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Focusing on Sustainable Civil Infrastructure

Dr. Kerop Janoyan

AGBU feels like being part of a big family, and that’s really validating when people take care of you, and they recognize you as a part of it. It’s an investment.

Dr. Kerop Janoyan is Dean of the Graduate School and Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Clarkson University, where he oversees all professional and research-based graduate programs. 

Born in Baghdad, Iraq to Daniel and Anahid Janoyan, Kerop received his elementary education in Iraq (at the Armenian Sisters Catholic School in Baghdad), in the United Kingdom (while his father was pursuing his graduate degree at the University of York), as well as in Cyprus (at the Nareg Armenian School while his father taught at Melkonian Educational Institute) and in Italy (as the family awaited to immigrate to the United States). After his family’s arrival to the United States in 1983, he received his secondary education in Glendale, California before entering UCLA, majoring in Civil Engineering in 1989. He received his B.S., M.S., Engineer, and Ph.D. degrees in Civil Engineering in 1993, 1995, 1999 and 2001, respectively. He is a Registered Professional Engineer (PE) in California. Dr. Janoyan currently lives in Potsdam, New York, with his wife Maia and children Bedros (a sophomore at Cornell University) and Sophia (a senior in high school).

His research focuses on aspects of intelligent civil infrastructure and energy systems, and he is the co-Director of the Center for the Evaluation of Clean Energy Technology (CECET) Blade Testing Facility and the Director of the Laboratory for Intelligent Infrastructure and Transportation Technologies. 

In our interview, he discusses the intersections between civil engineering, public safety, and social disciplines like policy and psychology, and the significance of being a member of the Armenian diaspora.

Can you tell me a little about your research interests?

The research I’ve done at UCLA is large-scale testing, sustainable civil infrastructure for the most part. I really did focus on bridges. When do you need to replace it? When do you need to replace certain elements of it? When does it need to be inspected in greater detail? Part of that is coming up with sensors and monitoring tools. Most of my research also has environmental and sustainability undercurrents.

In 2007, when the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, my work was featured in the New York Times as a means of monitoring bridges for structural health and integrity. That kind of catapulted my work on to the national stage.  We’re a small school in northern New York that was featured in the New York Times after a national-level catastrophe took place -- that was a big moment of acknowledgement.

With your focus on sustainability and renewability, do you work a lot with policy?

I think what all research needs is to start working at the intersection of other programs. At the intersection are big picture needs – a lot of the time you need someone that knows policy, we need an economist, a social scientist, an engineer. You need a team that’s very well-rounded.

For example, with civil infrastructure, usually you’re talking about public ownership and how to actually impact change and how to get things through. If you have a monitoring system on a bridge and you’re trying to understand if it’s deteriorating or not, most of the time it’s a matter of process and political will to make the major investments that are necessary.

There’s roughly 600,000 bridges in the U.S., and the mandate is usually that they be inspected every two years, in some places it’s every year. But there really aren’t any national level mandates for continuous monitoring of bridges. Structural health monitoring of civil infrastructure such as bridges is among the few things that are not monitored continuously – you get constant feedback on how your car is performing but not the bridge you’re driving over.

If you’re looking at the way that policy handles the safety of certain infrastructures, does that also intersect with urban planning?

It does. One of the things that’s grown is smart cities. I’ve been working on smart housing which is an integral part of smart cities. We’re trying to understand why some people don’t see how much energy they’re using. We looked at student housing in particular. One of the things we were looking at is how if you’re taking twenty-minute showers and you realize your neighbor is taking eight-minute showers, then that affects your behavior.

In that case we also teamed up with a big group of faculty and students, from civil and environmental engineers to psychologists and social scientists. We know the technology side of it, we know the building side of it – but the value is in integrating all sides. The hypothesis is that students (in our case) had different motivations. We gave them different interventions based on what we thought they were more likely to respond to – some students were pro-environmental, some students were pro-economic. And based on what their leanings were, we could target them to save more and consume less.

How did you first get into this type of research?

That was one of the things I did for research at UCLA. I realized I wanted to focus on large-scale things. My research there was funded by Caltrans, and I was working on laterally-loaded bridge piles. We did a test for a full-scale column and pile, similar to what supports many bridges and highway overpasses. Part of my research was building it and then testing it under simulated loads (like an earthquake) to measure the response from it and the surrounding soil. It was an interesting thing to build something that large. That was the beginning of it.

What’s the most important part for you of being part of the AGBU?

AGBU?  That’s my dad. We’ve always had an AGBU around. I also got a scholarship for every year of my undergraduate education. It’s one of those places where it really feels like being part of a bigger family, and that’s really validating when people take care of you, and they recognize you as a part of it. It’s an investment.

And the diaspora and all the things AGBU does across the globe – it’s that feeling of just being able to say that we’re a part of it, and I’m sure I can knock on anybody’s door and somebody will know someone, and they’ll invite me in. That’s a very grounding thing. 

There isn’t much of an Armenian population where we currently live in Potsdam, NY, however we’re near the Canadian border and within driving distance to both Montreal and Ottawa. Montréal has the largest Armenian population near us. But when we first moved here, we found within months of arrival we were looking for Armenian connections with Ottawa. There was a Sunday school, and they were doing language classes – so we’d go across the border to Ottawa every Sunday, even though it was about an hour and a half away. That was one of our favorite places to go.

What advice do you have for other Armenians who are interested in following a similar career path to yours?

Armenian connections go very deep in time and history. I’m not sure exactly what path I’m on now, whether it’s more the administrative path or more of the research path. If you’re looking at the higher education landscape, Armenians have had some really amazing models to look up to. Among them are Dr. Vartan Gregorian and Dr. Mary Papazian.   Dr. Gregorian was provost of the University of Pennsylvania, and then became President of Brown University, and now is President of the Carnegie corporation. And Dr. Papazian was President at Southern Connecticut State University and is currently President of San Jose State University.  Both have been inspirational. Armenian connections go very deep in time and history… It’s a pretty distinct group of people we’re in the company of – so just look up to them… Set your goals high and see where things go…


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August 06, 2019