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Savannah Washlesky Named One of ASCE’s New Faces in Civil Engineering

Each year the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) spotlights ten students as the New Faces in Civil Engineering. This year that honor included Notre Dame senior Savannah Washlesky, who dreams of one day building bridges with an eye towards disaster resilience.

In high school Washlesky decided she wanted to study engineering so that she could help communities in need. That dream materialized after traveling to Honduras on a mission trip lit a fire underneath her and widened her perspective of the world.

“I’m a fairly technical person and I enjoy math and science, but if I pursued engineering solely for technical reasons I would get bored quickly. The effect it has on people is my true motivation -- to work to make our infrastructure safer and more efficient.”


Working on this home, destroyed by flooding, prompted Washlesky's interest in resiliency in the face of natural disasters.
Working on this home, destroyed by flooding, prompted Washlesky's interest in resiliency in the face of natural disasters.

Washlesky’s main interests are bridges and building for resilience from natural disasters. She developed both of these passions through involvement in organizations during her time at Notre Dame. Through the Center for Social Concerns, Washlesky has travelled to Appalachia three times for spring break. On one of these occasions, her team repaired a home, which was lifted straight off of its foundations through a flooding event. Seeing this left a strong impression on Washlesky and inspired her to work on resiliency after graduation.

“Natural disasters can happen anywhere to anyone. It is something that can completely level the playing field -- you’re like, ‘Wow this could have happened to me.’”

Washlesky became interested in bridges through working with ND-SEED, a Notre Dame club that builds foot bridges in the developing world to empower communities. Washlesky explained, “It aligned very well with my goals of engineering -- to work with people and have an impact on people.”

She applied to be a part of ND-SEED her freshmen year, but did not make it. Instead of being discouraged, she worked hard, so that she would be a better applicant the next time. She helped build a bridge for ASCE’s steel bridge competition and joined Engineering to Empower. Junior year she applied to ND-SEED again and this time she made it. Since then she has thrown herself into her work with ND-SEED.

Washlesky and her steel bridge team pose with their creation.
Washlesky and her steel bridge team pose with their creation.

She laughed that she spends only about half her work time on classes, the rest is devoted to the various organizations that she is a part of. It has made for a busy, but meaningful four years.

This year she is project manager for ND-SEED and will travel to Nicaragua to build a bridge with her team. In addition she’s worked with graduate student Maria Gibbs on foot bridge design. She used MATLAB to model how bridges move in the wind, in order to build safer bridges in the future.
After graduation, Washlesky is heading to graduate school to get a master’s in structural engineering in order to deepen her knowledge of bridge design.

Washlesky’s advice for younger engineering students is to get involved in order to explore their different interests, “You’re never going to know where you are going to be in five or ten years or even next year, but I think if you keep pursuing what you are passionate about, it will probably push you in the right direction even if you don’t know where you will end up.”

Washlesky has big dreams for her future and according to ASCE, her path is one to watch because she very well might be defining the future of civil engineering.