Bridge-Building Alumnus Named Champion of Change by President Obama

One in nine bridges in the United States is structurally deficient, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. John Hillman, a UT alumnus, is tackling this problem by building stronger, lighter, safer, and more sustainable bridges.

John Hillman, left, with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at the White House.

His work has caught the eye of President Barack Obama.

The 1986 graduate in civil and environmental engineering and the chief executive officer and chairman of Chicago-based HC Bridge Company LLC. is one of twelve 2013 Champions of Change for Transportation. The White House program features groups of Americans who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.

He is being honored for his invention of the Hybrid-Composite Beam (HCB), a revolutionary bridge technology which reduces the burden of decaying infrastructure for future generations. Hillman visited the White House earlier this month to discuss his ideas with other champions.

“John often quotes Reggie Leach, who once said, ‘Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire,’” said Wayne Davis, dean of the College of Engineering. “His hard work and ingenuity have no doubt ‘set him on fire.’”

The HCB results in bridges that weigh drastically less than today’s bridges while exceeding current lifespans with little or no maintenance. The structural technology also enhances safety by developing bridges that exceed code requirements, helps the environment by using 80 percent less greenhouse gas–emitting concrete than current bridges, and reduces traffic congestion through accelerated construction.

“I became a civil engineer because I love building things,” he said. “I gravitated towards bridges because literally and figuratively I get to help people stay connected. I never dreamed that I would get this type of recognition just for doing what I enjoy. I am both honored and humbled to be included in the distinguished company of the other White House Champions of Change.”

Bridge built by HC Bridge Company using Hybrid-Composite Beams. Photo courtesy of Russel Phillips.

The design involves straight beams that combine polymers with concrete and steel. Hillman’s work on the structure began in 1995 with his realization that he could join the three materials and optimize each one’s performance to result in an extremely lightweight and corrosion-resistant product. It took him more than twelve years to develop HCB, which is now being used in eight states and in contract with several foreign countries.

Hillman has been a structural engineer in the inspection, construction, and design of unique bridges for twenty-seven years. He was named the 2011 Civil Engineering Outstanding Alumnus, the most prestigious award given by the UT department. He was also honored in 2010 with the Award of Excellence by the Engineering News-Record, a prestigious industry publication.

Kathy Caldwell, a 1985 structural engineering graduate, was named a Champion of Change for Transportation in 2011, making two out of thirty-two champions College of Engineering alumni. Caldwell is the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, adjunct professor at the University of Florida, and president of Caldwell Cook & Associates in Gainesville, Florida.

For more information about the Champions of Change, visit the website.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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