MSU engineering alumni apply skills to make new engineering building a reality
By Marshall Swearingen, MSU News Service
BOZEMAN – As a backhoe filled around the foundation of the future Norm Asbjornson Hall at Montana State University recently, and construction workers prepped the ground floor for concrete, it was an ideal day for MSU civil engineering alumni to survey their handiwork in the building’s exposed, three-story steel structure.
“A lot of innovation went into this building,” said Jay Fischer, the project manager at Morrison-Maierle, the Montana-based firm that engineered the beams, joints and other features to ensure that the structure stands up to its own weight, plus wind, earthquakes and other stressors. As we walk the site, it becomes apparent that much of that innovation came from MSU civil engineering graduates.
The approximately 110,000 square-foot building is the keystone of the university’s South Campus Project, which includes MSU’s new parking garage. The project is funded by a $50 million pledge from MSU alumnus Norm Asbjornson and an additional $20 million match. Norm Asbjornson Hall will house parts of the MSU College of Engineering and the MSU Honors College, and will feature nine classrooms, 17 laboratories and a presentation hall.
Gesturing to beams overhead, Fischer, who earned a master’s in civil engineering from MSU’s College of Engineering in 2003, explained how the building was designed to have spacious rooms and open views. That meant spacing support posts far apart and foregoing traditional steel cross-bracing. “We had to get the beams to span large distances while still handling the seismic requirements.”
“It meant a very rigorous structural analysis,” he said. The Morrison-Maierle project team, five of whom are MSU alumni, produced upwards of 4,000 pages of calculations, both by hand and using computer software, he added.
Kris VanLuchene, who earned both his bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering from MSU, finishing in 2011, pointed to one of the structure’s side plates, special slabs of steel that reinforce the joint between beam and the post, bracing the structure like a larger cross-beam would.
“It stiffens the building, while reducing the amount of steel,” said VanLuchene, who interned with Morrison-Maierle while enrolled at MSU, then landed a job there after graduating.
“The education at MSU was very practical. You can take what you’ve learned in the classrooms over there and apply it the second you step out the door,” VanLuchene said, motioning to the buildings that currently house MSU’s College of Engineering.
According to Fischer, Morrison-Maierle has provided engineering services on a dozen other major projects on the MSU campus, including Jabs Hall, which was completed in 2015. The company employs more than 90 MSU engineering graduates, he said.
“As a company, we like to have that connection back to the university,” Fischer said. “It’s been an enormous benefit for us.”
“We very much appreciate that Morrison-Maierle values our graduates so highly,” said Jerry Stephens, head of MSU’s Department of Civil Engineering. “We try to not lose sight of the connection between theory and practice. That’s actually the cornerstone of our approach to engineering education.”
An estimated 35 MSU alumni from seven companies worked directly on the design of Norm Asbjornson Hall, according to Morrison-Maierle Vice President Kurt Keith. The building is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.
Yasmin Chaudhry earned both her bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering from MSU, in 2015 and 2017. Now in her third summer of interning with Morrison-Maierle, she’s played a major role in analyzing the cross-sections of the building’s floor beams to reduce vibrations caused by foot traffic, a task that required her to use complex computer modeling.
“When you get to the real world, you apply what you’ve learned, but you also keep learning, using the tools that the professors have given you,” she said.
“It’s pretty cool to work on something that, as an alumna, you can come back and say: ‘Yeah, I worked on that.’ ”