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The Legacy of Ben Yen

Ben Yen has left an indelible mark on Lehigh’s department of civil and environmental engineering. He completed his Ph.D. at Lehigh in 1963, joined the faculty and retired in 2001. Since then, he has mentored dozens of students.

Yen’s generosity led him to endow the Yen Family Fellowship for civil engineering graduate students, which has helped more than a dozen M.S. and Ph.D. students pursue advanced research.

“Without question, Dr. Yen’s help was invaluable,” says Dr. Matthew Yarnold, ’03 ’05G, one of the first recipients of the fellowship. Yarnold studied orthotropic bridge decks at Lehigh, has become a leader in the field and is now an assistant professor of structural engineering at Tennessee Tech University.

“Dr. Yen has been a part of so many interesting research projects over his time at Lehigh,” says Georgios Tsampras, another fellowship recipient who will receive his Ph.D. in structural engineering this year. “He’s been a great mentor and set a wonderful example for every Lehigh civil engineering student.”

Tsampras came to Lehigh in 2011 to work with Richard Sause, director of the Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS) Center, on an NSF-funded project with researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of California-San Diego. “Our goal was to develop a reduced damage earthquake-resistant building system,” he says.

The project inspired Tsampras and classmates to found the Lehigh student chapter of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, which introduces undergraduate students to structural engineering by organizing talks by practicing engineers, research seminars, field trips and other events.

Tsampras is grateful to the Yens for their generosity. “The Fellowship makes possible a smooth continuation of our studies, which is so important,” he says.

Nicole Leo Braxtan ’10 Ph.D., another fellowship recipient, worked with Stephen Pessiki, professor of structural engineering, to study the resistance of steel buildings to the fires that often follow earthquakes. Braxtan is now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where she studies fire resistance as well as bridges and other civil infrastructure.

Braxtan has fond memories of the Bethlehem bridge tour Yen led every year with the Lehigh Valley chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. “His love of bridges and engineering, and his kind heart and spirit, have inspired me to become a better engineer and professor,” she says.