SE Solutions was pleased to recently present scholarships to three Purdue University Structures students to help defray the cost of their education. Yen-Chen Chiang, Farida Mahmud, and Sokheang Thea were the recipients of the awards. This is the seventh year that SE Solutions has offered the scholarships.

Purdue University Students and Scholarship Winners (from left to right) Farida Mahmud, Yen-Chen Chiang, SE Solutions, LLC President, Brian Quinn, Sokheang Thea

Yen-Chen Chiang received his Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University in 2016, and he anticipates completing his MSCE degree at Purdue University in May 2019. Yen-Chen’s research focuses on finite element analysis of API 650 petroleum tanks, and investigates the stability of such tanks under wind loading. Yen-Chen is interested in facing challenges, and hopes to participate in innovative projects. He is hoping to start his career right after receiving his Master’s degree in a company that has the potential to bring the next most gorgeous structure to the world.

Farida Mahmud is from Lagos, Nigeria. She received her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from University of Arkansas in 2017, and intends to complete her MSCE at Purdue in May 2019. Currently, she is working on research related to the seismic vulnerability assessment of state bridges in Indiana. As a child, Farida was deeply fascinated by bridges and how they worked. This fascination led her to pursue a degree in civil engineering, and eventually structural engineering. Upon graduation from Purdue, Farida would like to find a job in a structural engineering firm here in the United States where she can have the opportunity to work on innovative and challenging projects.

Sokheang Thea is from Cambodia. In 2014, he received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Universiti Teknologi Petronas under the sponsorship of Petronas, Malaysia. Upon graduation, he worked in Malaysia for over 3.5 years in a pioneering structural consultant firm. He is a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship in 2017 to continue his MS degree in civil engineering at Purdue University, and hopes to finish in May 2019. His interest is on the dynamic response of structures, especially tall buildings. Sokheang completed high school in 2008. During that time there were few opportunities for Cambodian students to pursue their interests in science and engineering, since Cambodia was not that developed. He, nevertheless, chose civil engineering as his major and has loved it ever since. Upon graduation from Purdue, Sokheang hopes to join a creative group of similar-minded engineers or firm to provide innovative/efficient solutions to structural problems both in and outside the USA.

SE Solutions would like to congratulate each recipient and wish them future success in their fields of study as structural engineers.


How often do you consider your ethical obligations as a structural engineer? What does it even mean to be an ethical engineer? Some might think merely abiding by the laws that apply to everyone else within your jurisdiction is considered ethical, but professional engineers have a duty beyond simply following those laws.

In the April 2018 SE University session, Matthew R. Rechtien, PE, Esq., Senior Assistant City Engineer for the City of Ann Arbor, gave a talk on Engineering Law and Ethics Case Studies. Matt’s presentation helped delineate mandatory versus voluntary rules, and how these guidelines help bolster the status of the engineering profession. As the profession is regulated in all 50 states, engineers have responsibilities and privileges, and are required to uphold certain ethical rules or face possible discipline by the governing and other authorities.

Since laws vary by state, Matt focused mainly on the fundamental principles and canons set forth by ASCE, which he believes are the gold standard and reasonably representative of state laws regulating the profession. Matt also reviewed several case studies with some surprising results based on various ethical dilemmas. These case studies can sometimes initiate thoughtful consideration and create awareness on how to avoid unethical business practices within the profession. You can access additional case studies by visiting and you can click here to print your own copy of ASCE’s principles and canons. Also, ASCE offers an Ethics Hotline where engineers can get further guidance on complex issues that may arise by calling 1-800-548-2723 x6151.

Often times, structural engineers may zero in on their responsibility to “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare” of the public by providing sound engineering judgment, however, their ethical obligation runs much deeper. Being aware of the full extent of your responsibilities and privileges as an esteemed member of this profession can minimize future risk and help promote the status of the profession as a whole.

