Faculty Profile: Catherine French & Carol Shield: Mavens of structures, students, and standards

Structural engineering professors CATHERINE FRENCH and CAROL SHIELD have often collaborated. Both have been recognized as College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Professors, in which exceptional faculty are honored for their efforts and contributions to teaching, scholarly research, and genuine commitment to the College of Science and Engineering and its activities.

Carol Shield enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for structural engineering with the students in her classes. “I love teaching both large required classes and the smaller senior design electives. Both give me a chance to show students the potential of problem-solving inherent in structural engineering, and to show them cool ways that structures can be designed,” says Shield.

“I like to see students grow in understanding. The first time that students are introduced to structural design, usually in the context of tension members made from steel, they have that look of a deer caught in the headlights of a car. The ideas seem so complicated to them because they are being asked to think about problems in a way that is foreign to them. But a few weeks later in the semester, they find it all starts to make sense. For example, they know concrete will crack. But if you prestress concrete, it won’t crack—not under usual loads. This understanding opens a whole new realm of possibilities for concrete structure design. They understand that design is so much more than simply turning equations they learned in their Mechanics of Deformable Bodies class around to solve for some dimensional variable.”

When students are shown how to learn, especially when it involves a different way of thinking, they’ll keep that with them throughout their career. Those are the days that Shield goes home knowing that she has made an impact.

Catherine French (BCE 1979) has contact with a lot of students in her role as Director of Undergraduate Studies for Civil Engineering. French works to create a sense of community for the students within the department.

French has also been involved in education and outreach activities to create interest in STEM fields and engage future generations of students in civil, environmental, and geo- engineering. Over the course of her career, she has been involved in creating hands-on outreach activities, including curriculum to enable students to build and test structures on instructional earthquake simulators. Within CEGE, French created the CEGE Student Ambassador Program, which allows CEGE undergraduate students to reach out to students (K-12 plus firstand second-year CSE students) who are interested in engineering.

Shield and French each provide professional technical expertise through their work in development of structural codes and material standards to ensure the health and safety of the public.

Shield has been involved in committee activities for the American Concrete Institute (ACI) since 1997. Shield finds that providing resources for practitioners is as rewarding for her as her teaching contributions. She had a leadership role on ACI’s largest committee, ACI Committee 440 Fiber Reinforced Polymer Reinforcement, between 2003 and 2015, first as secretary and then as chair.

Since stepping down as chair, Shield has taken on the task of preparing standards and codes for ACI dealing with the use of glass fiber-reinforced polymer (GFRP) reinforcement for the internal reinforcement of concrete. Shield notes that GFRP has great potential for combating corrosion problems in reinforced concrete, but it can’t gain traction in the profession until there are standards and codes. Structural engineers rely on ASTM material specifications and ACI construction specifications and design codes to design steel reinforced concrete structures. It’s a long process to replicate those types of documents for GFRP reinforced concrete. To that end, Shield was instrumental in developing ASTM D7957 Standard Specification for Solid Round Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymer Bars for Concrete Reinforcement and ACI 440.5 Specification for Construction with Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Reinforcing Bars. Those two documents created the building blocks for Shield’s largest project, which is spearheading the development of an ACI 318-like building code for GFRP reinforcement with a colleague, Vicki Brown, at Widener University. The ACI 318 Building Code has been in existence since the early 1900s. Trying to replicate all that work for GFRP reinforced concrete in under five years has been a huge challenge, Shield says. The code under development will have the same chapters as ACI 318. The goal is to get all the chapters balloted by ACI Committee 440 by the end of 2020. Currently, 11 of the 22 chapters have been balloted by the committee. It’s going to be a big push to get the other 11 chapters, most of which have been drafted, through the process by the end of 2020, but it will likely be one of Shield’s most rewarding career achievements.

French’s primary research contributions are in two areas: infrastructure systems and earthquake-resisting structural systems. She and Shield have teamed on a number of projects over the years, including the development of the effective force testing method, the Multi-Axial Subassemblage Testing (MAST) Laboratory (with other members of the faculty), a long-term monitoring system for the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge, a novel precast composite slab span system (PCSSS) for shortspan bridge systems, and a number of studies on prestressed concrete bridge girder systems.

In the area of prestressed concrete bridge girder systems, French’s studies have included the development and implementation of design and fabrication recommendations associated with the use of new materials, debonded prestressing strands, and camber issues. A number of these projects have been sponsored by both transportation funding agencies and fabricators and have led to immediate implementation changes and improvements in structural performance.

French’s contributions in the area of earthquake engineering research have been associated with experimental and numerical studies of multidirectional loading effects and three-dimensional behavior of concrete systems. These have included reinforced concrete floor systems, precast beam-column joints, and structural wall systems. Some of this research work has led to direct code changes related to the contribution of floor slabs in lateral load resistance, the need to reduce strain concentrations at the face of mechanical couplers in precast beam-column connections, and the proposed avoidance of lap splices at the base of structural wall boundary elements to avoid large local strain concentrations.

French has been involved in professional service activities since the early stages of her career. In 1995, she was invited to be a member of ACI’s Committee 318 – Structural Concrete Building Code, which is the standard that governs how concrete structural systems are designed in the U.S. and other regions of the world. She served as chair of the subcommittee on Reinforcement and Development from 2004 to 2014, during which time she facilitated the development of provisions for adhesive anchors. A moratorium had been placed on their use following the collapse of a ceiling panel associated with the Big Dig project in Boston. During the major restructuring of the Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete, French oversaw the design provisions associated with steel reinforcement, which included properties, durability, and detailing, as well those dealing with anchoring to concrete. She values her participation on professional technical committees, not only because it provides an opportunity to transfer research directly into practice but provides a way to show her students that direct link between research and practice.