Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Geary (BSCE ’09, MSCE ’14)
"I always thought I wanted to pursue engineering, and as I got into it, it only reinforced that, yes, this is the right decision.”
Mountain ranges that are hundreds of millions of years old; rivers that snake across the landscape; a rich history of mining and industry: Southwestern Pennsylvania’s landscape creates challenges—and exciting projects—for civil engineers.
Matthew Geary knows these challenges well.
When aging infrastructure, landslides or other geological issues interrupt Duquesne Light Company’s power grid, Geary, a consulting civil engineer at Duquesne Light, answers the call.
“Pittsburgh has a proud industrial legacy, and Duquesne Light has been a part of that since the beginning,” said Geary. “My area, asset management, is about making the best decision with limited funds as to what is the next project to replace, and how do we manage the assets we have.”
Geary’s interest in geotechnical engineering began in his undergraduate years at the Swanson School of Engineering, when he attended a seminar where a local engineering company recounted its work on PNC Park, including the geotechnical challenges involved.
“I got an internship in the field and have been playing in the dirt, concrete, grout and mud ever since,” said Geary.
Choosing to attend Pitt was an easy choice to make—Geary’s family has a long history of attending the University, and he always knew it would be a good fit. Studying engineering, too, was an easy choice. Growing up, Geary’s favorite hobbies were building with LEGOs, using sticks and rocks to construct dams in the creek near his house, and creating tracks for his Matchbox Cars.
Each class he took at the Swanson School confirmed that he’d made the right choice.
"We have a rich Pitt history in my family, and I'm proud to be a part of that,” said Geary. "I always thought I wanted to pursue engineering, and as I got into it, it only reinforced that, yes, this is the right decision."
When he graduated with his BS in civil engineering in 2009, Geary had to make a decision. Should he enter the risky job market just after the 2008 financial crisis, or pursue graduate work in civil engineering? His work with William Kepler Whiteford Professor Julie Vandenbossche—and her engaging style of teaching—helped convince him to continue working in her lab as a master’s student.
“When I was graduating from Pitt, I made a decision that I was going to pursue a Masters instead of a PhD. But the professors I had at Pitt, like Dr. Vandenbossche, really inspired me, and a part of me was sad because I really wanted to be able to have that effect on students. It felt like that door was closed to me without a PhD,” said Geary.
Luckily, he was wrong.
After graduate school, while working at a local civil and environmental engineering consulting firm, Geary continued to be involved as a volunteer at the Swanson Schools’ Design EXPO. Because of his involvement, he was top of mind when the department was searching for someone to teach the engineering geology course.
Now, he’s teaching the next generation of Pitt Engineers to understand how the geology of a region impacts the structures that it can support. As an adjunct faculty member at Pitt, Geary teaches the Engineering Geology course, sharing his love of geotechnical engineering with the next generation of engineers.
“That’s really been a blessing,” he said. “When I started practicing in a consulting engineering firm, I had a geotechnical background but didn’t have an appreciation for geology. It was only after working on real problems in the field that I realized this geology component is actually really important to a lot of what we do. My goal in coming back was to educate students to fill in these gaps. But mostly, I’m just really happy to still be in the Pitt community.”