On August 22, 1018, Martha Van Geem, PE, Independent Consultant, presented Challenges of Proposed Requirements in ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1 as a supplemental session for SE University.  Martha reviewed the proposed requirements being considered by ASHRAE in Addendum av and areas of the country which could be affected by the changes. ASHRAE is seeking input on these proposed changes from practicing engineers, architects, and contractors to substantiate if these requirements are technically sound, practical, and cost effective.

Although structural engineers are not typically the lead designer of the thermal requirements for buildings, the implications of these proposed changes would significantly impact the design community as a whole within many climate zones throughout the United States.  Also, the 26 page document is rather complicated and is not constructed in a typical “Code” fashion, but rather requires idyllic, impossible building guidelines followed by a number of exceptions.

In order to ensure these proposed changes are well considered by the design community, ASHRAE is holding a public review until September 17, 2018.  Public comments are welcome on the addendum as a whole, specific sections or specific wording.  Click here to read Addendum av in its entirety.  You can review the instructions for commenting on the Addendum av by clicking here.  In order to provide feedback, you will need to create a login on ASHRAE’s website, and click on the Comments next to BSR/ASHRAE/IES Addendum av to ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2016, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings (First Public Review Draft).  You do not need to be a member of ASHRAE to participate in the public review, and creating a login is free of charge.

As licensed structural engineers, we are often times called upon to serve the public by providing our expertise in order to weigh the importance of safety, constructability, and sustainability of construction means and methods within our industry.  Participating in the process may prevent others from dictating the future terms of building construction.

Does your company have a formal mentorship program?  While some larger engineering firms have made efforts to form employee development programs, not all firms have a formal program in place to guide young or even experienced engineers toward needed growth and improvement.  If your company does not offer a mentorship program, make it your goal to seek out your own mentor!

Typically, mentorship programs are most successful when they are driven by the mentee’s desire to self-improve.  Since you are your own best advocate, there is no reason why you can’t acquire your own mentor, even if one is not provided by your company.  This may even work to your advantage, since you will have complete control over who you consider as a possible mentor.

First, consider those within your organization who may be a step ahead of you in the hierarchy of your company.  While it may be tempting to shoot for someone at the top, your mentor should serve as a stepping stone to boost you to the next level of success.  If your company is very small, and there are not many degrees of separation between the top and bottom, you may need to search outside your company.  Often times, professional organizations such as SEI, NCSEA or ASCE offer many opportunities to volunteer for committees where you may meet engineers who could be suitable candidates.

Once you’ve found a potential mentor, simply ask if he/she has the availability to meet with you occasionally to answer questions, gain insight into their daily tasks, and guide you on ways to improve your skills.  Asking another engineer for help, may seem uncomfortable, however, showing an initiative to improve one’s skills is always applauded.  Experienced engineers may not offer unsolicited advice to avoid sounding bossy or self-important, but when asked, their knowledge and past mistakes can be great learning tools for you.

A successful career in engineering takes time and energy to seek out the positive influences and guidance of knowledgeable colleagues who encourage our curiosity.  Without such mentors, success can seem elusive and distant.  Take the initiative, and find your own mentor… it might just launch you into the next phase of your career!

For certain structural projects, special inspections are required by the code to ensure a high quality of construction.  However, which elements require special inspections? How often are the inspections required and who is responsible for ensuring the are completed at the appropriate time during construction.

In the July 2018 SE University session, Dave K. Adams, SE, from BWE, presented Project Quality and Inspection Requirements.  Dave reviewed the building department’s role in project quality standards, identified specifications for durable materials, and covered the requirements for structural observations and special inspections.  Dave addressed many of the pitfalls associated with special inspections and how to ensure these inspections are well understood by all responsible parties prior to construction.

Dave noted the importance of including the Statement of Special Inspections which can be included in the form of notes in the project drawings or as a separate set of forms.  As outlined in Chapter 17 of the IBC,  the statement of special inspections should include the type of work requiring inspections or tests, and whether it is to be periodic or continuous.  Often times, the permitting agency will allow the inclusion of reference table from relevant codes on the drawings to clearly delineate which tasks are required.  Dave included as an example, the following slide which specifies the requirements for special inspection of bolted connections, which can be included on the drawings or at the very least referenced to make clear which tasks are expected.

