Scholar alumnus spurring conversation about sustainability among students

Jeff Rice
November 20, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Joseph Kasprzyk grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where his father worked for several area newspapers covering local issues such as public transportation or water and sewer authorities.

Throughout high school and during his years as a Penn State student, Kasprzyk gravitated toward science and math, and he found himself exploring the issues his father, also named Joseph, had reported on, but from a civil engineering perspective.

“I realized that this desire to help the public was kind of a driver of what I was doing,” he said.

Kasprzyk, who was honored with a Schreyer Honors College Outstanding Scholar Alumni Award at the College’s Fall Awards Ceremony on Nov. 1, is an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he encourages his students to consider the public good with their research. Some of his recent or ongoing research involves water-treatment plant optimization, incorporating sustainable materials into the design of concrete mixtures, and managing reservoirs of the Colorado River basin in conjunction with the Bureau of Reclamation.

“You really need to have a broad education to be able to deal with those kinds of problems,” said Kasprzyk, who graduated with honors in civil engineering from Penn State in 2007 and completed his doctoral degree in civil engineering in 2013. “The different classes I took as an undergrad — economics, philosophy —– gave me what feels like a very holistic type of education.”

When the time came for Kasprzyk to choose the topic for his honors thesis, he wanted to research something relating to public policy. With the help of his honors adviser, then-Penn State civil engineering professor Patrick Reed, that thesis, “Evaluation of an Adaptive Population Sizing Probabilistic Model-Building Genetic Algorithm for Large Groundwater Monitoring Network Design Problems,” led to Kasprzyk co-authoring a study later published in Advances in Water Resources. Reed, now a professor at Cornell University, also advised Kasprzyk on his dissertation, which received an award from the Universities Council on Water Resources in 2014.

Today, Kasprzyk teaches classes on water resource systems and management, and water resource engineering. He encourages his current students to adapt to the rapidly changing technologies in the engineering profession and take on large-scale issues such as climate change, with fresh perspectives.

“I tell my students ‘The regulators are taking information from you, and you might become the regulators,’” he said. “How do you change the conversation? How do you get sustainability and climate change and other kinds of big, thorny questions about growth into the conversation about engineering? We know concepts that can help. But communicating those to the general public is a tough challenge.”

Kasprzyk began to tackle those big questions when he was a Penn State and Schreyer Honors College student, and he believes those experiences shaped the work he is doing today.

“I’m grateful for the award,” he said. “I really appreciate it and that it comes from Penn State, which represents so many things that I believe in, and was such an important part of my life. It shows the value of the things that I learned here actually made a difference.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total more than 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 26 countries. More than 14,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

Last Updated November 22, 2019