Educating tomorrow’s engineers brick-by-brick

John Kelbly with studentsEvery day at Texas A&M University, students pass by the brick buildings on campus without giving much thought to how they were constructed or how long it took to lay the thousands of bricks that make up each building.In Dr. Dan Zollinger's Materials of Construction class students learn exactly what it takes to put up those walls.The class, Civil Engineering 342, covers the behavior of a variety of materials often used in civil engineering construction and helps students gain a better understanding of the relationship among strain, stress, stiffness, strength and material performance. The class has a three-hour lab once a week in which the students can investigate first-hand what has been discussed in the classroom through a hands-on activity.One of the semester highlights for Zollinger's students is a two-week unit on masonry that culminates in a brick laying competition as a means to gain an appreciation for masonry construction. Assisting Zollinger with the unit are John and Jeff Kelbly, a father-and-son dynamic duo of masonry.This semester, Jeff Kelbly, a local area representative for Acme Brick Co., coordinated a class tour of the Acme factory in Elgin, Texas, for the students to get a first-hand look at the manufacture of brick units. During the factory visit, students got to choose bricks from Acme's countless number of brick options that were transported back to campus for them to use in the brick laying competition later in the week.Rachel Thompson works on the team's wall"Texas A&M is the only school doing hands-on masonry," Jeff Kelbly said. "When the students go to the plant, it enlightens them on the brick process."John Kelbly, Jeff's father, taught the students how to lay the bricks. With more than 30 years of masonry experience, John makes the art look easy. But after a few grunts and plenty of concrete splatters the students started to get the hang of it.For the competition, the students were split into two groups and used the bricks they selected at the factory to build a small wall. The competition was based on how level, straight, even, clean and smooth the wall was, as well as overall aesthetics. The students began with a pile of bricks and in the end, with the help of John Kelbly, both teams had an amazingly sturdy, pint-sized wall.Dr. Zollinger, Jeff Kelbly and John Kelbly"We are so used to seeing brick buildings everywhere that I never really thought about how they were actually made," Rachel Thompson, a civil engineering student in Zollinger's class, said. "So it is cool to see what it takes."Zollinger honored Jeff and John on competition day for their dedicated alliance with the class. Both have been helping out with the class for several years and have never failed to bring their knowledge and expertise to help teach the students."Jeff and John Kelbly's presence during our masonry wall layup exercise demonstrates the industry interest in the students' professional development and the hands-on understanding of the use of masonry materials as it may pertain to engineering practice," Zollinger said.About Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University The Zachry Department of Civil Engineering was named in 2005 in honor of the generous and longstanding support of the Zachry Foundation of San Antonio, Texas. The department is one of the largest civil engineering programs in the world and consistently ranks among the top departments in the United States. The undergraduate program is ranked eighth and the graduate program eighth among public institutions in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings.Written by Cassidy Thomas