Skip to main content

Oxford undergraduate member of Geotechnical Early Careers Challenge winning team

Fourth year undergraduate Susanna Pahl joined a team of early career professionals to design an embankment on soft soil for a UK highway

Embankment Design For Social Value

The Early Careers Challenge was launched by Ground Engineering (GE) magazine and Mott MacDonald earlier this year. Early career professionals, undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as apprentices, were invited to apply for the challenge.

This year's challenge involved designing an embankment on soft soil for a UK highway, and teams were expected to use digital tools to prove long-term sustainable goals for their scheme.

Fourth year undergraduate Susanna Pahl was in the winning team which was mentored by Mott MacDonald principal engineering geologist Gareth Mason.  She says, “I was selected to take part in the Challenge from 115 applicants. The 20 finalists were split into four groups of five and assigned the same challenge – to design an embankment for connecting two fictional towns. My team used the information given to produce a conceptual ground model and examine construction risks such as reclaimed land, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and differential settlement. We examined the social and environmental impacts of the construction work.”

“The discussion and collaboration led to three conceptual designs, with each then analysed using Power BI – a software to calculate the embedded carbon. Cost and time evaluations were also carried out. This informed our final conclusions. I contributed to the group discussions on technicalities and conducted an environmental study examining the local impacts of the work. I modified the embankment’s assumed design to maximise the project’s social value, using an approach called ‘Strong Towns’”.

The teams gave a final presentation to a judging panel in early October, who selected Susanna’s team as the winners for presenting a good conceptual ground model, showcasing strong technical solutions, effectively challenging the brief, ussing digital technologies effectively, and working well together on the project.

Susanna adds, “As an Oxford Engineering undergraduate, I benefitted greatly by learning from the peers I met on the Challenge, all early professionals. In particular, it was interesting to hear about their experience of an engineer’s role in the civil engineering industry and notice how each team member approached the problem. We won the Challenge because we showed excellent collaboration, combining all of the best ideas into an exceptional design”.

Susanna's MEng dissertation is on resilience of high-voltage power lines in the face of extreme, climate change-induced wind. She has experience of on-site structural and tunnelling work, tendering and civil design and wants to design infrastructure addressing the environmental, political and social needs of communities.


Alternative options for embankment on soft soil for a UK highway


Concept Design for embankment on soft soil for a UK highway