Recognizing Geologist on Geologist Day and Every Day

This year International Geologist Day was on April 4. We caught up with a few of our Geologists to find out what they enjoy most about their careers and what inspired them to enter the geology field.

Photo of Sue Buchanan at job siteFor Project Geologist, Sue Buchanan, becoming a geologist was a longtime dream for her. “I have wanted to be a geologist since the 7th grade when I learned that my love for collecting rocks and minerals was actually a science. I stayed on the path toward becoming a geologist after my first field trip in college to Yellowstone National Park. I was hooked!” In this photo, Sue was at Ledbetter Dam in Rockingham, North Carolina where she was responsible for logging soil and rock and completing in situ field tests of the rock for a subsurface investigation regarding a possible rehabilitation project of the dam. “What I enjoy most about geology is the mix of field work and office work that I get to be involved in”, says Sue, “I like seeing a job start, working with the project team to prepare for field work, then working in the field and seeing how the job gets completed by all parties involved. No project site is the same and that keeps me interested, I’m excited to learn something new whether it’s traditional field mapping or how to incorporate software for data analysis, and I’m able to contribute to the final product for the client.”

Photo of Chris Mayer at job siteSenior Staff Geologist, Chris Mayer says in college he wanted to be challenged and geology provided that. “It’s complex and keeps you on your toes”, says Chris, “I enjoy how challenging and unique geology is. No project is the same.” In this photo Chris is conducting an electrical resistivity imaging survey on a road that runs through a karstic geology environment. As a geologist, Chris uses these geophysical methods to help delineate and map potential karst features for our team of engineers.






Photo of Brian Banks at job siteIn this photo Principal Geologist and National Transportation Services Leader, Brian Banks is standing by one of the rock cut slopes along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina. At this job site, Brian and a team comprised of Schnabel Engineering, WSP and Appalachian Landslide Consultants, embarked on a project for the FHWA Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division to assess 250 unstable slopes along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The results of our services will allow Eastern Federal Lands and the National Park Services to prioritize the highest risk slopes for slope stabilization and hazard mitigation efforts. When asked how geoscience makes an impact on Brian’s career he stated, “The engineers and contractors who design and build transportation infrastructure rely heavily on the site characterization expertise that geoscientists bring. It is a relatively small role in terms of total dollars spent on infrastructure, but it has a huge impact in so many ways on public safety and protecting the public’s investment in its infrastructure. Through site characterization and evaluating geologic hazards, geoscientists provide a critical service to help ensure safe, cost-effective civil works that last for generations.”

Photo of Sydney Lawson at job siteFor Staff Geologist, Sydney Lawson, working in the geology field was something she always knew was right for her. “As nerdy as this sounds, I really love rocks”, she said, “They can all be so different and help tell a story about the history of an area. I always collected rocks as a kid and loved the outdoors, so geology was a natural fit for me.” In this photo, Sydney helped during the installation of four Drive Point Piezometers for a project in Alabama. Her team installed the piezometers as part of an ongoing abandonment project and conducted in situ vane shear tests to help with the engineering analyses for the site.



Photo of Spencer Henry at job siteIn this photo, Technician, Spencer Henry is at an earth filled dam in north-central Pennsylvania. He is using a Geo 7x to record the locations of site features that were pertinent to a geophysical investigation. Spencer was on this project to help assist in a geophysical investigation for Schnabel’s dams’ group. When asked about what he likes about working in the geology field, Spencer said “I love that it gives me the opportunity to work outside and learn about the parts of the Earth that a lot of people never get to see. Everyone is pretty used to seeing everything on the surface, but it’s so interesting to see what’s going on below the surface too! It’s nice knowing that the information we’re collecting is helping our team of engineers design and maintain incredible structures.”

Photo of John Flory at job site“I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and was always fascinated by science”, says Senior Geologist Jonathan Flory, “Geology provides insight as to how the landscape around us was formed. To a geologist, a mountain or a river is much more than what you can see, it tells a story of how it was created.” In this photo, Jonathan was in the middle of the installation of instrumentation in two inactive quarry ponds along the Ohio River. Working with a heavy civil construction contractor, Schnabel Engineering developed construction procedures and installed instrumentation to reduce risk during the abandonment, while ensuring the placement of more than 1 million cubic yards of backfill material was completed on schedule

Alexa Overeem Featured in Newest Issue of Geostrata

Senior Staff Engineer, Alexa Overeem recently had her artwork featured in this month’s issue of GEOSTRATA.

