Gift continues beloved professor’s legacy at Ohio State

Posted: January 30, 2017

Carolyn Merry, a world-renowned scholar in remote sensing and geographic information systems, made an immeasurable impact on the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering (CEGE) and the lives of her students throughout her 25-year teaching career. And her positive influence on Ohio State continues to grow, thanks to her husband, Robert Redfield, who recently donated $100,000 in Merry’s memory to upgrade the department’s undergraduate education facilities and expand experiential learning opportunities for students.

Prof. Carolyn Merry and Robert Redfield with Brutus Buckeye

Redfield describes Merry as a renaissance woman who was passionate about many things—the arts, sports, engineering, to name a few—but most of all she was passionate about education.

“Both of us were the first in our family to get a bachelor’s degree and we prized the education that we were able to get,” Redfield explained. “We felt that Ohio State has focused correctly on students and raising the quality of the education they receive. Our ability to contribute to that was important to us.”

Merry began her career with the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering in 1988 as an assistant professor and climbed the ranks to become the department’s first female chair in 2004. During her tenure as chair, she spurred major improvements to department labs, offices, meeting rooms and equipment, all while continuing to teach classes. By the time Merry retired in 2013, she had also advised 28 master’s and doctoral students.

After Merry died in 2014 in a tragic car accident, Redfield’s new purpose became honoring her legacy. In addition to his annual donation to the department, he decided to make a special gift focused on the department’s facilities for students, a cause he knew had been important to her.

“We are very grateful for Bob’s generous gift, which will be invested in a project where Carolyn’s legacy and memory will be the most lasting and impactful to our current and future students,” said Dorota Grejner-Brzezinska, the Lowber B. Strange Endowed Professor and chair of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering. “The department leadership team has been planning for infrastructure upgrades and Bob’s generosity will help us create a capstone design studio or renovate several undergraduate laboratories. Carolyn felt both projects were crucial to the CEGE undergraduate student experience at Ohio State.”

The need for both initiatives is great, explained Associate Professor of Practice Michael Hagenberger, who leads the department’s capstone program. He envisions transforming the fourth floor of Bolz Hall into a top-notch capstone design studio that incorporates all of the functionalities found in a modern engineering office. Serving multiple purposes, the studio would include a classroom, a computer lab with the latest software, conference rooms for hosting group meetings, flexible workspace for students enrolled in the department’s capstone courses and a place to hold lectures by industry professionals.

“If you don’t create a professional environment, it’s hard for students to ever have that opportunity to behave like a professional,” Hagenberger said. “So one of our ideas is to create a space that students could think of as their office, as opposed to just a room.”

The department is also working on a plan to revamp the materials, geotechnical and structures undergraduate laboratories, including transforming the standard rooms into combined classroom and computer lab space with modern equipment and software. The new labs will enable more hands-on activities to be incorporated into the curriculum, such as adding a shake table to show how a building behaves during an earthquake. Or, instead of just designing a reinforced concrete beam, Hagenberger said, why not have students design, build and test one in order to gain firsthand experience with clearances and construction tolerances?

Additional funding will be required to complete both projects, but Redfield is excited to support whichever of the initiatives has the most need. And he encourages others to join him in supporting the department’s vision.

“Hopefully this gift will provide a means to get other people interested in contributing,” Redfield said. “I’ve told them whichever one gets started, whichever one the funding can help, just go for it. Either way would be a good thing. She’ll be smiling.”

In addition to this latest gift, Redfield established the Carolyn J. Merry Engineering Scholarship Fund in 2009 to provide renewable scholarships to civil or environmental engineering undergraduates and set up the Carolyn Merry Women’s Basketball Scholarship in 2016 to honor her love of the team and all things Buckeye.

Knowing the doors that a quality education can open for students and how it can impact their lives, the fellow civil engineer is proud to pay forward and continue Merry’s lasting legacy on the next generation of Buckeye engineers.

“I hope this gift improves the ability of the students to learn and ultimately graduate and be successful,” Redfield said. “Carolyn and I both had wonderful careers because of our education.”

Help build a better undergraduate experience for civil, environmental and geodetic engineering students, support the CEGE Curriculum Modernization Fund.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications,

Category: Giving