This engineering student used his experiences abroad to formulate solutions to campus transportation issues.
Written by Heather Richardson
Photographs by M.G. Ellis
Most kids spend their childhood trying to figure out how to answer the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Realistically, it’s a question most won’t be able to decisively answer for years to come.
Not Colin Frosch. When Frosch was 12 years old, he knew without question that he wanted to be an engineer.
“I knew I wanted to major in engineering when I was in middle school,” said Frosch. “All the telltale signs were there: I liked building things; I liked Legos and problem-solving.”
Fast-forward 10 years and an impressive collection of accolades later, and Frosch will turn his childhood aspirations into reality in a big way during West Virginia University's Commencement weekend May 15-17. Frosch will not only graduate with a civil engineering degree from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, but he is also being recognized as a member of the Order of Augusta for his contributions to scholarship, leadership and community service.
A big part of Frosch’s childhood aspirations were inspired by his time in Germany, where he lived with his family from second to sixth grade. Through that experience, he discovered not only that he wanted to be an engineer, but exactly what kind of engineer he wanted to become.
“When I was living in Germany, it gave me the opportunity to observe their state-of-the-art transportation system,” Frosch said. “I was completely fascinated by it. Civil engineering was the right fit for me; I knew I wanted to focus my work on transportation and integration.”
When Frosch returned to the United States, he brought his interest in transportation systems with him. And when the time arrived to choose a college six years later, Frosch believed the right path to accomplish his goals traveled through Morgantown.
“I know a lot of students who came to WVU because they have a family connection here,” he said. “I didn’t have that story. My family was originally from Wisconsin. I came to WVU because I believed it offered me the best opportunities for what I wanted to achieve in civil engineering and to build a foundation for my life.”
And Frosch certainly made the most of those opportunities, especially the travel abroad opportunities – one of which led him back to the country that originally inspired his chosen path.
“I knew I wanted to study abroad,” said Frosch, who traveled to the rural village of Nakavika in Fiji in 2012 as part of Engineers without Borders – a student organization he now leads – to help install and assess water filters. “I knew there were many places I wanted to see, but I really wanted to go back to Germany, where I could learn a new language and advance my knowledge of transportation systems.”
Frosch spent six weeks traveling across northern Germany during his time at WVU. He took classes in German society, environment and German language, which he declared as his minor. He also studied the transportation system that inspired his journey.
“When I came back to WVU from studying in Germany, my mind was working on overdrive,” Frosch said. “I made a lot of observations about transportation, integration and cooperation in their infrastructure, and I really wanted to do something with those observations.”
It wasn’t long before the opportunity to put his observations to good use presented itself. When WVU’s Student Government Association resolved to fix the traffic congestion in front of the Mountainlair in an area known as Grumbein’s Island, they looked to Frosch for help.
Under the guidance of Statler College faculty members Avinash Unnikrishnan and David Martinelli, Frosh took on the project – and came up with a solution that impressed the WVU Board of Governors and President Gordon Gee, who have given him the green light to proceed with his concept.
Frosch gathered more than 40 student volunteers to collect data. Using equipment loaned by the West Virginia Local Technical Assistance Program, volunteers documented the number of vehicles that used each intersection surrounding the Mountainlair, the number of cars that passed Grumbein’s Island, the speed of each vehicle and the turns that they took.
Frosh used that data to simulate current traffic situations and alternatives and ultimately concluded that a bridge or tunnel wasn’t a feasible solution to repair the problem because of high costs associated with those infrastructures.
I know a lot of students who came to WVU because they have a family connection here. I didn’t have that story. My family was originally from Wisconsin. I came to WVU because I believed it offered me the best opportunities for what I wanted to achieve in civil engineering and to build a foundation for my life.
Frosch worked with his research team and proposed the idea of shared space. Invented in the late 20th century by Hans Monderman, the concept links pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic in a design that eliminates traffic signals, curbs and crosswalks. By eliminating all traffic demarcation, user awareness increases and creates a space of equal opportunity and efficiency for all traffic.
“It will ultimately enhance the aesthetics of the downtown campus and create a community atmosphere,” Frosch said. “It will also decrease travel time for vehicular traffic by 30 to 40 percent.”
WVU is currently working with vendors to study the project’s feasibility.
Frosch’s work with the shared space project – and his time as a Mountaineer – will continue this fall through his graduate studies, as he will return to campus following a summer internship with Atkins in Austin, Texas to pursue dual master’s degrees in civil engineering and business administration. He hopes to eventually use this academic combination to work as part of the management team of a transportation or consulting firm.
While Frosch is fulfilling a goal he set a decade ago when he graduates with a civil engineering degree – and with progress in improving the transportation design and infrastructure on the campus he’s called home for the past four years under his belt – he knows his journey is far from over.
“I don’t feel like my journey is winding down, even though I’m graduating,” he said. “This isn’t the end – it’s just a transition to the rest of my life. I’m ready to hit the ground running.”