When Laura Searles, a junior in civil engineering at Penn State, opened her email inbox and learned that she was recently awarded the 2016 Dexter C. Jameson Jr. National Chi Epsilon Scholarship, she was thrilled.
“I never would have thought that I could compete on a national level,” said Searles. “My adviser and all of the faculty have been so supportive, and I'm so grateful to be in a program where the faculty truly cares about your success.”
Searles is currently enrolled in an integrated undergraduate and graduate program. By 2017, she plans to graduate with a dual degree with a bachelor of arts in civil engineering and a master of engineering in environmental engineering.
With a passion for environmental protection, her main research interest is to design natural structures, such as oyster bars and wetland islands, built from dredged material.
Her time at Penn State has taken her on many adventures.
As a world traveller, Searles has stepped foot on many different countries across four continents, including Australia, England, South Africa, Republic of Congo, Norway, Spain and Italy.
On one of her trips, she sailed on the Africa Mercy and became a Royal Diamond Shellback as she crossed the prime meridian where it meets the equator on her voyage from the Republic of Congo to the Canary Islands.
“I developed a love for sailing on my 14-day voyage. If more people could see the oceans as I have, they would better care for them,” Searles said. “My experience overseas has deepened my awareness for the need to protect the health of our oceans and coastal environments.”
Last summer, Searles worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that built Poplar Island, an island built to replace wetlands that were destroyed in the surrounding areas of the Chesapeake Bay.
Hoping to further her education and understanding of environmental issues, she eventually plans to obtain a doctorate in environmental engineering.
She has brought her passion for sustainability back to Penn State campus as well.
After “giving up” plastic for Lent in order to see how much plastic she truly uses on a daily or weekly basis, Searles discovered that our society truly revolves around ease-of-use plastic and waste.
She reminds students to take advantage of the Penn State easy-to-follow recycle system and layout.
“We need to do something to change that mindset in order to heal our environment,” said Searles. “Five extra seconds to throw the bottle in the right bin will truly make a difference.”
Searles is involved with a diverse set of activities at Penn State, where she expresses herself through engineering as well as music and acting. Besides her involvement with Chi Epsilon and the American Society of Civil Engineers as next year’s secretary, she finds balance in life and friendships by singing in the Concert Choir and playing violin in the Philharmonic Orchestra.
“Life's a roller coaster, but I'm so grateful to have my family, friends and God walking beside me,” said Searles.
Chi Epsilon is the only national civil engineering honor society for juniors and seniors enrolled in civil engineering. The Dexter C. Jameson Jr. National Chi Epsilon Scholarship recognizes both students’ outstanding academic work as well as their excellence in significant involvement in extracurricular activities, particularly in Chi Epsilon chapters.
Ten recipients are selected each year and receive a scholarship of $3,500.
Searles said this award will definitely enable her to further her education over the summer. She plans to use her scholarship either for traveling to see a cross-laminated timber building for her research project or to study a stream in her area for an independent study.