Drone researcher, alumna, surveys landscape and water systems, lands on 100+ Women Strong

By Lauren Winton

Published: Nov 7, 2019 11:07:00 AM

Beth Prior is determined to change the world. And she’s using her Auburn education to do just that.

A 2019 alumna in civil engineering and recent matriculate into the biological systems engineering doctoral program at Virginia Tech, Prior examines water quality. The kicker? She uses drones.

“During my undergraduate education I had the opportunity to assist graduate students in their research by collecting water samples at their field sites,” Prior said. “And for my undergraduate research fellowship I decided to investigate the possibility of using drones to holistically assess a stream’s water quality as an alternative to manually collecting samples. I decided to continue on this path for my doctoral research.”

Beth Prior with drone

Prior’s research comes at an extremely topical time, considering society’s leaning towards sustainable and resilient green infrastructure and practices.

The inspiration for her research began when working at the Auburn University Erosion and Sediment Control Testing Facility. It was also there that she noticed something else: a lack of other female engineers.   

“On second thought,” said Prior, “I think the first time I really noticed the discrepancy in the number of female to male engineers was my physics lab. There were sixty-four seats in the lab. Once each seat was filled, only five, including myself, were women.”

Since Prior was in her first physics lab, the ratio of women to men in engineering at Auburn has increased significantly. This has come, in no small part, because of the efforts of leadership and the pioneering 100+ Women Strong program.

“I knew I wanted to go into engineering when I went to a Women in Engineering Summer Camp in high school. It was hosted by 100+ Women Strong, and I was able to talk to female engineering faculty at Auburn,” said Prior.

One of the female faculty members in attendance was Molly Hughes, who is a civil engineering lecturer and the faculty liaison for 100+ Women Strong.

“Dr. Hughes really encouraged me to look at all aspects of engineering. But in the end, I fell in love with civil. Civil engineering is unique because there are so many pathways you can take with it,” Prior said. “And I was fortunate because Auburn, particularly the 100+ Women Strong program, allowed me to dive deep into my civil engineering research interests through financial support and networking opportunities.”

In fact, Prior said she felt the support of 100+ Women Strong throughout her time at Auburn.

“I came to Auburn in large part because of the opportunities afforded to me through 100+ Women Strong. It was a comprehensive system of support that I greatly benefited from. And while I was at Auburn, I had a wonderful mentor,” Prior said.

Prior’s 100+ Women Strong mentor, Alex Wild, ’11 and ’13 civil engineering, provided guidance and insight into the legal aspect of environmental engineering regulations. Wild, who works as an engineer for Southern Company’s Environmental and Natural Resources division, helped Prior segue into her focused research area.

“Although I grew up around research – my mother was and my father is still affiliated with research at Auburn – I really did not have much experience with the policy side of it,” said Prior. “Alex’s experience was really enlightening.”

In the same way that Prior drew inspiration from her mentor, she is now a mentor in the 100+ Women Strong program.

“Auburn Engineering really provides a student-centered experience,” said Prior. “I had wonderful professors, and it is evident that the faculty and staff really want you to succeed. I am truly grateful for my Auburn education.”

A new 100+ Women Strong member, mentor and active young alumna, Prior exemplifies the mission of the program: recruit, retain and reward women in engineering.

To learn more about the 100+ Women Strong program, visit http://www.eng.auburn.edu/giving/100-women-strong/.  

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.2304

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