Father and Son to Receive Civil Engineering Ph.D.'s

Article originally written by Jose Alejandro Bastidas of the LSU Daily Reveille, and published May 3, 2015. 

When civil engineering doctoral student Samuel Cooper Jr. walks across the stage on Commencement Day, he said he’ll wait for his son — civil engineering doctoral student Samuel Cooper III — so they can walk down the stairs together with diplomas in hand.

“I told him not to because he’s trying to steal my thunder, but whatever happens, happens,” Sam III said. “It’ll embarrass me, but it wouldn’t be the first time.”

“And it won’t be the last,” Sam Jr. said.

Sam Jr., 58, and Sam III, 30, will receive their doctorates May 14 after going through the program under the same adviser, taking the same classes and working together at the Louisiana Transportation Research Center.

After graduating from the University in 1980, Sam Jr. moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, to work in construction for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development. He said he always pictured himself going back to school, though.

He returned to the classroom 26 years later, in 2006, to complete his master’s degree. He graduated in December 2008 and started working on his Ph.D. right away.

“I came back to LTRC [in 2002], and [the University] is right across the big parking lot, so I thought, ‘It’s time,” Sam Jr. said. “I like being back at school. It keeps your brain fresh. We can still learn after 26 years of being out.”

Sam III received his bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Central Florida in 2008.

He arrived at the University in August of that year after discussing it as a direct pathway between his undergraduate and doctoral degrees with civil engineering professor Louay Mohammad.

He earned his master’s degree while on this academic path.

Sam Jr. and Sam III chose topics of national interest to pursue for their dissertations, Mohammad said.

Sam Jr.’s research focused on sustainability — specifically, on repurposing asphalt shingles by mixing them with road-building materials while making sure the material’s quality is unaffected.

Sam III looked at how factors in mixture design practices affect the production of the material used to build roads.

“The findings of the research ... performed by the Coopers will contribute to changes in specifications for road construction,” Mohammad said. “It was imperative to understand the problems and provide systematic methodology that will yield a framework for the change of engineering practices in road construction, ensuring [a] long-lasting, durable and sustainable pavement infrastructure.”

While they haven’t taken classes together since 2011, Sam Jr. said he remembers writing his name as “Sam Cooper ‘The Father’” on tests and homework assignments to avoid confusion.

“I’d just tell [professors] to put the higher grade on mine,” Sam III said.

Sam Jr. is a section leader at LTRC in charge of technology transfer and training. Sam III works as an asphalt research engineer.

Sam III said working and studying alongside his father has highs and lows, but he appreciates getting to spend time with him. Many young people take that privilege for granted, he said.

“[Sam Jr.’s] got all the experience, as far as knowing practically how things will apply,” Sam III said. “The expertise he has from 30 years of doing this helped play into what’s important for my research. I guess I helped him because I know how to use all the machines. He breaks the machines, I fix them and then he goes back and breaks them again.”

After graduation, Sam Jr. and Sam III plan to continue working at LTRC.