Catherine French, NAE

Professor Catherine E. Wolfgram French has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). This is among the highest professional distinctions awarded to an engineer. The NAE elected only 114 new members and 21 foreign members this year. 

French joins previously elected members from the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering: Professor Emmanuel Detournay and Professors Emeriti Steve Crouch, Charles Fairhurst, Efi Foufoula, and Theodore Galambos. 

Catherine French, a College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering, is a renowned structural engineer. She was recognized by NAE for “design, safety, and construction of structural concrete buildings and bridges.” Her research interests include the behavior of reinforced and prestressed concrete structural systems, field monitoring of structures, numerical and experimental investigations of structural systems including time-dependent and environmental effects, evaluation and repair of damaged structures, and development and application of new aterials. French led the creation of the Multi-Axial Subassemblage Testing (MAST) Laboratory in 2004. She has served on the national concrete building code committee for nearly 30 years. Her research on reinforced and prestressed concrete structural systems led to new guidelines to improve public safety.

French has received national recognition for her contributions in the area of structural engineering, and for her teaching, leadership, and research. She received the highest honors from the American Society of Civil Engineers (Distinguished Member 2018) and the American Concrete Institute (ACI Honorary Member 2019). 

French started her academic career at UMN, following in the footsteps of her father, who earned his Electrical Engineering degree at UMN, and two sisters (Electrical Engineering and Math Education). After completing her bachelor’s degree in 1979, French went on to complete her master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign. French then returned to UMN as a new faculty member in 1984. She was the first female professor in civil engineering.

Since 2019, she has been a member of the University of Minnesota Academy of Distinguished Teachers. She has mentored more than 85 graduate students, postdoctoral  researchers, and visiting scholars. She also has published and edited more than 175 research papers and discussions. 

French's family in the MAST Lab

In addition to her academic and professional  accomplishments, French counts relationships among her great fortunes. “I have been very fortunate with a supportive family, with great students, colleagues, and collaborators. My graduate advisor Mete Sozen had a huge impact on my pursuing a Ph.D. and was very supportive throughout my career. And my family is so important to me!”