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Spotlight on Students: Blair Johnson

Blair working in the Environmental Fluid Mechanics Lab

  • Affiliation: Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Hometown: Kingsville, MD

Why did you choose Cornell?

When I visited, I found a good community among grad students and professors, great facilities and what seemed to me a good place to learn, but still have a fulfilling life outside of grad school as well.

Where did you do your Undergrad?

I went to Johns Hopkins and got a BS in Civil Engineering, with a focus on Structures and research in Coastal Engineering. I also minored in Piano at the Peabody Conservatory.

Why are doing a PhD or this particular research?

I find research more exciting and challenging than working in the field. I enjoy the creative aspect of it and finding solutions to problems. Ideally, my goal is to become a professor to continue researching and teaching in my field.

What is your research project?

I’m working on sediment re-suspension due to turbulence in absence of shear. Basically looking at when a wave breaks and all the sand and shells get picked up from the bed and very fundamentally, how that happens and what forces are at work to pull them up from the bottom.

How has your advisor influenced your educational experience?

Todd Cowen is an extremely skilled experimentalist and has the best toys to play with in the lab compared to a lot of other schools. He has a lot of ideas and is extremely dedicated to his students and is really invested in their learning and keeping them excited about their work, as well as their futures.

What other activities are you involved in?

I go outrigger canoeing on Lake Cayuga and do salsa dancing. During the winter, I love cross-country skiing. This year I am serving as President of the CEE Grad Student Association.

What has been your greatest moment or accomplishment so far at Cornell?

Getting the TA Award this past spring (2011) was amazing. I have been a TA for the past two years and it’s been exciting to see so many undergrads become interested in fluid mechanics. It was fun to receive the award at graduation this year because quite a few of the graduates were in my first class.

What do you like about living in Ithaca?

I love Ithaca. I love the winters. There’s so much to enjoy really close to Ithaca, all you have to do is look for it. There are outdoor activities for every season and it’s small enough that you can always run into people you know, no matter where you are.

How do you make it work financially?

Fellowships and TA stipends have made things work for me.

What are your plans after graduation?

Ideally, I want to be teaching somewhere that enables me to continue doing similar research. I would love to stay at Cornell, but I know that’s not a realistic possibility.

What would you recommend about this program to potential students who are visiting?

I will be going to study and research in Spain for a while, which has been a goal of mine since getting to study abroad there during my Undergraduate studies. I think this program offers students the opportunity to live their own lives and to pursue their own goals, while they are working on their graduate coursework and research. A lot of graduate students get the experience of researching abroad during their stay at Cornell if they want, which for many of us, adds a lot to the experience.

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