City Light Project Earns Seattle U Engineering Team National Award

In 2016-2017, a project team of four of Seattle University students took on an engineering challenge from Seattle City Light to determine the capacity of the Ross Dam Intake Access Bridge at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project, an essential structure to conduct maintenance operations at Ross Dam. Last month, Seattle U was selected as one of this year’s National Council of Examiners for Engineering Surveying (NCEES) Engineering Education Award recipients for their work.

The project team: Front Row L-R: Chris Belson, Yashar Zafari, Delton Oki (students)
Second Row L-R: James Esteban (student), Josh Pugh Ph.D., PE (faculty advisor)
Third Row: Dan O’Sullivan (City Light)


The Seattle U Engineering Design Team was tasked by City Light to determine the current capacity of the bridge as well as to design an economical solution to strengthen the bridge to safely carry the types of vehicles typically needed by City Light to conduct maintenance, such as a large crane. The team of civil engineering seniors and their faculty advisor Dr. Joshua Pugh met and collaborated with City Light’s Dan O’ Sullivan and Dave Rowan throughout the academic year to determine possible engineered solutions to address the issues with the bridge. The students then presented the solutions to City Light for consideration.

“The year-long project with City Light is an excellent opportunity for Civil Engineering seniors to work on a real-life project under the mentorship of City Light engineers,” explains Dr. Nirmala Gnanapragasam, associate professor at Seattle University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “The City Light engineers help the students learn how to apply the technical knowledge gained through coursework to analyze the problem and develop a solution while developing important professional skills before entering the engineering workforce. The engineers from City Light, specifically Robert Cochran, Owen Kohashi and Dan O’Sullivan, who sadly passed away, have been dedicated mentors to our students and have developed strong relationships with our civil engineering faculty.”

Another project team from SU was also recognized by NCEES for the design of a culvert replacement in Snohomish County making it fish passable. Click here to learn more about Seattle University’s NCEES awards.




Seattle City (spot)Light: Robert Cochran

Senior Civil Engineer Robert Cochran celebrates ten years at City Light this month. As part of the Generation Operations and Engineering group, Robert specializes in structural engineering with a focus on seismic resiliency. “Before City Light, I worked as a private consultant for several engineering offices in Seattle,” Robert explained. “That’s how I got my experience in structural engineering and seismic design; I worked on schools, fire stations and other related projects.”

Born and raised in Seattle, Robert grew up on Mercer Island. He attended North Seattle College where he received an associates degree in drafting and went on to the University of Washington to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He lives in Lake Forest Park with his wife of 33 years, Marlene and has four children. “Seattle is fantastic in terms of the diversity of the region,” Robert shared. “I’ve never really wanted to move away.”

In this week’s (spot)Light, Robert gives insight into his work as a seismic engineer and shares his love of music.

Senior Civil Engineer Robert Cochran

“I’m a musician; a singer-songwriter. I share music under two different names: Daffodil Daydream and Crystal City Rockers. The Beatles are my favorite band and I think my music has a Beatle-esque flavor. We are a musical family.  My wife sings, my two sons are in local bands with albums out and my eldest daughter is completing her first EP.  We periodically go to their shows; tonight, it’s at the Tractor Tavern!”

“In terms of my work, well, we’ve all heard of ‘The Big One.’ Based on recent information, we know the seismicity of our region better. We also know that our older facilities were built before seismic design was a major concern. It’s my job to asses our structures and make the proper recommendations to improve the capabilities of our structures and facilities. The process can be broken down into three steps: screen, evaluate and mitigate, if needed.”

“Every year, we work on a civil engineering project with students at Seattle University. We usually have four or five students involved. It’s great because we get the opportunity to mentor these students and, in the process, they help assess our facilities. This year we’re looking at a powerhouse.”

“City Light is a national leader in applied seismic design as we have incorporated base isolation, damping and other technologies to enhance earthquake performance.  I’ll be presenting a paper that showcases a sample of our work at the ASCE ETS Conference in Atlanta this fall. The presentation is entitled ‘Seismic Resiliency, What a Utility Needs to Know to Keep the Lights On.’”

“I feel like there is a community benefit to my being part of the utility. Seattle has 700,000+ people and every day I’m doing things that will improve their chance of having power after an earthquake. That’s kind of what jazzes me. To know that I have a direct impact on our city.”