Addie Albro is an architectural engineering student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. She’s working on completing her senior project while learning how to design with steel, timber, masonry, and concrete. We recently had the opportunity to host Addie and other Cal Poly undergrads at our Tyrell Gilb Lab in Stockton, California. She shared her experience visiting the lab and what inspired her to enter the engineering field.
My main motivation to become an engineer came from the excitement I felt back in my high school classes when my physics teachers would explain concepts such as the lift of an airplane wing, or the resistance of light bulbs in a circuit, or buoyancy in metal aircraft carriers. It made me feel empowered to understand how the best minds solved some of the world’s most difficult problems.
When I first came to Cal Poly, the ARCE program started immediately with a hands-on approach. Every week in lab, we were introduced to new concepts such as welding, planting anchor bolts, and even installing Simpson Strong-Tie® hangers. Although the COVID-19 pandemic hit right in the middle of my second year, the ARCE department continued to conduct labs in person so that students could still get the full learning experience. Beginning in my third year, I wanted to get more involved in my major, so I spoke to my professors about the department’s ongoing research projects. The department had just acquired 80-kip hydraulic actuators, which meant that the testing lab’s equipment needed renovation, and they needed help with installation and integration. By the time my senior year rolled around, my senior project was to design a new reaction frame for the actuators to be mounted on.
In order to gain inspiration for the reaction frame, I went up to Stockton, California, with a few other classmates and professors to visit the Simpson Strong-Tie manufacturing and testing facility where a few talented engineers showed us the facility’s new reaction frame. It towered multiple stories above us and had built-up steel columns at least two feet wide. We toured the rest of the lab to see the various testing rigs, the data collection system, and the test specimens. We even went inside of the lab’s strong floor which consisted of multiple concrete box girders to see how the frame and other testing equipment was bolted into the floor from below. The same person who engineered the reaction frame in their lab then helped us brainstorm to narrow down the design for the new frame in our lab back at Cal Poly and gave us helpful insight on some issues that we might run into with various configurations. For the last part of the day, we walked through the manufacturing facility, learning how a single piece of sheet metal gets cut and shaped to create an array of different hangers and connectors that get used in buildings across the country.
The entire tour was incredibly inspiring. Having this experience meant that I was able to better understand the different elements of the testing lab. During the design session, I was invited to contribute and learned from the feedback I received on the reaction frame. Walking through the manufacturing facility, I was able to see the construction process for the TJI joist hangers that I specified in my timber design lab. It empowered me to realize that I am part of a group of people that designs and tests systems that are used by everyone on a day-to-day basis. The major idea that kept running through my head the entire day was how powerful engineering of all types is. Structural engineering was the most obvious, but there was also mechanical engineering involved in the hydraulics of the actuators, computer engineering in the data collection and industrial engineering in the factory.
In a couple of years I hope to be working in a structural design firm where I can use my engineering knowledge to make my own contribution to the built environment. I encourage anyone who has a passion for math and science and a curiosity about the many ways the world works to consider a career in engineering. There is always a niche to fit your specific interests, and although it is a lot of difficult problem solving, the reward of figuring out a solution is extremely gratifying.