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Civil engineering chair retiring after nearly four decades at MU

Mark Virkler chats with colleagues at his retirment party.

Mark Virkler, C.W. LaPierre professor of civil engineering, will retire on Sept. 1, having served the last 10 years as chair of the Civil and Engineering Department. He additionally spent three years as director of graduate studies and three more years as director of undergraduate studies, in addition to his research and teaching work. Photo by Shelby Kardell.

Mark Virkler has been a staple of the University of Missouri’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department since stepping foot on campus in the fall of 1978. Over the course of nearly four decades, he’s served in nearly every imaginable role within the department, continuously working to make it stronger.

The C.W. LaPierre Professor will retire on Sept. 1, having served the last 10 years as chair of the Civil and Engineering Department. He additionally spent three years as director of graduate studies and three more years as director of undergraduate studies, in addition to his research and teaching work.

“I’m grateful for the many contributions Dr. Virkler has made to the College and the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering over his distinguished 37 year career here at MU” said Interim Dean Robert Schwartz. “It has been a pleasure to work with Mark this past year. I thank him for his leadership as chair of the department and wish him the best in retirement.”

“I guess I thought I was filling a need,” Virkler said of his various leadership roles. “It’s just a great group of faculty to work with that we have here. It’s always been a very collegial atmosphere. Collegiality has been a strong positive, and all the faculty are concerned with teaching, research and service, concerned with accomplishing our mission.”

Virkler came to MU after earning his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Virginia in 1974, and his master’s from the University of Florida in 1975. He eventually earned his doctorate from Virginia in 1980, and said he realized early in the quest for his master’s degree that teaching the next generation of engineers was his eventual goal.

“I liked academia, I liked students, and I liked faculty,” Virkler recalled. “Certainly working with students [has been rewarding], both graduate and undergraduate students.

“There’s just a lot of fun in that and a lot of value that you can see. I’ve taught some of the offspring of students that I’ve had. That was a surprise. I do not tell stories about when their parents were students.”

Virkler’s involvement with students has been a hallmark of his career. He advised eight undergraduate researchers, nine graduate researchers, 22 graduate thesis researchers and three doctoral students in addition to his other responsibilities.

Virkler also has served on a variety of committees, on campus , in the civil engineering field and within the college itself, including: the College of Engineering Policy Committee, Transportation Research Board, where he served as a university representative, Graduate Faculty Senate, College of Engineering Honors Committee, Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the American Society of Civil Engineers, as well as working extensively with the department’s alumni groups.

“In terms of the national committees, it was incredibly eye-opening to see what different people had been working on, people from different universities, different countries,” Virkler said. “And a lot of the research I did came about from discussions in those committees. Being active on national committees exposes you to a lot of questions that are being asked or that can be asked. It’s tremendously worthwhile.”

In between all of those activities, Virkler also found time for research. His various research projects were funded by entities such as the Missouri Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, MoDOT Division of Motor Carrier and Railroad Safety and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

As the door closes on a storied career, the natural reflex is to look toward what’s coming next. Concrete plans for post-retirement activities are still up in the air, Virkler said, save for one.

“On Sept. 1, my wife has bought tickets to a Cardinals game for us. And then we’ll figure out things from there,” Virkler quipped.