By Sarah Joyner
After a 16-year career in transportation design, Carmen Harvey came to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to pursue a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
In summer 2021, she participated in the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s first-ever summer undergraduate research program. It paired her with a faculty member to study urban stormwater management in areas created around the parking lots at the Chattanooga Zoo and Warner Park waterpark.
With a faculty mentor, Harvey and two local school teachers studied areas with native species to see how effective the plants were at filtering out pollutants as rain traveled from the parking lots and into sewer systems.
How did you get into this career field?
I took three years of drafting in high school at Soddy Daisy High. When I was 17, in my senior year, I got a job co-opting at a local engineering firm. I continued that at Volkert (planning, engineering and construction services company), and I stayed there for 16 years.
What made you come back to school?
Once you’ve been in a job for so long and you don’t have a degree, you can only move up so far.
I decided to go back to school and instead of just getting a technician’s job or a degree for a technician, I decided to do engineering. So I went to Chattanooga State (Community College) part-time for a few years and graduated there last spring and then transferred to UTC last summer.
How’s the balancing act of working, going to school and being a parent been?
I’m taking full-time classes and during the summer I’m working full-time. During the semester I’m trying to stick to 20 to 30 hours a week for a work week. It’s been interesting. There’s not enough time in the day for everything, including sleep.
Working in transportation design, what are your day-to-day tasks?
I do CAD (computer-aided design) to lay out roadway alignments. Sometimes it may be a brand-new road; sometimes it might be an upgrade to an existing road. Right now I’m working on a sidewalk project in Signal Mountain.
What led you to participate in the undergraduate research experience this summer?
I thought it would be a good opportunity to continue studying. This is the first time since I’ve been going to school that I’ve actually not taken summer classes. To stay in the swing of things, I wanted to do something this summer.
What is the site you’re studying and what have you learned so far?
Warner Park, not inside the zoo, but the parking areas and the ponds around the water park. We’re looking at the bioretention areas and how well they filter water from the storm runoff.
One thing that I’ve learned is that there are so many different species of plants that are planted into bioretention areas at that particular site. They have over 90 different native species. Each one has a different root system and a different purpose.
Sometimes people think that they’re weeds, and they think you should just mow it down. They don’t understand that it’s all working to process all the pollutants that come off the roadways.
I learned a little bit about the different types of bioretention media, and how that’s composed and the depths and how thistles mixed with sand and how that it quickly can take the water instead of it having to go into the combined sewer system. It can actually filter through that.
These plants also are creating an ecosystem there, and it’s actually promoting biodiversity. You have a lot of insects and bees and birds, even some reptiles, too.
What about the fellow researchers who worked with you this summer?
Both were local teachers participating in a College of Engineering and Computer Science research experience for teachers—Jordan and Jasmine Johnson.
Jordan’s from Soddy Daisy High School. She is a chemistry teacher, so she did have a little experience with what we were having to do in the lab. The other teacher is an English teacher from Tyner.
They were both participating in the Future Ready Institutes. This was a way for them to take some of the engineering practices and be able to implement them in their classrooms.
They were going out into the field with for sampling. They helped collect water samples from roofs and runoff from parking lots during a big rain. Then they would come back to the lab with me, and we would run all of our tests.
What is the future for this work and research?
One good thing about this process, too, is that we’ve got to work with the City of Chattanooga Water Quality Department. They’re actually assisting us with this. Creating those relationships is really important.
It’s great knowing that they have confidence in us and our school to be able to come to us, to get some of this data. They’re going to process some of the data, do some of the legwork. This one site is like a testbed. They have several sites with bioretention, but this is the only site that’s this particular design.
They’re actually designing new standards that contractors and designers and engineers would have to implement. I think this is a way for them to get an idea of how well it’s actually working and what the best practices are.