Skip to main content
Student doing thermal conductivity testing.
May 9, 2022

Geological engineering spotlight: Sydney Klinzing reflects on undergrad research and student life

Written By: Amanda Thuss

A native of Monona, Wisconsin, Sydney Klinzing became familiar with UW-Madison at a young age. Campus events including the UW-Madison Engineering Expo and Saturday Science at the Discovery Building piqued her interest early on. Years later, as a teenager, Sydney attended a Prospective Student Welcome Day at the College of Engineering, which was an experience she’ll never forget.

“The research being conducted in Geological Engineering Program was inspiring, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of it and contribute to solving the world’s energy crisis, remediating geohazards, and helping communities,” shares Sydney.

A little over four years since she decided to attend UW, Sydney is working her way through finals and preparing to graduate with the class of 2022. From a welcoming and supportive atmosphere to opportunities for hands-on research, there’s a lot that Sydney has enjoyed about the Badger Engineering community. We caught up with her to learn more about her time on campus, what it was like to be a student, and what’s next for her beyond UW.

What have you enjoyed about being a geological engineering (GLE) student?

The GLE team is a close-knit group of students and instructors and there are unique academic opportunities, like field trips to Baraboo, the Black Hills, and the Badlands. The professors know who you are and care about you, and research opportunities are hands on, allowing you to get real-world experience to prepare for graduate school or a career, after earning your undergrad degree. The GLE field also has diverse career opportunities, ranging from government to research, infrastructure, energy, mining, geotechnics, and geohazard design.

Hands-on experiences are often the most powerful for students. What opportunity or experience has helped you prepare for the engineering field?

I recently completed thermal conductivity and moisture content testing of soil samples for a local engineering firm as an undergrad student researcher. The results of my work will help the client on an infrastructure project that requires subsurface cabling. Thermal conductivity testing measures the rate at which heat transfers through a material, while moisture content testing determines how much water exists in a sample. Both tests were essential to the client’s project to determine what size the underground cables should be to adequately dissipate heat and prevent overheating.

My work took roughly 35 hours to complete. I conducted the thermal and moisture testing myself. Postdoc Hyunjun Oh, instrumentation technologist Xiaodong Wang, and Professors Tinjum and Fratta helped guide my progress on the project.

The process was meticulous, but I learned a lot about lab testing, time-management, and how to find the resources I needed to complete the work. I also learned how to develop my own process, create a template for the results, and present my findings in professional manner for the client.

Overall, this experience will help me in designing cabling for wind and solar sites during my career and shed light on why measurements can vary.

What helped you prepare for this opportunity and what did you learn or find interesting?

Knowledge of soil mechanics, which we learn in class, and my previous research positions were instrumental in completing this testing. Understanding the fundamental principles of thermal resistivity based on soil composition was also important in verifying the results for quality assurance.

I found the range of moisture content and thermal resistivity in samples that all looked similar to be intriguing. These ranges verify that a comprehensive subsurface investigation and lab tests will be needed to thoughtfully design the site and reduce areas of uncertainty.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about pursuing geological engineering as their major?

Student conducts a particle-size distribution test.
Sydney Klinzing conducts a particle-size distribution test as an undergraduate researcher.

Geological Engineering allows you to pursue rewarding career opportunities all around the world, in whatever work environment you prefer (office jobs, field work, mix of both) which is unique!

Another aspect of GLE at UW-Madison that I like is how personal the program is. GLE students all know each other, and you take the same classes, which helps create a sense of community on campus and after graduation. It’s truly a great support network!

Lastly, if you are interested in applying what you are learning outside of class, there are many cool research opportunities that students can pursue in GLE, as well as Civil Engineering and Geoscience.

Graduation is coming up fast. What’s next for you?

After graduation, I am taking a six-week road trip out west to visit national parks and see parts of the country I have not yet! I will return in June start a full-time position as a geotechnical engineer with Westwood Professional Services, where I will travel the country performing geotechnical subsurface investigations to aid in designing future wind and solar farms.

I look forward to gaining as much experience as I can as an entry-level engineer at Westwood. I also want to get involved in professional engineering organizations such as Engineers Without Borders. Long-term, I want to earn my professional engineering license and earn a master’s degree.