Engineering grad gets her feet wet with bridge project

McCaffrey examines a bowling ball.

Putting her skills to the test

Shannen McCaffrey '18 performs a compression test on bowling balls that she constructed out of fiber-reinforced concrete. Made from a combination of concrete, glass and nylon fibers, the balls are more economical and less labor intensive to create, easier to transport and bowled just as straight as traditional ones. Nylon is also more malleable and easier to work with than conventional steel rebar.

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rowing up on the shores of Long Island Sound, Shannen McCaffrey ’18 had a front-row seat to the impacts of beach erosion and other environmental issues.

As she advanced through our School of Engineering, she found herself drawn to projects that involved hydrology, the branch of science concerned with the properties of the earth’s water — especially its movement in relation to land. At Commencement, she was presented with the Outstanding Achievement in Civil Engineering Award.

McCaffrey and seven fellow civil engineering majors studied the Gilbert Avenue bridge over Wilmot Brook in Hamden as part of her captone project. They were given a list of bridges that Hamden’s town engineer had earmarked as needing work, and they chose that one. The aging bridge, built in 1935, has some concrete damage, some exposed reinforcements and some scouring of abutments. After surveying the area, monitoring water flow rate and other tests, the students recommended a new bridge be built and designed one.

Priscilla Fonseca, assistant professor of civil engineering, was among the professors involved with the project. She said McCaffrey excels at laying out facts in a professional way during presentations.

“She introduces a topic from the perspective of an outsider and gives a good overview,” she said.

McCaffrey began at Quinnipiac as a psychology major, intending to become a teacher. Toward the end of her first year, she spent time with one of her father’s friends, a civil engineer who was redesigning their kitchen. Her uncle is a civil engineer as well.

“Watching my dad’s friend, I found it interesting –– remodeling and designing homes –– and I thought there would be more job opportunities for me in that field,” she said.

She decided to enroll in an introductory engineering course.

“I fell in love with the engineering program from the first class,” she said, adding that all five tracts — mechanical, industrial, software, civil and computer science — were covered. “We made a small-scale dam that day. I thought it was cool that you actually get to make things and see how they work.”

McCaffrey completed a summer internship between her junior and senior years at SoundSense, an acoustical consulting and engineering company in Wainscott, New York. Although she described it as a great opportunity and she enjoyed being able to use her civil engineering skills within a home or building, the experience convinced her she needed to be outdoors tackling environmental challenges.

She found time to hone her leadership skills this year, serving as the president of the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, which was established last year.

“It’s important to be involved in a group like this because the CE field is primarily men, and I like the connections I’ve made with other girls there.” She plans to join the professional chapter.

Reflecting on her education, she considered the student-faculty ratio a plus.

“The professors are passionate about helping us, and the facility is amazing,” she said. “It’s definitely challenging at times — not a cakewalk program — but the professors will do anything to help you.”