Featured Alumni

Michael SymansMichael D. Symans

Class of 1990

Associate Professor
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Academic Degrees:
B. S. Physics, SUNY College at Fredonia, 1990.
B. S. Civil Engineering (Cum Laude) SUNY Buffalo 1990
M. S. Civil Engineering, SUNY Buffalo, 1993.
Ph. D. Civil Engineering, SUNY Buffalo, 1995.

Fredonia and SUNY Buffalo Experience:

As an undergraduate cooperative engineering student at SUNY Fredonia, I initially struggled with my physics and engineering courses. However, I received excellent support from the Physics Department faculty (in particular, Professors Grasso and Davey) who were always very patient and giving of their time. In addition, I teamed up with a group of students (Craig Winters, Stuart Cain, Jim Kelly, Matt Dorogi, and others) who worked closely together to successfully complete the Engineering Mechanics courses. SUNY Fredonia provided very good preparation for my SUNY Buffalo academic work to the extent that I graduated from SUNY Buffalo near the top of my class and received generous financial support for attending graduate school at SUNY Buffalo. Interestingly, as an undergraduate student at SUNY Fredonia, I did not intend to attend graduate school However, my good academic preparation at SUNY Fredonia (along with a lot of hard work and perseverance) resulted in a high level of success as an undergraduate student in the Civil and Environmental Engineering program at SUNY Buffalo. This success led to a Senior Scholarship that involved performing research on the dynamic behavior of viscoelastic materials for use in seismic isolation bearings. This research, conducted in the laboratory of the National Center for Earthquake Engineering, led to my interest in performing research toward an M.S. degree. As an M.S. student, I had the opportunity to teach some undergraduate classes. I found teaching to be very rewarding and decided to continue on to earn a Ph.D. and become a professor. My career as a professor, first at Washington State University and now at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been simultaneously very challenging and rewarding.  

Professional Research Interests

As a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo, I began working in the field of earthquake engineering with an emphasis on the development of advanced seismic protection systems. Advanced seismic protection systems are systems that protect infrastructure components (e.g., buildings and bridges) from strong earthquakes. Candidates for such systems include critical facilities such as 911 Emergency Command Centers, Hospitals, and Police Stations. The specific types of seismic protection systems I have primarily worked on over the past 10 years consist of seismic dampers that absorb a large portion of the earthquake input energy. In a building, the dampers are located in multiple stories and act like large shock absorbers that reduce the energy dissipation demand on the building framing system. In addition, I have worked on the development of seismic isolation systems that reflect a large portion of the earthquake input energy. In a building, the isolation system consists of large rubber or sliding bearings that are laterally flexible and vertically stiff. The building is supported on the bearings which act to isolate the building vibration from the earthquake induced ground vibration. Thus, the energy from the earthquake is reflected away from the building, reducing the energy dissipation demand on the building framing system. My latest research efforts are directed toward the development of seismic damping systems for woodframed buildings.

Resume and Publications


Page modified 7/15/14