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New Penn College civil engineering faculty returns ‘home’

When Ruth A. Hocker first visited Pennsylvania College of Technology, she didn’t know of civil engineering. Nearly a quarter century after that fateful day, Hocker is back on campus preparing tomorrow makers for the rewarding field.

The new civil engineering technology instructor is more than the first full-time female faculty member in the Materials Science & Engineering Technologies Division that Penn College formed in 2020. Hocker is an industry leader, specializing in water resources and management. The engineer has shared her expertise throughout the world but has never forgotten where it was cultivated.

“My entire career and everywhere that it has taken me started right here on this campus,” said Hocker, who graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology. “I think it’s always been in the back of my mind that I would love to be able to come back and teach.”

Ruth A. HockerKathy D. Chesmel, assistant dean of materials science & engineering technologies, is pleased Hocker acted on that thought.

“Ruth will be able to share her expertise in both the private sector and municipal-work environments to provide our students with a solid understanding of what civil engineers actually do,” Chesmel said. “In addition to possessing outstanding technical skills, Ruth clearly loves her field. Her passion comes through whenever she talks about her work. I’m confident that she will bring that enthusiasm to the classroom, for the benefit of students.”

As a part-time student in 1999, Hocker didn’t know what she wanted to do in life. She had taken some general education courses at a community college when a friend – majoring in civil engineering at Penn College – asked her to assist with a makeup project requiring surveying work near the Breuder Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center.

“At that point, my knowledge of engineering was really limited to the people who drive trains,” Hocker laughed.

The late William Sprinsky broadened her perspective. Hocker met the longtime civil engineering technology instructor while he supervised her friend’s project. Their exchange piqued Hocker’s curiosity about civil engineering and the occupation’s potential impact on society. By fall, she was enrolled full time in the Penn College program.

“Civil engineering is a broad and diverse profession. It’s making the world a better place through safer infrastructure, cleaner water, robust designs to address climate resilience, any number of things to make the world we live in a safer, cleaner, nicer place,” Hocker explained.

Small classes and hands-on experience – hallmarks of a Penn College education – prepared Hocker to make a difference.

“The practicality of what I learned really set me apart from a lot of other graduates who came from more theoretical programs. Penn College opened doors for me from day one,” she said.

Those doors led to a master’s in environmental engineering from Penn State and leadership roles for private companies and public agencies throughout Pennsylvania devoted to transportation design, low-impact development and green infrastructure implementation. Watershed health is the one constant on her extensive and varied resume.

Water provided the backdrop for Hocker’s childhood on her family’s farm in Columbia County. The self-described “river rat” loved fishing at the property’s small pond and exploring area creeks and the Susquehanna River.

“Water has sort of been my spiritual element. I feel very grounded when I’m near water, whether it’s an ocean, lake or stream,” she said.

Such appreciation proved appropriate for her eventual career.

“No matter what you do from a civil engineering perspective, you’re going to interact with water,” Hocker stressed. “Whether you’re grading, quarrying, building a bridge or building, doing site work, water always plays a role. Whatever we do and don’t do influences whether water is clean and available.”

Hocker’s devotion to improving and protecting water resources extends far beyond her Lock Haven home. For more than six years, she managed the stormwater and wastewater collections bureaus for Lancaster, requiring her to modernize infrastructure for one of the oldest inland cities in the country. The past two years she’s focused on the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River watersheds as the Pennsylvania director for the Center for Watershed Protection, a national nonprofit group dedicated to shielding waterways from the impacts of land-use activities.

Since 2016, Hocker has volunteered for Engineering Ministries International and traveled to Kenya to assist a hospital facing watershed issues. Active membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers and its Environmental Water Resources Institute has taken her to Australia, China and the Czech Republic, where she has delivered conference presentations and exchanged expertise with local engineers.

The breadth and depth of Hocker’s experience is impressive, especially since it has occurred in a male-dominated field. Only about 17% of civil engineers in the United States are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hocker credits strong mentors – including now retired Penn College civil engineering teacher, JoAnn Stephens – for helping her navigate being the exception rather than the rule. The availability of such mentorship is why she encourages young women today to consider a career in civil engineering.

“There’s definitely a network of support available, not just from women in the field, but also from men in the field who recognize that some of the traditional actions and attitudes have to change,” she said.

Chesmel believes Hocker, who has taught part time at Harrisburg Area Community College and Penn State Harrisburg, will be a full-time change agent in her Penn College classroom.                                                     

“Ruth will be able to lead by example and demonstrate that women can master the same technical skills as men,” the assistant dean said. “Her experiences as a civil engineer will be from a perspective that is unique and different from that of her male colleagues. She was hired because of her exceptional technical skills and experience. However, having a female become part of our faculty brings unique benefits.”

For Hocker, the benefit is the opportunity to educate and inspire all students.

“I’m most looking forward to fostering students’ curiosity, devising new solutions to age-old problems, and helping them be best prepared to enter the workforce and be a contributing team member from day one,” she said.

Penn College offers a bachelor’s and associate degree in civil engineering technology. For information about those programs and other majors offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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