Years ago, hydrology was considered an elective in Cal Poly Pomona’s civil engineering program; but not anymore. Now more than ever, students need to know how rainfall, soil water and sediment transport can affect environmental engineering projects over time — particularly, how they impact overall sustainability and environmental protection.
Fortunately, Cal Poly Pomona is now benefitting from a vital resource that brings this unique expertise to campus. This fall, thanks to a generous faculty fellowship established by RBF Consulting, the university’s civil engineering department welcomed Seema Shah-Fairbank as its newest hydrology professor.
“We’ve had a great relationship with Cal Poly Pomona’s civil engineering department for many years, and when we learned about the current budget shortfalls, the rapid growth of the civil engineering undergraduate program, and the difficulties in finding well-qualified, industry-experienced faculty members, that really caught our attention,” says Robert Kallenbaugh, CEO of RBF Consulting and 1974 alumnus. “We wanted to do our part to help the university find a solution.”
“We were particularly interested in finding someone we could potentially partner with on research or employment opportunities when he or she wasn’t teaching,” Kallenbaugh adds. “Our particular interest is to expand our storm-water and watershed-management capabilities, so we were interested in somebody who was qualified in hydrology and sediment transport.”
That person was Seema Shah-Fairbank, a hydrology professor, who has spent years studying patterns of precipitation, snowfall and water flow through rivers, including sediment transport, contaminants and their associated impact on the environment.
Ironically, Shah-Fairbank has been no stranger to RBF. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2001, she worked at RBF Consulting for three years before she decided to continue her education and obtain a doctoral degree from Colorado State University.
Today, Shah-Fairbank has found her niche in teaching.
“When I got my undergraduate degree in environmental engineering, my hope was to save the world,” Shah-Fairbank says. “I soon realized that one person can only make so much of a difference alone; but as a teacher, I can make a lot more of an impact — hopefully inspiring future generations to continue striving to make things better.
“To be chosen for this faculty position — especially in such a tough economy — and to land at my first choice of universities has been wonderful,” she adds.
According to Don Coduto, civil engineering chair, Shah-Fairbank was a perfect fit.
“Hydrology is an area of expertise our department has needed for a long time,” he says. “Our previous hydrologist retired years ago, and we’ve been searching for a while to find a good person to fill that position. We’re very fortunate to have found Dr. Shah-Fairbank.
“It’s not easy to find good people for full-time faculty positions — and finding the right person is critical, especially for this particular skill set,” he adds. “RBF is a large and well-regarded consulting firm in Southern California and having their name associated with this fellowship was part of what helped us attract a high-quality person.”
Through the years, the long-standing relationship between the university and RBF has been mutually beneficial. RBF currently has 52 Cal Poly Pomona graduates on its staff of 650 people, making Cal Poly Pomona the most represented university in the company.
RBF Consulting has helped the civil engineering department in other ways, too. In 2007, RBF was recognized as a Major Corporate Sponsor for the new Sustainable Land Development Computer Lab and helped secure the donation of 25 seats of computer software. RBF has also served on the Industry Action Council for nearly 20 years.
“We were happy to step up and help meet Cal Poly Pomona’s current needs,” Kallenbaugh says. “Hopefully, through some leadership by example, we can help Cal Poly Pomona attract more companies that are interested in helping out and giving back to the community.”
(Top photo: Seema Shah-Fairbanks teaches hydrology in the civil engineering department.)