You were required to wear a hard hat and a DayGlo vest. Beltway traffic was whizzing by many feet below. This was not your typical class field trip, but for a group of civil engineering students, it was a great experience and the opportunity to see engineering in action.
The students were enrolled in a Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE) special topics course titled Highway Construction, and they had one of the peak educational opportunities of their academic career when they visited the high occupancy toll, or HOT, lane construction on Interstate 495 near Tysons Corner. Leading this tour was Ronaldo “Nick” Nicholson, an adjunct professor in the department.
This was the first time Nicholson taught a class at Mason. The chief engineer in Washington, D.C.’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) by day, Mason faculty by night, Nicholson oversees highway, bridge, and tunnel design for the District and brings that daily experience to the classroom.
Prior to working for DDOT, Nicholson was a project manager on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project. With so much on his plate, why did Nicholson choose to take a gig at Mason teaching undergraduates?
“[The Woodrow Wilson Bridge] was one of those career projects,” he says. “I had reached my goals as an engineer and starting thinking ‘what’s next?’” Then the opportunity to teach presented itself.
“He’s a natural,” says Deborah J. Goodings, CEIE’s Dewberry Chair and department chair. “[Nicholson] was recommended by a colleague and had a number of the qualities we look for in adjunct faculty. Practical experience is a big factor.”
Nicholson says students found the tour “exciting and applicable to what they wanted to do in their careers.”
This semester Nicholson is teaching CEIE 490 Senior Design Infrastructure, and he already has a few repeat students.
“They are great,” says Nicholson of his CEIE students. “I challenge them, and they ask for more.”