Michael Justason, W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology assistant professor, has been appointed as a fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering in recognition of his work in geotechnical and foundation engineering.
You’d be hard pressed to find Michael Justason without a dry-erase marker in his hand.
The champion of the lightboard and assistant professor at the W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology accompanies his explanations of civil engineering with larger than life designs and stories from the field.
After years of dedication to the profession in and outside the classroom, Justason is being appointed as a fellow of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE).
The fellowship honours his 20 years of experience in heavy civil construction as well as his commitment to teach the next generation of civil engineers.
“I was very pleased. It’s a wonderful honour to receive…it’s nice recognition for both halves of my professional career,” Justason said.
Prior to joining McMaster University, Justason had a fulfilling career with Bermingham Foundation Solutions (now Soletanche-Bachy Canada) that saw him engaging with innovative technology around the world.
He recounted travelling to over 40 countries, exploring challenges in pile driving and deep foundations in North and South America, Europe and Asia. Among his first projects was reconstruction work of the Hanshin Expressway in Japan, which had collapsed during the devastating magnitude 7.3 Hanshin-Kobe earthquake in 1995.
His experience has included incredible projects like the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, the Burj Al Arab tower hotel in Dubai, and Taipei 101. Justason served as president of the Pile Driving Contractors Association and was further involved in the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Deep Foundations Institute.
One notable milestone, Justason said, has been authoring an ASTM specification for a new type of test for foundations. He has also been named on several patents and industry awards for innovation in equipment development and techniques for construction of deep foundations.
Justason hopes these wide-ranging achievements and experiences will guide his students; in going beyond what’s on the page, the professor brings textbook concepts to life.
“Coming to McMaster University, the thing I seemed to leverage the most is all the stories that I have that I can tell students and relate to what we’re learning in class…I can bring a personal element to the technical,” he said.
Connection is at the heart of his teaching; Justason said he continually makes efforts to better reach his students – especially as learning transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Justason beamed as he demonstrated the inventive lightboard tool: how he presents in front of a camera and integrates PowerPoint slides into his lessons, all the while changing scenes, writing notes, and drawing out concepts.
The co-founder of LightBoard Depot, which manufactures lightboards and provides tools for studio set-ups, was featured in The Hamilton Spectator on the “next-level learning tech” and its advantages for remote learning. He also led webinars on the technology for organizations such as the MacPherson Institute and Contact North.
The assistant professor, who earned the President’s Award for outstanding contributions to teaching and learning in 2019, even started a YouTube channel at the beginning of the pandemic to hone his skills and evaluate interest in civil engineering topics. His goal is to keep learners visually engaged for longer.
Justason said he’s pleased to see growing interest in technology that can help create a more dynamic learning environment. Preliminary results of a study focusing on lightboards for live synchronous teaching, he said, show a 30 per cent increase in the number of students who report feeling engaged in their class.
Seeing students thriving in the classroom and interested in the material, he said, is gratifying.
“I enjoy doing a good job explaining things to students and I enjoy seeing the light bulb go off for them. I enjoy seeing them go on to be successful in their careers beyond McMaster.”
Justason thanked his wife for her support, without which his career and worldwide experience “couldn’t have happened,” and credited her for some of the techniques he uses in class: a favourite is “PowerPoint karaoke,” where students make presentations on randomized topics to confront a fear of presenting and making mistakes. “It’s ok not to be perfect,” he said.
The desire for better opportunities for students drove Justason to help carve out a pathway for B. Tech graduates to pursue a P.Eng designation.
A life-long learner himself – he is working on a PhD in civil engineering part-time – Justason recognizes immense value in helping students grow and develop.
While his departure from the private sector to academia was a risk, he said it was one worth taking.
“You can’t be afraid of the unknown. The good things that happened to me in my career happened because I took risks,” he said. “Don’t be afraid of change… You only live once.”
He thanked Susan Tighe, Provost and Vice-President Academic as well as past president of the CSCE, professor (emeritus) Dieter Stolle, outgoing chair of the civil engineering department Mike Tate, and professor (emeritus) Brian Baetz for their kind and generous support.