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Retiree Earns Civil Engineering Doctoral Degree

April 27, 2007

Satyamangalan “Saty” Satyamurti is not your typical graduate student; he has been married for many years to his wife, Girija, takes his grandson to kindergarten class, and is a retiree. At least, temporarily. After receiving his Ph.D. degree in civil engineering from The University of Texas at Arlington in May, it’s probable that there will be a renewed demand for his knowledge and experience.

Back in 1957, when he graduated from the University of Madras in Coimbatore, India, Mr. Satyamurti and his recent bachelor’s degreed classmates spoke of their life ambitions. “I told them I wanted to eventually earn a master’s and a Ph.D.,” said Mr. Satyamurti. “I got my master’s 20 years later at the University of Toronto. I just didn’t think it would take this long to get the Ph.D.”

During the intervening years, Mr. Satyamurti, 72, worked for a number of large engineering firms on projects around the United States, Canada and internationally. His last assignment was with the Parsons Corporation, working on the expansion of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Upon retiring in 2000, he and Girija decided to settle in Arlington to be closer to their son and his family.

In less than a year, he grew listless of retired life and began a search for an engineering college where he could achieve his goal. “My son, Ravi, who lives in Grand Prairie and is a UT Arlington alumnus with a MBA, told me to attend the UT Arlington College of Engineering,” Mr. Satyamurti said. “Ravi vouched for the quality of the programs here; and he was right, so I enrolled here in January of 2002.”

During his work assignment at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Mr. Satyamurti developed an increased interest in airport operations and decided to pursue his doctoral research in this area. Unfortunately, the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department didn’t have an established doctoral plan for this, but the faculty encouraged him to develop one. “I had read that the DFW International Airport was planning to construct perimeter taxiways connecting four of its runways,” he recalled, “so I contacted the Southwest Regional office of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to see if there was anything in this project that I could use.” After meeting with the Manager of Runway Safety, he was encouraged to investigate potential runway incursion elimination and improve runway safety with the use of the new perimeter taxiways; this led to the topic of his doctoral dissertation – “Runway Incursion Mitigation, Capacity Enhancement, and Safety Improvements with Perimeter Taxiway Operations at DFW International Airport.”

Civil & Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Stephen Mattingly, a transportation engineer, supervised Mr. Satyamurti’s doctoral studies. “His performance was phenomenal,” said Dr. Mattingly. “It’s so unusual for me to be working with a student almost twice my age, but our relationship was outstanding. He’s incredibly persistent and independent in his research, probably more so than any graduate student I’ve worked with. His ability to create a new research area without any prior contacts and limited support by me is very special.” And although Mr. Satyamurti held a graduate research assistant position and had two small scholarships, most of the expenses needed for his research came out of his own pocket. “He needed to understand and utilize a new simulation software called Visual SIMMOD for his research, so he went to California to learn from the developer,” said Dr. Mattingly. “That’s determination to do things right.”

Throughout his research, Mr. Satyamurti continued to confer with local FAA officials and DFW Operations staff on his findings. DFW International is the sixth busiest airport in the world; in February of this year, more than 51,500 take-offs and landings occurred there. Therefore, safety and changes in operating procedures are major concerns for the FAA. “It took 15 months, but they signed-off on the simulations I was running,” Mr. Satyamurti said. In fact, the FAA officials were so pleased with his results that they may implement some of his ideas at airports in Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Detroit and other locations.

The FAA and the DFW Operations staff are not the only organizations interested in his ideas: Mr. Satyamurti has been approached by a large engineering consulting firm. Dr. Mattingly and Dr. Nur Yazdani, chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, would like to see him at UT Arlington as an adjunct professor.

“I’ve received an excellent education here at UTA,” said Mr. Satyamurti, “and it’s presented a lot of opportunities for me. Oh, and one other thing, I did it with the senior citizens discount. More people should be taking advantage of that.”

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