The hand drawn artwork relates to an article on geotextiles written by her undergraduate advisor, and former Schnabel employee, Michael McGuire.

Photo of Alexa Overeem Smiling

Photo of Alexa Overeem

“I used to make engineering related art all the time for extra credit in Mike’s classes and I did an engineering/art independent study in undergrad with him as well”, said Alexa. “Mike reached out to me regarding his article and asked if I would create a cartoon to go along with it. Together we brainstormed the idea of the spiders weaving webs.”

The idea for the image is to show that if geotextiles are oriented in the right direction, with the thicker strands taking the most tension, the structure will be sound.

“In the image, you see the spider with its web oriented correctly was able to catch the flies, while the spider with the incorrect web is sad because his web is broken, and the fly has escaped!”

See more of Alexa’s artwork in future issues of GEOSTRATA and to learn more about the Geo-Institute.

Making Progress: Dam and Levee Upgrades to Improve America’s Infrastructure

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently released their Infrastructure Report Card and the overall grade for 17 key aspects of our nation’s infrastructure is a C-. ASCE releases this report card every four years, which provides a broad view of the state of our infrastructure and recommendations for its improvement. The hard work of many civil engineers is beginning to pay off as the overall grade from the 2017 report card was a D+. The full report card is below:

  • Aviation: D+
  • Bridges: C
  • Dams: D
  • Drinking Water: C-
  • Energy: C-
  • Hazardous Waste: D+
  • Inland Waterways: D+
  • Levees: D
  • Ports: B-
  • Public Parks: D+
  • Rail: B
  • Roads: D
  • Schools: D+
  • Solid Waste: C+
  • Stormwater: D
  • Transit: D-
  • Wastewater: D+

Schnabel Engineering works in virtually all the key infrastructure areas where the firm is not only busy on many new projects, but also contributing to projects that are maintaining and upgrading our existing infrastructure.

“We’re making progress,” said Del Shannon, a Principal at Schnabel and member of ASCE’s Committee for America’s Infrastructure and lead of the dams and levees sections of the 2021 report card. “We’ve seen some struggles in the past four years with the failure of the Oroville Dam service spillway and near failure of its emergency spillway in 2017, the failure of dozens of levees along the Missouri River in 2019, and the failure of the Edenville and Sanford Dams in Michigan in 2020. But we’re also making progress. Schnabel is working on upgrading dozens of dams throughout the US, which helps these structures continue to provide safe and reliable sources of water for their users.”

There is also optimism that spending on infrastructure will become a priority for the federal government. An infrastructure bill is being drafted in Washington DC by lawmakers and should be rolled out in the coming months. According to ASCE, this bill is much anticipated and needed as the investment required to increase the infrastructure grade from a C- to a B is over $2.5 trillion.

Schnabel is proud to help keep our infrastructure going; infrastructure that all of us rely on every day.

Article Contributor, Del Shannon

Rio Grande Phase 2 Rehabilitation Project wins H2O Project Award

The Rio Grande Phase 2 Rehabilitation Project recently won a Colorado Contractors Association H2O Project Award for Dams/Reservoirs.

The H2O awards recognizes excellence in the field of construction project management for water related projects, with categories including:

  • Plant / Pump Stations (Raw Water / Drinking Water)
  • Plant / Pump Stations (Wastewater)
  • Pipe – Open Trench (Raw Water / Drinking Water)
  • Pipe – Open Trench (Wastewater / Stormwater)
  • Pipe – Trenchless / Rehab / Slip-lining
  • Pipe – Subdivision / Private Development Wet Utilities
  • Water Tank
  • Dam / Reservoir
  • Waterway / Wetland Restoration / Preservation
  • Urban Drainage / Flood Mitigation

The Dams/Reservoir category was split into a small (projects under $6 million) and large (projects over $6 million) project categories, which the Rio Grande Phase 2 Rehabilitation won the large project category.

The Rio Grande Phase 2 Rehabilitation Project sits at 9500 feet in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. Schnabel’s Longmont, CO and Boise, ID offices worked as a team with the San Luis Valley Irrigation District to complete this $30 million repair which included a new intake structure, tunnel rehabilitation and valve house able to convey up to 2500 cfs through three fixed cone valves.

