Libby Stehr has a vision of a greener, more sustainable future. The civil engineering major will graduate this month with a near-perfect grade point average and clearly determined to change our perception of the buildings in which we live, work, and study.
“When engineers, architects, and planners design a built environment, they have to ask themselves if that environment is a place future generations will want to live in, or if it will be regretted,” Stehr says. “I don’t want to participate in designing anything my children would regret, and that calls for a willingness to create radical change in how we view the structures around us.”
“When engineers, architects, and planners design a built environment, they have to ask themselves if that environment is a place future generations will want to live in, or if it will be regretted,” Stehr says. “I don’t want to participate in designing anything my children would regret.”
Skyscrapers are an artifact of the 20th century, Stehr says, and instead of height and capacity, the next century of design and architecture will focus on energy efficiency, curbing supply chain energy costs, and smart planning.
“I think that engineers haven’t been looking toward the future enough,” she says. “We need a big change in how we approach buildings, and as part of that change we should set really ambitious goals for sustainability.”
A native of Corvallis, Ore., Stehr from a young age was interested in building things. Partially prompted by a natural scientific curiosity, and partially fostered by her parents’ passion for preserving historic homes, Stehr took quickly to architecture and design. In high school, however, she gravitated toward mathematics and engineering.
“I really wasn’t content with designing things and not knowing how they worked,” Stehr says. “I realized I was more interested in the science side of things.”
At Rensselaer, Stehr joined the research group of Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Michael Symans. Her undergraduate research program involved the collecting and analyzing of data related to wooden structures in earthquake-prone locations, and will be used as the basis for a study to develop a new system for testing and assessing the performance of earthquake-proofing technologies for wood buildings.
Stehr is an active student member of the Society of Women Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers, and served in a student leadership capacity as secretary and then co-president of the Engineers for a Sustainable World. She also has been on the Dean’s List every semester of her Rensselaer career, and is a member of the Chi Epsilon national civil engineering honor society and the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. Stehr received the Rensselaer Leadership Award as well as the Rensselaer Medal for excellence in mathematics and science.
Outside of class and the lab, Stehr is a member and student leader of the campus a cappella group Partial Credit. Along with singing, she has played piano since the age of 6, and when time permits volunteers as an accompanist for on- and off-campus groups.
Stehr will join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall as a graduate student. Looking beyond her academic career, she says she is interested in participating in Engineers Without Borders, an international nonprofit group that sends engineers around the world to help solve a spectrum of challenges, from installing lighting systems in an orphanage to building clean water stations, with low-cost, sustainable solutions.