Alumni Spotlight: Bhavna Sharma (CEE PhD ‘10)
Bhavna Sharma Builds a Global Career Blending Architecture and Engineering
Bhavna Sharma’s career has taken her all across the world, but the connections she forged at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering helped her map her own unique career path.
With an eye toward historical restoration and preservation, Sharma (CEE PhD ‘10) left her hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii, to pursue a BS and MA in architecture and art history, respectively, at the State University of New York at Buffalo. While she learned about the historical perspectives of architecture, she wanted to do more.
“I realized quickly that I didn't really have the skill sets to complete a restoration, so I got interested in structural engineering,” said Sharma. “I actually went back home, to the University of Hawaii, and did a masters in structural engineering, to get that engineering perspective and go into preservation work.”
Once there, however, Sharma says she “got the research bug” and discovered a passion for sustainability. She became an NSF IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) Fellow at the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) at the University of Pittsburgh and was able to craft her own PhD to study the performance of bamboo structures in northeast India with Kent Harries, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt.
“I reached out to Kent Harries, because his work aligned with a lot of my interests. I shared my full background in architecture, architectural history, and structural engineering, and he shared a project he had been trying to work on with a former student in Northeast India looking at Bamboo,” recalled Sharma. “It brought all of my expertise together perfectly, and with the IGERT Fellowship, I was able to focus on that as part of my PhD.”
In pursuing her degree at MCSI and the Swanson School of Engineering, Sharma made rewarding connections—both local and international—that influenced her career for years to come. After graduating with her PhD in 2010, she stayed on with MCSI as a postdoctoral researcher and then visiting assistant professor. Since then, she’s criss-crossed the globe, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Cambridge University and the University of Bath in England.
Returning to the U.S. in 2019, Sharma is now an assistant professor at the University of Southern California and is on the USC President’s Working Group for Sustainability. The connections she made at Pitt continue to be an integral part of her career.
“Over the many years we've known each other, first as a student, and then as a postdoc, and now as an assistant professor, Dr. Harries continued to mentor me and provide guidance,” Sharma said. “We've actually managed to kind of collaborate along the way, as well. I can’t overemphasize the impact those connections have had and continue to have on my career.”