Doctoral student gains international experience in resilience engineering

Apr 24, 2024 | Engineering and Science, Students

Katya OpelEngineering doctoral student Anna “Katya” Opel has an impressive resume that includes experience in leadership, large-scale conference planning, and resilience and vulnerability engineering research. Now, thanks to the International Research Experiences for Students Program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, she can add international research to that list.

For Opel, a Mandeville, Louisiana, native passionate about building robust, safer, and more cost-effective infrastructure to withstand hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, the opportunity to study resilience engineering with Dr. Matt Mason in Brisbane, Australia was more than a dream come true.

“I had always wanted to go to Australia, and I planned to travel to other countries to engineer more wind- and flood-resistant infrastructure after graduation. I never thought that I’d have this opportunity while I was still working toward my degree,” Opel said.

In Australia, she collaborated with Mason, director of engagement and senior lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Queensland, and his team. They investigated the development and use of models to simulate the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in Australia to a range of natural hazards. Mirroring the research she has conducted at Louisiana Tech under the guidance of Dr. Elizabeth Matthews, Opel focused on vulnerability to flooding and improving the reliability of essential services, including power grids, water and wastewater systems, and transportation networks.

“Katya was a great addition to our team with her diligent research generating a detailed and in-depth review of existing modelling approaches for a range of infrastructure assets that we can now call upon as a base of understanding for other team members to begin building these models for use throughout Australia,” Mason stated. “Katya’s existing skills in fragility/vulnerability model development for flooding meant she was well equipped to adapt to research on different structures and in a different country/context easily and provide great insight in her analysis of models.”

Opel, who served as president of Louisiana Tech’s American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) during her undergraduate education, chaired the ASCE Student Championship in Ruston as a graduate student and is a member of ASCE, North American Society for Trenchless Technology and American Institute of Steel Construction. She attributes her success both in the fellowship and as a doctoral researcher to the support she has received at Louisiana Tech. They have provided her with the resources and mentorship needed to excel in this competitive opportunity.

“As a student at Louisiana Tech, my professors, especially Dr. Matthews, have given me the support and the room to push myself which has helped me become the engineer that I am. Dr. Matthews has been incredibly supportive of every idea I’ve had, from hosting a national competition to going to the other side of the world for two months and handling the time difference to continue to meet weekly. I truly would not have developed into the outgoing leader I strive to be without her support and guidance.”

Opel’s work in Australia has not only expanded her technical knowledge but also provided her with a broad perspective on global infrastructure challenges, positioning her to make impactful contributions in her field. As she looks to the future, Opel is enthusiastic about leveraging her international experience and ongoing studies to contribute to disaster mitigation projects around the world. She is committed to using the insights gained from her work in Australia to pioneer innovative engineering solutions that not only mitigate but ideally prevent the devastating effects of natural disasters.

“I would love to travel the world,” Opel remarked, “helping out after natural disasters and working on mitigation efforts to prevent the devastation and humanitarian crises that come with hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.”

This story was written by MBA student Daniel Young.