CEE Student Profile: Don Seserko

MaierPresidential Scholar Donald Seserko achieved the kind of academic success that most students dream about by following his passions for construction and excellence.

Growing up in Philadelphia with an interest in engineering, Seserko didn’t have to look far to find an ideal university. “People recommended Lehigh,” he says.

That was 2006. Four years later, Seserko confirmed that Lehigh was the right choice by re-enrolling as a graduate student. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in December 2009, graduating with highest honors a semester ahead of his classmates.

How did Seserko manage to complete the rigorous program so quickly with such high grades? Arriving at Lehigh with a few advanced credits on his transcript gave him a head start. “I had some AP credits from high school, and as a senior I took classes at Villanova,” Seserko explains.

Head start notwithstanding, many students come to Lehigh with high school credits yet don’t graduate early—much less earn a coveted presidential scholarship. The program rewards outstanding academic achievement by undergraduate students with a tuition-free fifth year of study.

Eyes focused on a big prize

While many students strive for the scholarship throughout their Lehigh careers, Seserko wasn’t chasing the chance for graduate school. The opportunity only caught his attention during his junior year, once he’d fulfilled his core requirements. “I was finally taking just civil engineering classes by then, so the curriculum got more interesting,” Seserko says.

Summer internship experiences further fueled his interest. As a rising junior, Seserko got a taste for construction inspection working with PennDOT. The following summer he worked on the I-295 direct connection project as a geotechnical intern for Dewberry.

The prospect of earning a year of free graduate school sent Seserko to the University Registrar for more information. “I had to look into it,” he says. According to Seserko, students who have the grades automatically qualify for a presidential scholarship, but one still has to apply to the program to receive consideration.

Seserko was granted the scholarship, and then stopped to consider whether graduate school was really necessary.

“For the longest time [in civil engineering] you could get a job with a bachelor’s degree. Now, more and more places are requiring a master’s,” he explains. “It’s where the field is moving.”

Wasting no time, the newly-minted graduate student began work in spring 2010 on a Masters of Science degree in civil engineering.

A geotechnical engineer in the making

Seserko’s professional promise is apparent to his mentors. “I can see Don as the leader of a major company in the civil engineering profession someday,” says Sibel Pamukcu, professor and co-chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering. “He takes a lot of pride in what he does, and comes across as a person who would demand the same care and diligence from people with whom he works closely.”

The professor and student have shared classes in the past, and are currently collaborating on a groundbreaking research project supported by the National Science Foundation. Working on an interdisciplinary team that includes Liang Cheng and doctoral students from the department of computer science and engineering, Pamukcu and Seserko are investigating how wireless sensors can detect sub-surface events such as ground shifts and water filtration.

“It’s ambitious and challenging work,” Pamukcu says. “Although Don is fresh out of the undergraduate program, he understands the technical issues. He’s also a very conscientious guy who takes his work seriously and gives 100 percent effort to every task.”

Seserko owes his academic success to a strong work ethic—one, in Pamukcu’s view, that is essential to the field of geotechnical engineering. “The work influences infrastructures that affect millions of people,” she says.

—Lindsey Hesse

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