Students Share Real Life Pipeline Design Experience at CI Student Days

August 21, 2014
Student Days featured a technical tour of the Northwest Pipe Company’s Portland, OR, facility. Photo credit: ASCE

As the next generation of civil engineers moves from the classroom to the workplace, many students find themselves confronted with issues not always covered in lectures and textbooks. While many students are taught the basics of concrete, asphalt, and steel construction and how to build the foundation for different types of infrastructure, many have not been introduced to underground pipes and what constitutes good pipe design for a particular project.

At ASCE’s Pipelines Conference, August 3-6 in Portland, Oregon, 30 civil engineering students from universities across the U.S. took part in the Student Days event of ASCE’s Construction Institute (ASCE-CI); this year the event centered on a 3-day “real life” workshop project to design a raw water conveyance pipeline for the fictitious Hometown Water District, Oregon (HWD). Broken into 5 teams, the students were specifically tasked with designing 10 miles of raw water pipeline connecting the Hometown Lake water supply to a large receiving basin located on the HWD Water Treatment Plant (WTP) site. The team that came up with the best design was given the design contract for the project along with a certificate.

“The purpose of Student Days,” explained ASCE-CI Director Paul Sgambati, P.E., M.ASCE, “was to expose the students to a very challenging project where they had to work in teams and on a short deadline with teammates whom they had not met before. They had several constrains that they had to conform to, and they had to wrap it up into a fairly neat and concise package that included a 15-to 20 minute presentation to a panel of judges, which is all very much like real life.”


30 students from universities across the U.S. attended the ASCE-Construction Institute’s Student Days, which took place at ASCE’s Pipelines Conference, August 3-6 in Portland, Oregon. Photo credit: ASCE

The scope of design included properly sizing the pressure and gravity pipelines for the full range of flow, selecting the proper material for each segment, selecting the proper pressure class and thickness for both segments, providing a hydraulic analyses with hydraulic grade lines (HGL) through the range of flow, and identifying the permit and regulatory requirements for the alignment. In addition, because of a threatened ecosystem consisting of a very rare fauna and flora symbiosis that was located in the area, environmental concerns needed to be considered in the final design.

The winning student project design was based on performance and reliability, constructability, delivery, cost and economics, and environmental sustainability,

“The way this year’s Student Days was organized, each of the teams were asked to perform engineering consulting work to an owner [HWD] that included the conceptual design of a raw water transmission pipeline and its components, and to identify the design complexities and hurdles that they may see along the way,” noted David McPherson, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, who co-chaired the Student Days program along with Ian McFatridge, director of Business Development for LifeLast Inc.  “So what we did was create a small town in Oregon that had a need for a new raw water pipeline.  The water needed to be delivered from a river, up a fairly steep hill to a basin. This segment required a pressure pipeline design which required certain material and design considerations. We then had the students deliver the water from that basin to a water treatment plant. This segment of pipeline, depending on the flow rate, flowed within the pipe as both open channel and pressurized flow. This required another series of design considerations for  this gravity section.

“We purposely separated the two systems so that the entire pipeline industry would be represented and exposed to the students; to both pressurized and gravity design consideration,” McPherson said.

Finding Facts in Salesmanship


One of the highlights of Student Days was speed networking session. Photo credit: ASCE

One of the unique features of the Student Days workshop was that the students were given a 15-minute session with various pipeline manufactures, who presented their product, followed by 15 minutes of questions and answers.

“Evidently the students were very well prepared for the project and came up with insightful, mature questions for the presenters,” recalled McPherson, who is principal of the Dallas, Texas-based, Conveyance Systems Group at Alan Plummer Associates, Inc. “The students asked some very practical questions about the timing of installation for different joint types, the corrosion control requirements for different types of pipe, the flexibility of the different loading conditions; very interesting and subtle questions that I wouldn’t assume a student in their senior year would be equipped to ask unless they had spent some time and effort to research the project.”

