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Justin Marshall

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering
College of Engineering

Justin Marshall is an Auburn civil engineering faculty member who teaches courses on structural engineering and focuses his research on earthquake engineering and relief efforts. He has traveled to Haiti and New Zealand to study damaged and collapsed structures after 7.0 and 6.3 magnitude quakes shook those countries and stunned the world.

1. How, and why, did you get involved after the earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand?

My primary research interest is earthquake engineering – the study of how infrastructure should be designed in order to be resistant to seismic events – and the majority of my doctoral research involved this topic as well. As an engineer, it is important to me to not sit behind a desk when natural disasters strike. I believe we have a responsibility to help, and the reward is the chance for real world experience. The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) investigates the aftermath of every major earthquake to study infrastructure response on a first-hand basis. I signed up and was first selected to go to Haiti, because I speak French, am a military veteran and I had the desire to go meet the challenges. Then I was selected to go to Christchurch, New Zealand, following its 6.3 magnitude earthquake. I have submitted a proposal to go back to New Zealand for further detailed research.

2. Has traveling overseas to work in devastated earthquake zones affected how you teach civil engineering?

I will typically do a presentation for civil engineering students after I get back from EERI trips, and I try to integrate what I learn and see into my structures classes. Both times I traveled to an earthquake site, I was teaching a graduate earthquake engineering class. I used an example of a damaged building in New Zealand as a test question, and had my students watch a briefing of the New Zealand trip that was posted online by some of my EERI colleagues. I wanted them to watch it so they could learn from experienced and well-traveled educators in addition to their classroom experience.

3. Which trip taught you the most in your personal research of earthquakes?

In New Zealand, the disaster scenario there is more applicable to the United States. The country has similar building codes to the states and uses the same, or similar, building materials. Most buildings in Christchurch that suffered significant damage were older, what we call unreinforced masonry buildings, that are brick or stone and were built before the 1950s. Those buildings have very little resistance to earthquakes. But there was also a lot of damage to newly constructed buildings, which gives us data to use in updating and modifying U.S. codes and practices. In contrast, Haiti has no building codes and their materials are not of the same quality we have here or in New Zealand.

4. What is your favorite class to teach?

I enjoy all of my classes, but my favorite to teach is probably the earthquake engineering class. It is most closely related to my research and it is what I am most passionate about. It is a graduate-level design class, which makes it more fun to me because there is never only one right response, unlike engineering courses where the answer is right or wrong. I tell students that they have to experience creating – there are choices when creating something, and choices are made based on experience. My students are still gaining experience, so I try to share what I’ve learned with them in class so they can gain further insight.

5. Did you always know you wanted to be a civil engineer?

I actually started out studying chemical engineering at Brigham Young University. I think it was the organic chemistry class that made me rethink what I was doing. A big poster on campus promoting civil engineering sparked my interest. I got my bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering at BYU. After I earned my master's, I was a professional engineer with Delta Engineers in Binghamton, N.Y., from 2000-2004 before going to Virginia Tech to earn my Ph.D. I was also involved in the Marine Corps reserve and Army reserve, and I spent a year in Iraq while earning my doctorate. When I had the chance to teach at Auburn in 2009, I thought it was a really good opportunity. I am glad to be teaching and conducting research here.

Jul. 5, 2011