New Tricks for an Old Dog--Wright Earns Doctorate at 71

Jerry Wright will graduate with a Ph.D. at age 71, almost 50 years after he completed his bachelor’s at Mines.

In 1966, Jerry Wright (CE 71) walked into the Civil / Mechanical Engineering Building on the Mines campus as an 18-year-old kid with an interest in engineering. Fifty years later, he came full circle when he walked through the doors again as a new PhD student.

“I had to learn a lot about stuff I never knew,” he jokes.

Any graduate degree involves a learning curve, but Wright brought a lifetime of experience to the table when he returned to Mines. His career as the leader of the Rapid City Solid Waste Division included expanding the municipal landfill to incorporate broad recycling and composting programs. Wright spent 27 years in the Army National Guard and Reserve, including a return to active duty after being called out of retirement to serve in Kuwait.  “I thank my kids for offering to co-sign my student loans,” he says with a smile. “But the GI Bill paid for my education.”

His doctoral dissertation is an extension of his career in environmental engineering. His core idea is to work with Mother Nature to conserve irrigation water by spreading compost on crop and grazing land.

The draft dissertation begins with the words “On a dark and stormy night,” an appropriate opening for a thesis tied to the hydrologic cycle, which he notes is “a natural phenomenon beyond the control of human beings.”  Putting compost to more widespread use is something Wright came up with while leading the charge to see yard waste turned into compost at the local recycling facility. But there was little data to support the notion that spreading compost on croplands would save water while increasing yield.  “The idea of this thesis is to verify what many people have known for years,” he says.  The work is proving that the efforts he undertook throughout his career—to see waste recycled into useful products like compost—have potential for the future generations. “This is a win-win for the amount of water needed to grow a crop,” says Wright. This research is a continuation of his lifetime of service to the community. In one sense it’s a capstone, but it’s by no means an end. There is little doubt that Wright’s decades of experience in the field of civil and environmental engineering will benefit Mines students in the years to come.

Last edited 5/2/2019 10:01:41 AM

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