Spring 2021 Letter from the Director

Hello Alumni and Colleagues,

As we move past the year mark since COVID changed the world, I wish you all continued health and resilience as the world continues to open. We have had the opportunity to maintain connection with our students, faculty and staff through virtual meetings, webinars and townhalls. As we adapted to the circumstances, ESSIE strived to move forward with our education, research and outreach missions.

The need to hear all voices and defend and support our common humanity has never been more apparent. Last year, ESSIE created an Inclusion Diversity Equity and Access (IDEA) Committee to promote the well-being and strength of our diverse society. This very active committee is an incremental measure intended to design specific mechanisms to strengthen our ESSIE culture through words, action and example.

This is the third year in a row that our programs have been ranked in the U.S. News & World Report Best Graduate Schools Top 20 among public universities. Our Civil Engineering graduate program rose two spots to No. 17, and our Environmental Engineering Sciences graduate program ranked No. 18  for a second year.  The School is proud to be recognized for the focus on continual educational development and research capacity. Since 2016, ESSIE has hired 18 tenure-track faculty members, and the percentage of our faculty who are research active is among the nation’s most prestigious universities at 96%. During 2020, ESSIE faculty research awards increased by 34% to a new high of $21 million, including multiple awards responding to the rapidly emergent COVID-19 crisis.

Among our many faculty achievements, we are proud to announce the continuation of National Science Foundation (NSF) support for the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure Experimental Facility. Led by Jennifer Bridge, Ph.D., this renewal grant of $4.5 million over 5 years brings researchers throughout the U.S. to UF to pursue experimental wind hazard research in our unique facilities. The funding will also support a K-12 STEM teacher training program to be implemented throughout Florida and developed by Jeremy Waisome, Ph.D.

Building on the university’s AI initiatives, our faculty members use machine learning to efficiently improve the built and natural environment. Sara Behdad, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental engineering sciences, received a $1.5 million grant from the NSF to create human-robot collaboration and improve the disassembly of end-of-use products. Brian Phillips, Ph.D., a civil engineering associate professor, received a $500,000 NSF grant to optimize buildings and improve current practices using wind tunnel testing.

Our students and alumni continue to make a difference. Yiming Xu, a Ph.D. transportation engineering student, is utilizing public data and machine learning to reduce urban traffic congestion. Darina Castillo, Ph.D., (EES ‘13) shared her journey to her position as a site manager in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management. She also discusses what she is doing to inspire those who come after her.

Please let us know if you have any great stories by emailing us or tagging us on social media. We welcome any opportunity to engage alumni and friends. We look forward to hearing from you, what you have accomplished and how you have pivoted in the last year.

As always, Go Gators!
Kirk Hatfield, Ph.D.,