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Alumni Corner

Bob Johnson’s (BS CE ‘69) 25 years of Student Outreach
Article contributed by Structural Engineers Association of Illinois (SEAOI Bulletin, February 2014)

It began in the mid-1980s when then-SEAOI President, Bill Lavicka, began looking for ways to raise the visibility of the structural engineering profession. Mr. Lavicka approached his fellow IIT alumnus, Bob Johnson, and a long tradition began.

Bob started with chairing SEAOI Public Relations Committee which had, until that point, been relatively inactive. He quickly branched out to work with other engineering and architecture organizations, very quickly discovering National Engineers Week ( effort and its student outreach programs.

As he looked to teach children about structural engineering, he quickly realized that it would be important to educate their parents as well. Beginning with the premise that children are natural structural engineers, given their fondness for toys like Legos, Tinker Toys, and Erector Sets, he took the next step in illustrating how structures are built. All he needed to do was provide physical models using common materials of paper, cardboard, paper clips, string to show how buildings and bridges stand up and, in some cases, fall down.

With a hands-on visual approach, he was able to bring basic concepts of structural engineering to children of all ages. Using samples of concrete and steel, he demonstrated real life building blocks. One of his earliest models was a cardboard-and-string model of the John Hancock Center, the strings illustrating how ‘X-bracing’ works when the cardboard model was pressed on the side.

As the popularity of these exhibits grew, Bob was joined by engineers Larry Novak and Carol Drucker, among others. While the annual IIT EWEEK Expo was one of the early beneficiaries of this outreach, the Future City competition followed. In addition to these venues, SEAOI engineering exhibits have expanded to include Columbia College, The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago Architecture Foundation and Des Plaines Public Library. Bob Johnson and Larry Novak have both been honored with the ASCE-Illinois’ Citizen Engineer Award, in 1994 and 2010, respectively.

In July, 2011, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago recognized Johnson with a resolution honoring his student outreach efforts.

What has been the impact of these programs? Johnson conservatively estimates that he has interacted with over 10,000 children, students and parents in the past 25 years. Novak recently presented an engineering lecture at the University of Miami - Ohio. At the conclusion of the lecture one of the engineering students came forward stating he remembered him from his presentation at the Chicago Science Day event in 2009. That lecture led the student to choose an engineering career!

What of the future? With the success of these programs, even more STEM organizations are reaching out to SEAOI to exhibit and present at Science Expos, STEM Festivals and Career Fairs.

Oakton Community College recently held a STEM Festival on Saturday, April 26th modeled after the huge IIT eWEEK Expo. This summer, there will once again be ‘Engineering Tents’ at the Taste of Chicago.

Additional assistance will be needed as demand grows for participation in these events. Interested people can contact SEAOI at

Edoarda Corradi Dell'acqua (MS CE 2010) asked to present her project at La Biennale
Edoarda Corradi Dell'acqua (MS CE 2010) expressed her excitement about being asked to present her project at La Biennale in Venice, Italy at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition - Fundamentals on Saturday, June 7, 2014. Edoarda explained, "This was a project that I developed at IIT during the last year of my MS degree when I attended a studio class with Prof. Tim Brown in the College of Architecture, and it has been recently accepted at the Venice Biennale. My project is about the McCormick Place old building in Chicago, and I was invited to present at a workshop about the use or re-use of modernist buildings in the city. The Venice Biennale has been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world for over a century and every other year it organizes an international Architectural event. This year's edition is curated by Rem Koolhaas."

The project title is Big Mac Redux and the team is composed of Edoarda (MS CE and CAEE adjunct faculty), Irene Matteini (MS ARCH ‘09), and Tim Brown (Studio Associate Professor in College of Architecture).