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BYU civil engineering professor chosen as traveling lecturer

Professor Kyle Rollins will break new ground as he lectures across the U.S. about earthquake engineering.

Kyle Rollins
Kyle Rollins smiles next to photos of his role models: Ralph Rollins, Harry Seed, and Wally Baker.
Photo by Mabel Wheeler

The Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has selected BYU civil engineering professor Kyle Rollins as the 2023-2024 Cross-USA lecturer.

Since 2015, the Geo-Institute has sponsored an annual lecture tour to institute chapters and student organizations across the United States. Each year’s speaker is chosen based on professional achievements, prestige in the civil engineering community, and lecture abilities. As this year’s speaker, Rollins will have his travel expenses to five conferences reimbursed by the Geo-Institute.

Rollins hopes that the tour will bring positive attention to BYU’s civil engineering program.

“I'm hoping to give our research here at BYU a little higher profile,” Rollins said. “We've got some things that we've done recently that I think not a lot of people know about but are really important.”

Rollins’s recent research includes tests on a promising new material called lightweight cellular concrete. Rollins is also investigating a variety of techniques for reducing soil liquefaction during earthquakes. His expertise has taken him all over the world, from Japan to New Zealand to Italy.

After an 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2010, Rollins and his team analyzed the aftermath and found that bridges that are built at a diagonal are more likely than other bridges to collapse. This discovery eventually made its way into seismic design codes in Utah and nine other states in the U.S.

“There [are] a lot of these hazards out there that might keep you up at night,” Rollins acknowledged, “but there are viable solutions — really creative, innovative solutions — that are out there that can deal with most of the problems that we know of.”

In addition to promoting BYU research, the Cross-USA tour may also benefit BYU students. Rollins said he plans “to have more contacts with people around the country so that it increases the odds of our students being hired at places that they would like to be.”

Tony Jewkes, a career director at BYU, said that this type of networking helps to connect engineering companies with engineering alumni.

“Our goal is to get our great students out in the world with top companies where they can be influencers for good,” Jewkes said. “Anytime faculty can go out there and make connections and promote BYU, that's a really good thing.”

Rollins has supervised over 130 graduate students. He encourages prospective civil engineers to aim high.

“Think of the thing that you would really love to do and that sounds exciting to you, and then go after it,” Rollins said. “I think you'll be surprised in your lifetime of what you can accomplish. ... Don't limit yourself, dream big, and go after it with everything you've got.”

Rollins was inspired to dream big by several role models: Harry Seed (his doctorate advisor at UC Berkeley), Wally Baker (an innovator in whose name Rollins received an award in 2018), and Ralph Rollins (his father, who was also a BYU professor of civil engineering).

“I have these guys on my wall because they're kind of my heroes,” Rollins said. “They've all passed away, but I'm hoping they're proud of me.”