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Faculty spotlight: Michael Motley

March 17, 2023

Fun fact: This faculty member has crawled on the underside of bridges and was chased by alligators in South Carolina.

Can you tell us more about your fun facts?

Climbing in the bridges was standard operating procedure while I was working throughout Florida. Bridge inspection is hard work, but spending a week in waders in the Florida Keys certainly beats sitting at a desk. I’ve often tried to take my work outdoors, including my summer internships during college. It turns out land surveying in the South Carolina summer can be quite an adventure. I had encounters with wasps, hornets, spiders, lizards, and one angry rattlesnake. But the big one was a simple job on one of the islands where my survey partner and I needed to find four property corners. As we were getting the last one, I saw something out of the corner of my eye and realized it was a 10-12 foot alligator about 10 feet from us. Growing up we were taught to run away from gators in a zig-zag manner, but I assure you we simply dropped everything and sprinted out onto the nearby golf course. It turns out it was a mother gator with a nest of eggs right next to our property corner and she wasn’t going anywhere, so we were in a standoff. My partner climbed a nearby tree, we ballparked the measurement, and left with an exciting story.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m most passionate about teaching and interacting with our students. I have had the opportunity to teach both tracks across the junior year for the past few years, and being able to interact with and get to know the entire undergraduate cohort has been exciting. I also really value the freedom we have to chase down whatever piques our interest. The monotony of office life was too much for me and being able to redefine my career as I need to has kept me fresh and motivated.

What makes CEE unique?

CEE is really a collection of disciplines centered around improving the safety and sustainability of the built environment, and it forces us to keep a broad mindset across both research and teaching. We make people safer, whether they realize it or not, with cleaner drinking water, more efficient roadways, or hazard resilient structures. It is invigorating to work with local leaders across a diverse range of communities to help them develop creative solutions that improve the way of life for their residents.