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About Denise

Denise R. Simmons, Ph.D., joined the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as an Assistant Professor in 2013. She is also an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Engineering Education and an affiliate research faculty member in the School of Education’s Educational Research & Evaluation Program. She is the 2016 recipient of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Assistant Professor and the Black Graduate Student Organization’s Lisa Tabor Award for Community Service.   Using deep insights from a fourteen-year industry career and her strengths as a systems thinker, Dr. Simmons is now developing and disseminating empirically-grounded models and strategies for improved human competence, motivation, and learning as it relates to the civil engineering profession and the construction industry. 

Dr. Simmons is a discipline-based education researcher who passionately pursues research to develop an agile, ethical, diverse construction workforce enabled to lead, design, and build sustainable, intelligent infrastructure. Her research focus is at the intersection of three aspects of the U.S. construction workforce: competences necessitated by critical industry-wide forces and associated effective competence development pathways; demographics and its influence on diversity and labor availability; and strategies in teaching, recruitment, and retention. Her mission is to transform the construction workforce and sustain change. To this end, she undertakes research that enables her to influence postsecondary education and workplace learning pathways; instructional, diversity, recruitment, and retention strategies; and federal, state, local and institutional policies and practice and that result in professional competency in civil and construction engineering.

Dr. Simmons’s research is funded by grant support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Her research interests are in investigating students’ development of leadership and other professional competences and, as a NSF CAREER award recipient, in students’ involvement in college activities with an additional focus on underrepresented groups in engineering. Other NSF-funded work includes research exploring social and cognitive engagement in the construction classroom. Dr. Simmons uses a range of theories, methods, and methodologies, and collaborates with interdisciplinary teams, to address the complex problems facing the engineering profession and the construction industry.  Ultimately she seeks to move from an interdisciplinary to a transdisciplinary approach to research.

Dr. Simmons holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in civil engineering and a graduate certificate in engineering education—all from Clemson University. Until 2012, she was the director of the Savannah River Environmental Sciences Field Station. Dr. Simmons has nearly fourteen years of engineering and project management experience working with public utility companies, a project management consulting company, and a software company.  She is a registered professional engineer, project management professional, and LEED accredited professional. As a proud member of the Virginia Tech community, she strives everyday to accomplish the charge of its motto Ut Prosim in the spirit of community, diversity, and excellence.

About Simmons Research Lab

The Simmons Research Lab (SRL) is home to a dynamic, interdisciplinary mix of undergraduates, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers from several colleges and departments at Virginia Tech who work together to explore engineering and construction labor and personnel issues.  We work to sustain an agile, ethical, diverse construction workforce enabled to lead, design and build sustainable, intelligent infrastructure. SRL members learn research methods appropriate for investigating human thinking, motivation, and learning. We bridge the gaps in language, background, and ways of thinking from the social sciences and higher education to civil engineering and the construction industry. Internally, we publish a bi-weekly newsletter called the Forge to keep the team informed on topics ranging from important publications to read to upcoming birthdays of team members.  Externally, we share our research findings through manuscripts, posters, oral presentations, social media and other disseminations outlets.