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May civil engineering graduate Zach Treece always had the desire to get into undergraduate research and landed in Assistant Professor Sarah Orton’s lab as a sophomore. Now, with a bachelor’s degree from MU in civil engineering, he fully realizes how invaluable that experience was.


Working for three years as an undergraduate researcher in Sarah Orton’s lab was invaluable experience to recent civil engineering alumnus Zach Treece.

“I started undergrad research probably earlier than most people, and I would say that alone has been the biggest benefit just because the grad programs, a lot of them are about the research,” Treece said.

Treece said a former master’s student of Orton’s tipped him off to an opening for an undergraduate researcher in Orton’s lab, and despite being just a sophomore, he put his name forth. He was selected and has worked on research with Orton ever since.

“She’s a younger faculty member, so she’s very enthusiastic, wants to get a lot of research done,” he said. “And she’s really willing to teach us and let us learn along the way, which is really nice.”

The appreciation was mutual. Orton said having energetic young students to help with research is a huge benefit for faculty researchers, and Treece fit the bill.

“Zach has really excelled as an undergraduate researcher and has been a valuable part of the research team,” Orton said.

That collaboration is coming to an end as Treece finishes up his work on disproportionate plate collapse before heading to the University of Illinois to pursue his master’s degree. At U of I, the most recent past-president of MU’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers will work as a research assistant on one of two projects ­— instrumenting railroad bridges across the Midwest to determine the strain they’re under, or the creation of a larger wind turbine.

The undergraduate research experience he had in Columbia, Mo., laid the framework for what he hopes to accomplish going forward, and Treece is grateful for the opportunities he received.

“A lot of schools don’t have as good an undergrad research program or any undergrad research program like Mizzou does, so that’s huge to get on your résumé,” Treece said. “It really separates you.”

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