Fall 2023 Letter from the Director

Greetings from the Engineering School of Infrastructure & Environment (ESSIE), 

It is with great pleasure and a sense of anticipation that I extend my warmest greetings to each of you this season. Reflecting on our collective achievements and endeavors from the previous semester, I am proud to share the unwavering dedication and intellectual curiosity that define our school. 

To begin, I’m excited to announce that for the fifth year in a row, the ESSIE undergraduate programs have been ranked in the top 20 among public universities. The 2024 U.S. News & World Report placed the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at No. 12 and the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences at No. 10, putting both programs in the top 15 in their respective areas.  

As we embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, it is paramount to acknowledge the remarkable contributions of our esteemed faculty members. Xilei Zhao, Ph.D., an assistant professor, received the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) grant for her research group to continue building a platform that will use real-time sensing data and AI to facilitate real-time decision-making to mitigate the impacts of wildfires. The team will integrate social media data and large language models to gather real-time information from residents to facilitate emergency responses. 

On the coast, Alberto Canestrelli, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering, received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to explore and quantify restored oyster reef ecosystems’ sediment retention and impact on shoreline erosion. This project aligns with the USACE’s goals of enhancing coastal resilience and ecosystem restoration. 

We also recognize our faculty for their passion for research and their commitment to expanding the boundaries of knowledge. The American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) has given Antarpreet S. Jutla, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, the Charles S. Falkenberg Award. He was nominated for his interdisciplinary research on understanding transmission dynamics of infectious pathogens in humans and environmental systems. 

In early November, the University of Florida celebrated First Generation Day. To commemorate the Higher Education Act of 1965, the university held dedicated events celebrating our first-generation students who are paving the way for their academic future. We conducted a series of interviews to hear from our students.  

Speaking of intergenerational influence, it’s amazing to see how our students and alumni follow in their parents’ footsteps. Bryant Marshall, (BSCE ’71) followed his father’s footsteps into geotechnical engineering, which was driven by his childhood memories of exploring construction sites. His father, Addison Marshall (BS ’27), stressed the importance of his engineering studies and it eventually led to the Bryant P. Marshall ASCE Student Endowment.  

Finally, Renan Favero, a University of Florida Transportation Institute (UFTI) doctoral student, led a study on autonomous vehicle (AV) simulation and calibration, using real-world data to model AV movements in traffic scenarios. Based in Orlando, his goal is to develop tools enabling city agencies to evaluate the impact of AV shuttles on traffic operations, enhancing safety and efficiency. 

Wishing you well from the Sunshine State. 

Best wishes,  

Kirk Hatfield, Ph.D.,  

ESSIE Director