The contractor should be in communication with the authorized agent to ensure inspections are done at the appropriate stage of construction and documentation should be provided to all involved parties.  Communication is key to be sure expectations are met in accordance with the code.  For further requirements for special inspections, see IBC section 1704 and 1705.

What is the difference between structural observations and special inspections?  At times engineers use these terms interchangeably, but there are specific instances where structural observations are appropriate, or more detailed special inspections may need to be specified.

In July 2018 SE University session, Dave K. Adams, SE, from BWE, presented Project Quality and Inspection Requirements.  Dave reviewed the building department’s role in project quality standards, identified specifications for durable materials, and covered the requirements for structural observations and special inspections.  He specifically addressed the difference between the two terms in a follow up question at the end of the session.  Watch this short video to hear Dave’s explanation.

Structural observations and special inspections are required by the code and can be found in IBC 2015 Sections 1704.6 and 1704.2, respectively, and depend on the building’s design category, the risk category and design wind speed.  Observations or inspections should be delineated clearly before construction to include the requirements, responsible parties, and frequency to ensure the building is code compliant.

How often have you visited a job site for a wood structure you have designed, only to find the contractor has used a different fastener than specified?  Or perhaps you noticed a seasoning check on a glulam beam and were unsure whether it could jeopardize the integrity of the beam?  With so much flexibility inherent to wood construction, there tends to be many “field fixes” or unapproved fastener patterns which then lead to questions about whether these fixes are structurally sound.  Having the resources you need when these situations arise can help avoid these issues and may provide additional information to help avoid callbacks in the future.

In the May 2018 SE University session, Robert Kuserk, PE, from APA – The Engineered Wood Association, presented Frame for Success – Best Practices for Wood Buildings.  Robert offered several resources for use when designing a wood framed structure.

Robert reviewed the guidelines regarding seasoning checks in glulam beams and recommended APA’s Technical Note – Owner’s Guide to Understanding Checks in Glued Laminated Timber (Form F450) as a resource when evaluating seasoning checks in wood beams.  To learn more about when seasoning checks may be of concern, please watch this short video.

Another resource which can be useful when designing wood structures is the International Staple, Nail, and Tool Association ICC-ES Evaluation Report ESR-1539.  This publication has extensive tables and strength values for nails and power driven staples.  Robert also suggested using their website for additional fastener information.

During the session, Robert highlighted important aspects of a wood structure that should be reinforced for high wind events and offered APA’s Building for High Wind Resistance in Light Frame Wood Construction (Form M310).  Robert included the following slide which outlines the most critical connections in wood buildings, and further connection details and recommendations are available throughout this publication.  Click on the slide to print your own copy.

Using a variety of resources beyond the scope of the NDS, structural engineers can develop a “Best Practices” approach to wood construction.  When problems arise in the field, being familiar with the resources available from APA and other organizations can help address the issues quickly and efficiently.  Visit for construction guides, technical details, and much more.



The average office worker has just 11 minutes to work on a task before being interrupted, and it can take over 20 minutes to get back on task once an interruption occurs.  Does this describe your typical day at work? With the endless text messages, emails, app notifications, noisy coworkers, and various unannounced meetings that tend to pop up through the day, it can seem as if completing your daily agenda is an impossible task. Though some distractions at work may be unavoidable, there are several strategies to help eliminate unnecessary interruptions and get back on track.

One great trick to avoid unnecessary social calls from coworkers or eliminate noisy distractions is to wear headphones.  Headphones can signal to others that you are concentrating on your task, and can help eliminate feeling the need to acknowledge everyone who passes by your desk.  This can be a great tool for offices with cubicle, since these workers tend to be interrupted even more than workers with an office door.