The team worked closely with the Colorado State Engineer’s Office Division of Dam Safety to upgrade the 108-year-old structure with its 57,000-acre foot reservoir impounding the upper Rio Grande. The contractor, Moltz Civil, completed the project on time and within budget even though most of the work had to be constructed during winter months when the river could be physically shut off. The work was completed despite one of the snowiest winters in a quarter century followed by a global pandemic.

Congratulations to everyone who worked on this project and their exemplary teamwork that will go on to serve the water users of the Rio Grande for the next century.

Learn more about the H2O Project Awards.

Schnabel Celebrates National Engineers Week

This year’s theme for Engineers Week is “Imagining Tomorrow, “as we imagine tomorrow, engineers will be at the heart of the solutions to combat climate change, develop vaccines, and make the world a better place for all of us.”

At Schnabel, our engineers use innovative solutions to provide clients the best experience and help improve lives. We caught up with a few of our engineers to hear how they “Engineer4Tomorrow”, and what it is like to be an engineer at Schnabel.

“When you listen to the ‘rocks’, they will you tell you a story”, says Senior Associate, Dr. Wen Lee. With over 35 years of experience and a doctorate in Geological Engineering, Dr. Lee has extensive experience in the design of underground structures including rail tunnels, highway tunnels, and water and wastewater tunnels. His primary expertise is in the area of geology mapping, rock mass classification, rock mechanics and ground support of all types of tunnels. In the first picture from the left, he was performing field mapping for a structural geology evaluation project. When asked what he enjoys most about his extensive career and working at Schnabel he stated, “I enjoy working with talented people, working in a collaborative environment with variety of projects, having flexibility, and being in positive workplace culture.”

Senior Staff Engineer, Andrew Nezelek was inspired to be an engineer through observing the extraordinary things that great teams of engineers have been able to accomplish and wanting to partake in the action. Prior to his role Andrew was an intern with Schnabel while pursuing his degree in civil engineering. In the second photo from the left, Andrew was observing the pile driving at a bridge project at the Virginia/Maryland border and observing 66-inch concrete cylinder test pile installation. When asked what he enjoys most about being an engineer he said, “I enjoy the opportunity to work on unique projects with challenging geotechnical aspects.” When it comes to providing advice to the next generation about pursuing a career in engineering, Andrew believes passion will help future engineers succeed. “My advice for the next generation of engineers would be to take a broad view of the present and the future world problems and ask yourself, “What do I care about and how could I use engineering to help?”. Engineering backed by passion for a better world is what the world needs out of the next generation of engineers.”

For Associate Kortney Brown, the inspiration to become an engineer started at a young age. “I grew up playing in creeks with a strong fascination for how things worked; consequently, I took a lot of things apart and put some of them back together”, said Kortney, “I am still following my dreams with these innate drivers, only, on a more professional scale.” In the third photo from the left, Kortney is taking survey monument measurements on the downstream slope of a high hazard dam during an annual inspection. “Our inspection teams frequently leverage gps enabled survey and photography equipment to generate single and cloud arranged points for geometric comparisons between visits.” When asked what he enjoys most about being an engineer, he stated, “I like the freedom and variety in design, management, and marketing responsibilities a career at Schnabel offers. It is very fulfilling to work alongside my colleagues and clients to solve complex infrastructure challenges using innovative visualization and analysis tools.” As he continues to inspire the next generation of leaders through his work and initiatives, he leaves this piece of advice for the engineers of tomorrow, “There will be no grades, spring breaks, or graduation ceremonies in your career and milestones are fewer and farther between. As such, satisfaction must be found through less measurable factors including learning, problem solving, collaboration, and educating.”

Senior Associate, Rob Indri is a dam engineering specialist with expertise in the analysis, design, inspection, and construction of hydraulic structures. Prior to becoming an engineer, Rob worked in the heavy construction industry for 10 years, making his experience and methods invaluable to Schnabel’s engineering work. In the last photo, Rob is characterizing the rock and rock fractures in the area, using SPRAT training in the difficult-to-access areas. The data collected was used to generate a 3D model and will be used in rehab design for grouting, anchors, etc.