Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Professional Society to Honor UM Civil Engineering Chair

By Lou Tyson

UM Communications

The American Society of Civil Engineers is honoring Cris Surbeck, chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of Mississippi, with the 2023 Margaret S. Petersen Award in recognition of her exemplary service and achievement. Submitted photo

Cris Surbeck, chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of Mississippi, has been selected as the 2023 Margaret S. Petersen Award recipient by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The award, which goes to a woman who has demonstrated exemplary service to the water resources and environmental science and engineering community, is particularly meaningful to Surbeck.

“I had only a few female role models when I was a student,” said Surbeck, who also received the ASCE’s 2022-23 Region 5 Civil Engineer of the Year Award. “I want to make sure that women and other underrepresented groups are equipped to join the world of engineering and help solve today’s big challenges.”

Academic peers Ashlynn Stillwell, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois, and Gretchen Miller, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering at Texas A&M, nominated her, submitting examples of Surbeck’s mentorship and promotion of professional practice and sustainability in environmental engineering.

As part of this recognition, Surbeck will deliver the Margaret S. Petersen Lecture at the 2023 World Environmental and Water Resources Congress meeting in Henderson, Nevada, on May 22.

Surbeck is keen to get more women involved in engineering by providing guidance to students in her department as well as young professionals in the field.

Stillwell and Miller underscored her dedication to the challenge and wrote in their nomination that “Cris exhibits resilience and tenacity in recognizing diversity challenges in engineering and working to mentor individuals both within the University of Mississippi and in the broader environmental engineering community.”

Surbeck also regularly engages in real-life environmental engineering challenges.

Most recently, she provided her expertise on the Jackson water crisis to media outlets ranging from Vice News and the Voice of America to Tupelo’s WTVA-TV and the Clarion Ledger.

Jeff Kuo, her co-author on the book “Site Assessment and Remediation for Environmental Engineers,” explained why she is the go-to person.

“Her knowledge of sustainability and environmental justice added a societal context to the technical aspects of our book – and these are the skills that make her approachable to media outlets,” Kuo said.

Surbeck began her career in engineering consulting but made the transition to academia almost 20 years ago. In this role, she gets to combine her engineering practice and analytical skills to help students connect with course content.

“Pushing students to achieve a variety of skills, along with treating them with friendliness and respect, has been effective in developing lasting relationships,” she said.

One of these lasting relationships is 2014 civil engineering graduate Diana Kougias.

“Cris’ work ethic, grit, passion for the field of water resources, endless optimism and witty sense of humor make her a wonderful role model,” Kougias said. “She gave me the encouragement and confidence I needed to succeed and get where I am today.”

Surbeck also serves as acting chair of the chemical engineering department and has served as the associate dean for academics at the School of Engineering. In 2021, she was named the Engineer of the Year of the Mississippi Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.