An ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark
Located a little more than a stone’s throw from the Michigan Tech campus, the Portage Lake Bridge connects the cities of Houghton and Hancock, Michigan. The Lift Bridge was named as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in late 2019, following a State Historic Landmark designation in mid 2019.
The Michigan Tech trio who submitted its 300-page application to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) includes Professor Tess Ahlborn and two of her former students, Michael Prast ’19, now a timber structural engineer at Fire Tower Engineered Timber in Calumet, Michigan; and Emma Beachy ‘19, a design engineer at Corbin Consulting in Portland, Oregon. Both earned both their BS and MS degrees in civil engineering at Michigan Tech.
“Emma and Michael are two of Michigan Tech’s best students,” says Ahlborn. “I mentioned the topic of National Historic Landmarks during Bridge Design class, and let the class know I would be delighted if someone wanted to work on a nomination application for the Portage Lake Bridge. It didn’t take long for Emma and Michael to speak up, and the rest is history. I can’t thank them enough for taking on this project and seeing it through the application process.”
Prof. Ahlborn is a Michigan Tech alum, too. She earned her BS and MS at Michigan Tech, then went to the University of Minnesota to earn a Doctorate of Philosophy in Civil Engineering in 1998. She’s been a member of the faculty at Michigan Tech for the past 26 years, teaching structural engineering courses focusing on concrete and the design of concrete buildings and bridges.
Ahlborn has a passion for bridges, something that began when she was quite small. “Growing up, I once told my mom I loved bridges. After that, she started taking me to look at a different bridge each week. Michigan has such beautiful bridges!”
“Bridges are structural art! A piece of art fully exposed to the elements. They involve so many people every day.”
As the former Director of the Center for Structural Durability within the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, Ahlborn has worked with the MDOT (Michigan Department of Transportation) and USDOT (US Department of Transportation) to seek solutions to improve resiliency of our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
In 2020, Ahlborn was appointed to the American Concrete Institute Committee 318, placing her in the small group of people who establish the ACI structural concrete building code used around the world, a “Supreme Court” of concrete, if you will.
After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. As a member of the committee, Ahlborn helps to chart the future of structural concrete—its safety, sustainability, technological advances and environmental impacts.
Ahlborn is also a world expert in remote sensing applications for bridge condition assessment.
As for her secrets to good teaching, she insists there aren’t any. “All you have to do is be fair and consistent and crack a joke once in a while,” said Ahlborn.