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BYU undergraduate receives USSD scholarship award

How one BYU student's research can save lives.

Jason Poff, a former Civil Engineering student here in CCE, won a scholarship for $7,000 in April 2022 after submitting a proposal for the work and presenting at the United States Society on Dams (USSD) conference in San Diego.

His research focused on roller currents that can form at low head dams and trap recreationists and would-be rescuers, drowning about 50 people each year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The research he is doing attempts to predict which dams are most likely to be dangerous by looking at the slope downstream of the low head dam. His research team at BYU has been hard at work creating state inventories of low-head dams and finding documented cases of fatalities. They used this data to test slope at dams with fatalities versus dams with no fatalities. The initial results seemed to indicate that flat streams with a low-head dam are more likely to have a fatality, but upon further statistical testing, they were not significantly different enough to establish a connection. Upon gathering more data on fatalities, they suspect that there will be statistical significance.

Jason presented his initial findings and plan for further research in San Diego at the conference with three other student finalists, whom he became fast friends with. At the time he was the only undergraduate presenting research. Each presentation was about 20 minutes, and professionals and academics came in and asked questions. At the end they had a total of $30,000 to split between the four finalists. Jason was awarded $7,000 and used this to continue the work and go on to graduate school.

Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss and Jason wrote a conference paper and presented at an ASDSO (Association of State Dam Safety Officials) conference in September 2022, and barely just submitted a journal paper that presents their full work in January 2023. Jason is now a graduate student at Oregon State University, where his research focuses on hydroinformatics.

Jason Poff
A presentation at the conference.