Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineering graduates are getting a head start by participating in a new land development program led by faculty member Randy Dymond.
The Land Development Design Initiative (LDDI) is a nationally recognized collaboration between the The Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and more than 70 engineering and land development firms, including many that serve as financial sponsors.
LDDI offers students the opportunity to explore a complex and emerging field involving elements of water management, site engineering, sustainable construction, and zoning law, by interacting with industry professionals both in and out of the classroom.
Dymond, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, created LDDI and currently serves as the program’s coordinator. His leadership and teaching ability have been acknowledged by the Chi Epsilon National Civil Engineering Honor society, which presented him with the 2010 National James M. Robbins Excellence in Teaching Award.
Dymond formed LDDI in 2006 after he said he recognized that students were entering the field of land development unprepared.
While a survey of recent Virginia Tech civil and environmental engineering graduates revealed that more than one-third were working in land development, there was only one related elective course in the department’s curriculum.
The LDDI Course and Curriculum Enhancement Committee has since revised and designed several new classes, including a senior-level land development design capstone course in which professional engineers serve as mentors. Students are given a semester-long project to replicate a design created by the engineers.
“The students are much better prepared than they used to be; they’re marketable and we can see that,” Dymond said. “There are a number of employers that are very closely involved that preferably pay our students more than they would otherwise. They come here now looking for those types of students because they know what they’ve been through. I have to add that none of this would be possible without the tremendous support of our practitioner group; they make it happen!”
The LDDI Practitioner Involvement Committee introduces students to these industry professionals through information sessions about the career opportunities available in the land development field. Practitioners also interact with students on an informal level through social events and participation with the Sustainable Land Development student club.
Bob Jansen, the president of Jansen Land Consulting and an LDDI practitioner, said that industry participation keeps the program current and offers graduates a significant advantage during the hiring process. “The experience that the students get here in the LDDI program is so important to myself as a potential employer," he said. "It sets the graduates of Virginia Tech who go through that program apart from any of the other graduates from competing universities.”
The professional relationships fostered by LDDI have been especially critical to students in recent years, as the economy has struggled and firms have scaled back.
Tyson Catlett, a 2009 College of Engineering graduate, said that networking with professionals in LDDI helped him to land a job as a project engineer at Anderson and Associates, a development firm in Blacksburg, Va.
“LDDI really is about connecting students to practitioners,” Catlett said, “This is an excellent way to get internships, to meet people that you would otherwise not know, to have a mentor. ... The more connections you have, the more opportunity you have as a student to make it.”
Dymond said that the greatest success of the LDDI program has been its ability to involve land development practitioners in the educational experience. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying recognized these efforts with the 2009 Second Place NCEES Engineering Award for Connecting Professional Practice and Education.
Kevin Young, the assistant coordinator of the LDDI, said he believed that this national platform will help the program expand beyond Virginia Tech. He already sees firms outside of Virginia recruiting LDDI participants.
Despite the economic downturn, Dymond said he is optimistic about the future of LDDI.
“We’re excited," he said. "We’ve got good support administratively, good support from the professional world, students are really interested in what we’re doing, so things are full steam ahead right now.”
Randy Dymond received his Ph.D in civil engineering from The Pennsylvania State University and has been a faculty member at Virginia Tech since 1998.
He currently serves as an associate professor of environmental and water resources engineering and the coordinator of the Land Development Design Initiative. He also acted as the founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Geospatial Information Technology.
Dymond’s principle research areas include urban stormwater modeling, watershed and floodplain management, and sustainable land development.
He has received numerous teaching awards, including the 2009 G.V. Loganathan Faculty Achievement Award and the 2010 Chi Epsilon National James M. Robbins Excellence in Teaching Award.
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