Civil engineering students at Saint Louis University soon will be able to design and
test steel beams and concrete frames at full-scale, thanks to a recent National Science
Foundation (NSF) grant. The $599,821 award will fund a new SLU lab that will encourage
experiential learning and allow faculty members to study how their students learn
in this setting.
Chris Carroll, Ph.D., P.E., assistant professor of civil engineering and Ronaldo Luna,
Ph.D., P.E., chair and professor of civil engineering at Saint Louis University. Photo
by Ellen Hutti.
The three-year project and study will be led by Chris Carroll, Ph.D., P.E., assistant
professor of civil engineering at Saint Louis University. Carroll developed a cost-effective
model for a structural engineering lab that allows projects to be built and tested
“Small-scale projects sometimes limit what we can do and do not always accurately
represent the behavior of a life-sized structure,” Carroll said. “This project will
enable us to provide full-scale experiential learning opportunities for our students
to better prepare them for the workforce.”
Co-investigator Ronaldo Luna, Ph.D., P.E., chair and professor of civil engineering
at SLU, also emphasizes the need for hands-on experience.
“A lot of times students come out of a degree program only with book knowledge,” Luna
said. “But, that’s not what’s needed in the real world.
“We pride ourselves on giving students this hands-on experience. Many bigger universities
have large labs but don’t allow undergrads to work in them. There aren’t that many
schools in the country where undergraduate students get to do this size testing.”
Engineering students Sam Papps (standing left) and Peter Gaido (sitting right) test
a concrete frame.
The new funding will allow researchers Carroll, Luna and colleagues at Rose-Hulman
Institute of Technology to build labs with a modular testing system to which projects
can be attached and tested. The system is strong enough to support simulated earthquake
“Chris designed an economic alternative to expensive research labs,” Luna said. “The
proof-of-concept works and now we’re taking our civil engineering department to the
The first year of the project will be spent setting up the lab and gathering baseline
data from existing classrooms and labs. Researchers will spend subsequent years examining
how students learn in the new lab setting.
The researchers aim to study how hands-on experience impacts student learning and
prepares them for tasks they will face in the real world. Carroll and Luna hope to
leverage their findings to improve undergraduate STEM education.
Other researchers on the study include Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology faculty
members John Aidoo, Ph.D., Kyle Kershaw, Ph.D., P.E., and Matthew Lovell, Ph.D., P.E.
Click through the photo story below to see SLU engineering students and faculty members
at work in the lab: