Graduate school was not always part of Casie Venable’s (PhDCivEngr’20) plan.
Growing up, she had family members in the construction industry and was surrounded by people who had both a passion and commitment to public service.
With her own interest in math and science, Venable always thought she would go into industry, move towards urban planning, or become a practicing civil engineer. Either way, she knew she wanted to work on large projects with a connection to policy and community issues that have a real-world impact.
That combination eventually led her to an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech in 2016. But pursuing a doctorate seemed unlikely, she said.
“I never expected to do a PhD,” Venable said. “In fact, CU Boulder was the only PhD program I applied to. I really doubted whether it was the right path for me at the time, but I am happy I made the decision to go there.”
Venable eventually came to Boulder to work with professors Amy Javernick-Will and Abbie Liel on community resilience through a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need fellowship. These awards come from the U.S. Department of Education and provide assistance to students with excellent academic records who demonstrate financial need and plan to pursue the highest degree available in key fields such as structural performance, risk perception and risk communication, for example.
Venable was co-advised by Javernick-Will and Liel, whose research groups often work closely together in the civil department and the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering and Resilience on campus around those topics. Her research project specifically focused on post-disaster reconstruction using examples from the Philippines to illustrate the complex interactions between humans, disasters and the built environment that must be addressed together to reduce vulnerability and improve resilience.
“Working with them was an overwhelmingly positive experience and through the GAANN I was able to create my own research topic,” she said. “My interests sit at the intersection of their expertise – Amy has a strong organizational knowledge and disaster recovery background, and Abbie has a strong focus on structural and risk mitigation. It was great to bounce ideas off them as well as other students working on similar problems in their groups.”
Venable currently works in San Francisco for Arup, a global collective of designers, engineers, and consultants, dedicated to sustainable development. As a consultant she works with clients to help them understand the potential risk they face from a variety of natural hazards such as seismic activity and wind as well as manmade disasters like train derailments. That work includes conducting high-level and detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis of existing buildings, she said.
Venable encouraged both undergraduate and graduate students to take a variety of courses and participate in different research topics during their time at CU Boulder.
“When getting a PhD, we really love our niche thesis topic and develop this great domain knowledge,” she said. “But the skills you pick up along the way are what really translate in your career later. The big picture and your goals for what come next should be your north star, but it doesn’t have to be a straight path.”