressed concrete.”

That movement of students into related fields can translate into precast projects down the line. “I know that there have been instances where a graduate of the UNF program has brought precast to the table professionally - providing the skills and know-how to ensure his firm will consider precast on future projects,” says Lord.