Civil Engineering Research Facility to Be Named for Alumnus

Civil Engineering Research Facility to Be Named for Alumnus

 A new civil engineering research center in the Arkansas Research and Technology Park will be named for alumnus Grady E. Harvell in honor of his support of the project.

The 37,400-square-foot facility in the Arkansas Research and Technology Park will be named the Grady E. Harvell Civil Engineering Research and Education Center in honor of Harvell, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1972 and is the president of W&W|AFCO Steel.

An estate gift commitment from the Harvell family helped the project reach its final fundraising goal, and the facility is now under construction. This is just one of several gifts the family provided  toward the capital project, and their gifts counted in Campaign Arkansas, the university’s recently concluded capital campaign that raised nearly $1.45 billion to advance academic opportunity at the U of A.  

The Grady E. Harvell Civil Engineering Research and Education Center will include a high-bay structural testing facility with a four-foot thick “strong-floor” capable of testing large-scale structural systems and components. It will also house a 25-ton rail crane to move heavy materials and will allow students and faculty members alike to conduct research.

Harvell credited his career success to the education he received and said he made the gift to support the future generations of engineers.

“I’ve had a successful career because of my engineering degree,” he said. “I got my degree through the efforts of people who were engineers decades before me. I had a scholarship from a gentleman in the College of Engineering Hall of Fame who graduated in 1910 – the Sam and Mary Blair Scholarship. I’m trying to give back to the organization that helped me realize the success I’ve had.” 

Harvell said the space will improve faculty research capabilities and will prove attractive for future students and faculty as well as industries and organizations supporting research projects.

“This will allow our excellent professors – people like Micah Hale and Gary Prinz and all our faculty throughout the department – to excel,” he said. “We want to do our part to make sure they aren’t left out in the competition to attract good students, faculty and research opportunities.”

Harvell said that as the state’s steel industry has grown so has the need for a facility like this one.

“When I was at the U of A in the late ’60s and early ’70s, in the structures field, the program we looked up to was Lehigh University in Pennsylvania,” he said “It’s my hope that, with the professors we have and the facilities we’re able to give them, our civil engineering program will be considered one of the elites so people will want to come here to get their bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.”

Harvell said Arkansas has come to play a major role in the nation’s steel industry. 

“In the 1960s Pennsylvania provided much of the nation’s steel,” he said. “Today, Arkansas provides a major portion of the nation’s steel product. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, the steel industry in Arkansas directly employs 8,741 workers who earn more than $955 million in wages and salaries annually, while generating $6.55 billion in output. Including supplier and induced impacts , the economic engine of this industry is responsible for 46,452 jobs in Arkansas paying a total of $2.85 billion in wages and salaries annually, while generating $13.36 billion in output and $1.37 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. CEREC will support research for this vital industry in our state.

Harvell has been engaged with the University of Arkansas through the Arkansas Academy of Civil Engineering since the 1990s, and he said CEREC has long been a goal for that organization. Harvell praised John English, who was dean of engineering from 2013 to November of 2020, for his commitment to the project. 

“I’ve had a lot of good friends join me in this pursuit, not the least of which is John English as dean of engineering,” he said. “Had he not been engaged, it wouldn’t have happened.” 

English, who now serves as vice chancellor for research and innovation, said Harvell’s passion for the project was critical to its success. 

“It’s not easy to pull together a project of this magnitude,” English said. “Grady’s vision, passion and generosity, alongside the support of so many alumni and friends, have been instrumental in bringing this dream to life.

Everyone engaged with this project will tell you Grady Harvell was the heartbeat of this effort. The impact for our students and our researchers is going to be tremendous, and we’re all grateful for Grady’s dedication.”

Harvell recalled his time on campus and the importance of hands-on learning in a civil engineering curriculum. 

“Structural engineering has always been a passion of mine,” he said. “When I was in school, we had a very basic testing lab down in the basement of what’s now John A. White Jr. Engineering Hall. I did elementary lab tests there to get my B.S. degree.

I’ve recognized the need for a modern structures lab since the mid-’90s when I reengaged with the University — this is phase one of the civil engineering research facility we envision. Civil engineers design and build our infrastructure and these research facilities will provide the means to enhance the education of our future generations of designers and builders.”

He said seeing the project finally under construction is a special feeling.

“It’s extremely rewarding – it’s kind of hard to put into words,” he said. “Frankly, there were times when we had given up on it ever coming to fruition. It’s very rewarding to see us able to create this facility for students and professors who are going to be trained inside its walls for decades to come.” 

About Campaign Arkansas: Campaign Arkansas is the recently concluded capital campaign for the University of Arkansas that raised a record $1.449 billion to support the university’s academic mission and other key priorities, including academic and need-based scholarships, technology enhancements, new and renovated facilities, undergraduate, graduate and faculty research, study abroad opportunities and other innovative programs.

The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in a wide spectrum of disciplines as it works to fulfill its public land-grant mission to serve Arkansas and beyond as a partner, resource and catalyst.


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