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Houston receives Jankowski Legacy Award

Sandra Houston

Sandra Houston

In more than 30 years at Arizona State University professor Sandra Houston has seen significant change. From being one of the first female engineering faculty members, to serving as one of the first female civil engineering department chairs in the country, to helping build a nationally recognized research effort.

Houston has played a key part in the legacy of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Houston, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, has been recognized for her efforts and long-term commitment to ASU and the Fulton Schools as the recipient of the Dan Jankowski Legacy Award.

Named after longtime engineering faculty member Dan Jankowski, the bi-annual award is one of the Fulton Schools’ highest faculty honors. A faculty committee selects recipients, who are recognized for sustained, exemplary commitment to student success across research, teaching and service.

Houston joined ASU in 1984 and quickly became interested in the field of unsaturated soil mechanics, a subfield of geotechnical engineering. Geotechnical engineering focuses on soil as an engineering material, while unsaturated soil refers to the soil found above the water table.

“Largely because we are an arid and semi-arid region, early on I started interacting with students interested in unsaturated soil problems, such as collapsible and expansive soils.” she said. “It is a relatively new geotechnical engineering field and was starting to take off when I first arrived at ASU.”

Now, 30 years later, ASU is considered a leader in the field. Multiple faculty members are working in the area and the university operates an unsaturated soils research lab.

“Researchers really know ASU for this,” she said. “And we have continued to grow even further in geotechnical engineering, overall.”

Houston said when she started at ASU, she had few female peers. By 1996 she had risen to the post of department chair for Civil and Environmental Engineering, which was a rarity nationally. She served as chair until 2006.

“At the time I was appointed, there were probably only three to five others in the country,” she said. “That was really the early stages of getting women into university administrative roles.”

Houston said she is particularly honored to receive the Jankowski award, since it highlights the legacy of her friend and colleague.

“When I think of Dan, I think of a friend,” she said. “He was really strict and unwilling to bend the rules, and a lot of people think of him for that. But it is not what I first think of when I think of him. I look at him as a supporter and an advisor. It is cool that they have this award, so that Dan’s legacy will live on forever.”

The award was originally started as an endowment in 2001 while Jankowski was still a full-time member of the faculty. He retired in 2004. Previous winners include Joseph Palais, James Adams, James Collofello and Dieter Schroder. Houston was recognized at luncheon of all previous winners this spring.

Written by Gary Campbell

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