From Baseball to Bridge Design and Assessment

Matthew Yarnold ‘03, ‘05G, remembers his time at Lehigh — both in the lab and on the ball field

The rigors of studying at an institution like Lehigh are known to every student, faculty member, and alumnus, and civil engineers arguably understand this better than most.

For Matthew Yarnold ‘03, ‘05G, choosing Lehigh for his undergraduate education meant an additional challenge — one that brought him out of the classroom and onto the diamond.

“When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to study structural engineering, and I knew I wanted to play Division I baseball,” he says. “Lehigh wasn’t too far from where I grew up. It was the perfect fit for me.”

Yarnold remembers the time commitment involved in playing sports and pursuing a CE degree simultaneously, but he says he wouldn’t change a thing. “In my junior year, we were really good. We tied with Navy for the conference championship that year before we lost to them in the finals. That was in the spring of 2002,” he says. “I was catcher that year. I believe I was the guy who caught for the team that set the school record for wins in a season! That was a lot of fun.”

Yarnold says baseball also prepared him for what came next — graduate school and a lot of time working with his research group.

“As I got closer to graduating, I noticed a few of the major bridge engineering firms required a Master’s degree to even interview,” he says. “I knew at that point that I wanted to stay to get my M.S. at Lehigh. I didn’t even apply anywhere else. I just enjoyed the program so much and wanted to stay.”

He joined a research project led by John Wilson, professor of structural engineering, and Ben T. Yen, now a professor emeritus of structural engineering, that looked at the capacity of orthotropic bridge decks. “My small piece was looking at local buckling behavior. I did most of my work numerically,” he says.

Following the completion of his Master’s, Yarnold chose to take a position at Ammann & Whitney, which later became the long-span bridge division of Louis Berger, in Philadelphia. He says further studies weren’t always part of the plan, but after five years of practical experience, he started experiencing the academic itch once again.

“Drexel was right down the road,” he says. “I started by taking classes at night, and I eventually got recruited by one of my professors, Frank Moon, to join his research group and pursue my Ph.D.”

Yarnold says his time at Lehigh was informative in the way it shaped his opinions of both the research and teaching sides of an academic career.

“I was surprised at how much I enjoyed doing the research and being on the team at Lehigh. It wasn’t like the classroom where you have a student and a professor,” he says. “Dr. Yen and Dr. Wilson really respected me as a researcher. They respected my opinions and thoughts and were always supportive. They always asked the right questions to keep me going.”

It was experiences like this, at both Lehigh and Drexel, that ultimately led Dr. Yarnold toward becoming a professor. “I always thought I’d end up back in industry, but I wasn’t ready to give up the research, so I started applying for professor positions, and I ended up at Tennessee Tech University.”

Being at Tennessee Tech afforded Yarnold the opportunity to start his own research program in the area of structural steel behavior. “My research is mostly infrastructure related — specifically on design, assessment, and maintenance of the core components of bridge structures,” he says. “A lot of our work is in the field of long-term structural health monitoring.”

And after four great years there, Yarnold has moved his research program to Texas A&M University, as an assistant professor in the Zachary Department of Civil Engineering, for the start of the 2017-18 academic year.

“They’re committing to this area of engineering with new resources and a number of well-qualified faculty,” he says. “I’m excited for the potential to lead some bigger research projects there.”

That should be doable at a school the size of TAMU. “I had no idea how large the school or the program was until I interviewed,” he says. “It’s one of the biggest schools in the country with 67,000 students, and it’s actually the biggest undergraduate civil engineering program in the country.”

But, as Yarnold notes, with great size comes great opportunities for teaching, for research, for outreach … and for baseball.

“I can’t wait to check out my first game. I have a feeling it’s going to be a little different than the baseball games I played in at Lehigh.”

By John Gilpatrick

Matthew Yarnold - Lehigh CEE

Matthew Yarnold ‘03, ‘05G, recently joined the faculty in the Zachary Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University.

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