Brennan Banks '18 - Making Waves

Sitting in AP Environmental Science his senior year at The Mount, Brennan Banks ’18 flipped his textbook to the next chapter. Mrs. White had already begun her lecture, but Brennan couldn’t pull his eyes away from the pages spread open on his desk. He studied the chapter’s photos and charts, and the more he learned, the more excited he was by the possibility of pursuing a future in this intriguing, interdisciplinary field of coastal science.

As it turned out, one of Brennan’s top college choices during his lacrosse recruiting process also had a reputable ocean engineering program. Now a senior at Florida Tech studying ocean engineering with a concentration in coastal engineering, Brennan already has a wealth of experience under his belt thanks to research opportunities and internships. As part of the FastTrack program, he will also complete his master’s degree on an accelerated timeline.

The summer after his freshman year, Brennan traveled with the Ocean Engineering and Marine Science Department to Rincón, Puerto Rico, to study the local coral reef ecology. During the two-week research experience, he learned how to conduct fish surveys, percent living coral exams, and rugosity tests to measure surface roughness, geometry, and overall reef complexity.

“One of my biggest takeaways from the trip was just how important the coral reefs are to the biodiversity of their local ecosystem and how much protection they provide against erosion on the coastlines,” Brennan explains. 

Gaining this research experience early on in his college career helped catapult Brennan into a series of internships in a variety of roles and disciplines.

“I’ve learned that the coastal science field is so big, and there are many different niches within it,” he says. “The more I can learn about each concentration, the better scientist and engineer that’s going to make me in the long run. Getting these internship and research opportunities so early on helps me figure out what exactly I want to do as a career.”

The summer following his sophomore year, Brennan earned a position as an environmental engineering intern at Underwood & Associates, an ecological restoration company based in Annapolis. There, he worked on living shorelines and wetland regeneration and restoration projects around the Chesapeake Bay area.

During winter break of his junior year, Brennan interned as a site engineer for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock. He conducted topographic and hydrographic surveys to measure the beach slope and assisted in replenishing Atlantic City’s beaches with approximately two million cubic yards of sand material.

Most recently, Brennan served as a coastal engineering intern for GHD. He built seawalls to mitigate erosion at a historic park, completed a water quality monitoring project in Port Everglades, Miami, and used Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to assist in the expansion of a cruise terminal in Miami Port. He also compiled climate change reports to ensure the structures are designed with future storms in mind.

“Whether it’s a seawall, beach and dune restoration, or putting out breakwater to help mitigate wave energy, it’s all to protect coastal communities from large hurricane events and the effects of erosion,” Brennan explains. “Around 127 million Americans live in coastal communities today, so an incredible number of lives and important infrastructure like hospitals, schools, and major highways all rely on us doing our jobs correctly and designing these communities to be resilient through climate change and extreme weather events.”

The culmination of Brennan’s education, research, and internship experiences is the capstone senior engineering design project he and his team have been working on since last spring. The five-person team has researched, designed, and constructed a wavemaker for a new 75-foot wave tank on Florida Tech’s campus. Wave tanks are used by research institutions and government agencies to test models against different wave conditions. The wave-making apparatus includes a paddle face and frame and is controlled by a linear actuator and DC motor. Brennan was responsible for developing the control system, including an app on a touchscreen tablet that allows users to control the wavemaker, input specific wave parameters, and view output graphs and calculations.

Brennan and his classmates were able to test their capstone project in open water during the department’s senior design cruise this summer. They now look forward to presenting the project at Florida Tech’s annual Northrop Grumman Engineering & Science Student Design Showcase.

Brennan also looks forward to exploring yet another specialty in the coastal science field this year, as he was recently awarded an internship with the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association’s Government Affairs Committee called the Student Coastal Advocate Award. The position will allow Brennan to work with practicing coastal experts to develop policy position papers and participate in advocacy efforts seeking to influence federal policy.

It is hard to believe it has only been a few short years since Brennan first discovered coastal engineering in Mrs. White’s AP Environmental Science class. From his first research trip to his final design project, he has taken advantage of every opportunity to expand his knowledge and real-world experience.

Story from The Mount magazine.

Mount Saint Joseph High School

Mount Saint Joseph is a Catholic, college preparatory school for young men sponsored by the Xaverian Brothers.