Since our cell phones tend to be one of the greatest distractions throughout the day, another strategy to avoid interruption is to set your apps and other notifications to Do Not Disturb during the work day.  Hearing your phone ping every other minute does nothing to help productivity. Although most of us need to be accessible by phone throughout the day, it may still be necessary to screen phone calls in order to get important tasks done on schedule.  Set aside a time in your day to return phone calls, but focus on one task at time.

Another way to increase productivity throughout your office is not to interrupt others.  Send an email to coworkers when you have something to discuss so a convenient time can be arranged.  Setting a good example may demonstrate to others your preference to set meetings ahead of time rather than just stopping by your desk unannounced.

Some distractions are unavoidable, and some distractions we create ourselves, but small changes in our habits can make big impacts on our overall productivity.  Using these tips may help eliminate the frustration of constant interruptions and make your day feel more accomplished!

Wind-borne debris is without a doubt a very serious design consideration when approaching a storm shelter or safe room design. In every tornado or serious wind event, there are devastating images of the effects from upturned trees, 2x4s, cars, and even large fuel tanks. Designing for such impacts can be daunting, and present day engineering theory may not be sufficient to effectively codify such impact forces. So what is a structural engineer to do when faced with protecting the public from these life-threatening debris impacts?

In December 2017, Jason Pirtle, PE from Jason Pirtle Structural Engineers, Inc., gave a presentation on Tornado Shelter Design. Jason reviewed the requirements laid out in the 2015 IBC, discussing which occupancies are required to have storm shelters designed in accordance with ICC 500. Jason covered the various structural design considerations which need to be considered including the effect of wind-borne debris.

Storm shelters are required to be designed to withstand wind-borne debris due to the abundant missile supply available during a storm event. Jason referenced Table 305.1.1 in ICC 500, as shown in the slide below, which designates the missile speed of a 15 lb 2×4 board for various design wind speeds that shelters need to accommodate. The Code designates required missile impact testing for assemblies to be used in storm shelters as laid out in Sections 305, 306, and 804 of ICC 2015. These testing requirements all but eliminate design calculations for debris impact, however close inspection during construction should be followed to ensure the as-built shelters is in accordance with the specified tested assembly.

Since the Code requires that constructed materials be tested before use, Jason suggested both the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University as well as FEMA P361 as good resources for finding tested wall and roof assemblies. The National Wind Institute offers this valuable listing of tested assemblies that have a ‘PASS’ rating for the requirements of ICC 500 for various wind speeds and missiles. Additional information about missile testing can be found at the Debris Impact Facility at Texas Tech University. Jason also mentioned checking with window and door manufacturers to verify tested building components’ compliance.

Additionally, Jason reviewed how site specific debris hazard must also be considered in any shelter or safe room. It is important to note that these site specific hazards may require additional testing beyond the code required minimum tests for your project. However, the resources included here offer a good starting point for specifying appropriately tested materials for use in your next storm shelter project, and remember, the entire shelter, including openings, must be constructed with tested components capable of resisting the missile impact!

Robert Kuserk, PE, APA – The Engineered Wood Association

In May 2018, SE University welcomed Robert Kuserk, PE, with APA – The Engineered Wood Association, to present Frame for Success – Best Practices for Wood Buildings. He has chosen the Wildlands Conservancy ( for the SEU Speaker Inspires donation of the month.

Robert shared that he “chose this organization in association with Teacher Appreciation Week this week to remember my brother, Dr. Frank Kuserk, who passed away last fall. Frank was a professor of Environmental Science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA and was very active in this organization. This organization’s mission is to protect and restore critical natural areas and waterways in the Lehigh Valley, and educate the community to create a legacy of a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations. This organization also aligns with my interest in the Scouting programs in that it helps to create and preserve lands connecting to nature that the scouts can use, and supports sustainability which is also a hallmark of the wood industry.”

Thank you, Robert, for helping structural engineers with your SE University session, and for your designation of the Wildlands Conservancy as our SEU Speaker Inspires Organization of the Month!



SE University began the SEU Speaker Inspires program in 2015 as a way to “pay it forward”, enabling our speakers to designate a charity/organization of their choice for SE University to make a donation to help improve our world.

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