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Clarkson University Civil Engineering Students Host Public Meeting for Maple City Trail Expansion in Ogdensburg

Clarkson University students in the civil engineering senior design course are learning by doing.

Connor KilmerConnor Kilmer '17, of Auburn, N.Y., and several of his classmates worked with Assistant Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering Ian Knack and Construction Engineering Management Director Erik Backus to facilitate an open input public session last month at the Dobisky Visitors' Center in Ogdensburg, N.Y.

The meeting focused on the extension of the Maple City Trail over the Oswegatchie River utilizing the abandoned Black Bridge Railroad Trestle. The approximately $2 million project is still in planning stages by the city, but it received notification of award on an Empire State Development grant of $250,000 in December to support this effort, according to City of Ogdensburg Director of Planning and Development Andrea Smith.

"I believe having students engaged in real-world projects greatly enhances the learning experience for soon-to-be practicing intern engineers," said Backus, who reached out to Smith in the fall to propose the senior design course project. "The idea we agreed upon was for the students to develop a concept design for the trail and rail bridge reuse in order to jumpstart the design process for the eventual real project."

The civil engineering senior design course at Clarkson simulates a full design cycle, bringing together all of the skills and learning throughout the students' previous curriculum. The idea of hosting a public meeting to gain input from the public at large was a unique addition, one requested by the students themselves.

"Connor came into my office and asked if it were possible to host a public meeting to get the input of the community as part of their design. I immediately dialed Andrea, and she was all for it," Backus said.

Kilmer was a student in Backus' course on sustainable infrastructure and building the previous semester and has become passionate about how to implement sustainable practices.

"I really wanted the opportunity to teach, not only students but also the public, more about sustainability, and, in particular, the Envision rating system by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure," said Kilmer, explaining that community outreach is a key component of Envision. "The community members are the people that are going to have to live with the final product. So to get as much input as possible as to what they want is a huge part of sustainability. As future engineers, my classmates and I want to make sure that what we are designing is what the community will enjoy for generations to come."

Kilmer took a particular lead along with several other members of the senior design class. He developed an agenda, organized and staffed the event, developed a presentation, and co-facilitated the live session with Backus. Members of the public attended, including Smith, Ogdensburg City Councillor Jennifer Stevenson and Ogdensburg City Recreation Director Matthew Curatolo.

The students asked questions and engaged the public in conversation, often throwing out ideas that had not been contemplated about the trail project before, in order to gauge the public’s thoughts.

"The meeting was a welcome change for me from the usual public meeting," Smith said in an email to Backus. "The discussion was pretty good, and I hope your students found it useful. They really did an excellent job engaging with the public and encouraging discussion."

The students continue to work on this project with a deliverable to the city at the end of April. Smith will be a part of the final presentations for the six different design teams that are working on developing as many distinct design approaches to this trail extension.  

"We retrieved valuable information from this meeting that would have otherwise been a shot in the dark," Kilmer said. "We are planning to strongly incorporate what the community is looking for in the project for our Ogdensburg’s Maple City Trail extension design. Preparing the community outreach meeting and presenting to the community members of Ogdensburg about sustainability was one of the best experiences I have partaken in while here at Clarkson. This was a great experience for me personally as well as great practice since sustainable construction is the field I would ultimately like to be in."

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, New York, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Connor Kilmer '17, of Auburn, N.Y., and several of his classmates in the civil engineering senior design course facilitated an open input public session last month at the Dobisky Visitors' Center in Ogdensburg, N.Y. The meeting focused on the extension of the Maple City Trail over the Oswegatchie River utilizing the abandoned Black Bridge Railroad Trestle.

[Photograph for media use is available at ]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Kelly Chezum, VP for External Relations, at 315-268-4483 or]

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