Dr. Allison Reilly
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Maryland
Allison completed a PhD in infrastructure systems at Cornell University in 2011. After working for a few years in DC and post-doc’ing at Hopkins, she’s now an assistant professor at University of Maryland in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. We caught up with her to talk about her time here at JHU and learn a bit more about her journey to where she is today.
1. What led you to pursue a degree at JHU, specifically within the civil engineering department?
When I applied to college, it was important to me to attend an engineering school that encouraged students to take courses outside the major discipline. I entered college as a civil engineering major, but considered transferring early on. My first advisor at Hopkins, Nick Jones, was really supportive of me exploring other disciplines, but after taking his course in Dynamics, I knew I wanted to stay in the field.
2. What was the most challenging thing you did at JHU?
There were a number of challenging things, but getting through some of the math courses were particularly brutal.
3. What was the most useful class you took during your time at JHU?
It’s a toss-up. The first that comes to mind is C++ in Computer Science. I hated the class at the time and felt like a fish out of water. Chrissie Parker CE ‘05 (neé Turpeluk) took the course with me and I couldn’t have gotten through it without her support. However, the course taught me how to think logically and prepared me with skills needed for graduate school. The second is a graduate course on regulatory economics. It was that course where I realized that I wanted to research infrastructure, just at a scale larger than a single building.
4. If you could go back in time and give your student self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Explore Baltimore earlier. It’s a wonderful city!
5. What was your most memorable moment at JHU?
I have many memorable moments, but there is one that particularly reminds me of my experience in Senior Design. It was crunch time, right before a major deadline. My group and I worked in the lab until the early hours of some morning. I walked home, exhausted, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. We agreed to meet up again at 8AM, well before most classes began. Exhausted and perhaps delirious, I walked to campus and on the upper quad were hundreds of pink flamingos circling an inflatable monkey. I quickly texted my friends saying that there were hundreds of flamingos on campus – this was a time before cellphone camera so I didn’t have photographic evidence. However, by the time they got to campus a 10am, everything had been taken down. I stuck to my story and they got really worried for me, thinking that Senior Design was making me see pink flamingos! I was vindicated a few days later when the cover of the Newsletter showed the scene. Now, the pink flamingos are an annual tradition at Hopkins.
6. How did your time in the civil engineering program prepare you for your current career?
It’s prepared me in a couple of ways. First, engineering at Hopkins is challenging! But, my successes in the program continue to give me confidence to set hard goals and seek out difficult research problems. Second, at the core of the civil engineering program is creative, independent thought. As a researcher, I couldn’t do what I do without that skill.
7. Time to brag. What accomplishments/awards have you earned/received since graduation?
I completed a PhD in infrastructure systems at Cornell University in 2011. After working for a couple of years in DC and post-doc’ing at Hopkins(!), I’m now an assistant professor at University of Maryland in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department.
8. What is one important thing that you think every young professional entering today’s workforce with a civil engineering degree should know?
It’s hard to choose just one, so here are my three. Good writing skills are extremely important. Being able to write a persuasive and concise argument will get you very far. Also, in my opinion, Civil Engineering is undergoing rapid changes. I can’t imagine the field will look the same in 10 or 20 years. Two skills that I believe will help young professionals adapt are strong programming skills and a fundamental understanding of probability and statistics.