The terrorist attacks of 9/11 dramatically altered how engineers think and students learn, said Walter Konon, a professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Tunnel safety, building codes and safety standards now play a larger role in civil engineering curriculums and students have a much greater interest in securing structures.
Konon, of Waccabuc, an authority on bridges and tunnels, has preached about such changes for years. “My classes have always included the integration of structure and fire engineering,” said Konon. “But since 9/11 I have given those areas more attention. The students are more interested in safety - and for good reason. Many of them saw the towers fall; they know safe design is a matter of life and death.”
Konon's innovative and creative teaching has not gone unnoticed. Konon, a veteran teacher of 31 years, all at NJIT, received earlier this month, a teaching award from the Newark College of Engineering (NCE) at NJIT.
Konon, a professional engineer and a licensed building inspector, often tells students the best way to make tunnels safer is to build crossovers paths between tubes. Most large tunnels, such as the Holland and the Lincoln, have multiple unconnected parallel tubes. Crossovers would allow drivers to walk from one tube to another.
Tunnels could also be equipped with safety chambers, to which drivers could repair in a disaster, he said. The chambers could be built every 300 yards within a tunnel.
Konon teaches students how to improve ventilation in tunnels. Prior to 9/11, engineers focused on how to rid tunnels of carbon monoxide. That focus has now shifted to ridding tunnels of lethal gases, said Konon.
In terms of securing buildings, Konon promotes pressurized stairways. If a fire erupts in a building, such stairways will remain smoke-free. “They are more expensive,” Konon said. “And they are not commonly used. But the technology is available."
For the last 12 years, Konon has served as NJIT’s associate chairman of undergraduate studies for the civil and environmental engineering department, offering academic and career advice to thousands of NJIT students. Konon also chairs the department of civil and environmental engineering’s curriculum committee, which designs the department’s undergraduate curriculum.
Konon teaches a wide range of courses. One of his courses about underground construction is so popular that students call it a department legend. Another class, the Construction Testing Laboratory, allows students to apply and test the theoretical concepts of creating the ideal laboratory experience. “This is the first class I’ve taken in which learning interested me more than getting a good grade,” said one student.