The students also got to witness the back-and-forth bantering between the manufacturers about which was the superior or better pipe product for their project.

“As an engineer, this is what you will have to deal with in the industry,” stressed McPherson, who was also technical co-chair of the Pipelines Conference. “You have to separate the salesmanship and the propaganda from the facts. As an engineering consultant, sometimes you have to separate the truth from the fiction as you specify the best product for the client.”

Annika Sullivan, S.M.ASCE, a senior attending Oregon State University and captain of the winning Student Days team agreed.


Annika Sullivan, a senior attending Oregon State University and captain of the winning Student Days, presents their design to the judges. Photo credit: ASCE

“To me, it was fascinating to be able to ask questions of different types of professionals in the pipeline industry—consultants, contractors, and manufacturers. This gave really valuable insight into the design aspect of the project,” said Sullivan, who is also a project manager intern at Clean Water Services in Hillsboro, OR. “It’s hard because each manufacturer pitches his own pipe material. It is interesting to hear the response to questions from each type of professional. You can ask the consultant what type of pipe would be best for the design constraints. You can ask the contractor how much it costs to install different types of pipes with different types of techniques. And you can ask the manufacture how sustainable the product is compared to other products on the market.”

Other members of the winning team were Amyriz Garcia from the University of Texas at Austin, Abdolreza Nasouri from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Narong Phal from the University of South Carolina, Sepehr Rezaeimalek from the University of Texas at San Antonio , and Ethan Washam from the University of South Carolina.

On why their team won, Sullivan reasoned, “I know some of the other teams used much more expensive materials, but our team stuck with steel and concrete pipe. You have to keep the client’s interests in mind and our client was a rural water utility. We presented what we thought was the most economical and sustainable product considering the design constraints, but we also presented other alternatives.

“Also our team worked really well together and everyone stayed positive even when people felt overwhelmed. As captain, I was able to delegate tasks evenly and efficiently,” Sullivan said. “I believe everyone on the team recognized that they played a valuable role in the design and presentation of the project. For us it worked out well that there were no clashing personalities or interests.”

Many Applicants, Not So Many Openings

Aside from the workshop, Student Days also had a technical tour of the Northwest Pipe Company facility in Portland and a speed networking session where students got a chance to talk about job opportunities and careers in pipelines with prospective employers as well as discuss the pipelines industry.

I thought the highlight for Student Days for me was the speed networking session. The organizers of Student Days invited consultants, contractors, and manufactureres to talk with students about their projects,” says Sullivan. “I was able to gain information from a variety of different perspectives. We also toured the Northwest Pipe Company. This was especially exciting for my team because we chose steel pipe for our pressurized system. In addition, we also got to hear about the different types of coatings and linings that NW Pipe Company uses. One of the project constraints was hot soils that corrode pipes.”

Unlike other student engineering projects sponsored by ASCE, Student Days was developed to mirror how civil engineering teams work in real life. Out of 74 applications, CI organizers chose 30 students to participate. Of those 5 were chosen to be team captains based on leadership experience through either their internships or as ASCE Student Chapter officers. The team captains then selected their individual team members based on reading submitted bios, resumes, and application letters and then interviewing the prospective applicants.

 Exposure to ASCE


Student Days exposed the participants to a real professional conference. Photo credit: ASCE

Another big part of Student Days is exposing students to the full breadth of ASCE as an organization and showing them ways they can participate.

“Student Days exposed the participants to a real professional conference, which happened to be the Pipelines Conference of ASCE,” said Sgambati. “It also exposed them to the greater world of ASCE beyond their own Student Chapter and the many disciplines that ASCE represents, including pipelines and construction, and how all of these represent possible career avenues to pursue.”

“They now understand that there are land acquisition issues, there are permitting issues, and they now understand the level of complexity in the design of buried infrastructure,” added McPherson. “I think they also understand that there are real job opportunities in pipelines out there.”

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