Digging deep with a Tufts education

Tufts alumni in the tunneling industry reflect on the value of their education and the support they have received and given to other alums.
Professor Masoud Sanayei and Tufts students visiting the Sumner Tunnel Project with Tufts alum Daniel Ebin.
Professor Masoud Sanayei and Tufts students visiting the Sumner Tunnel Project with Tufts alum Daniel Ebin.

When students graduate from Tufts University, they join an expansive network of Tufts alumni all over the world. Although they are no longer together on a college campus, many Jumbos maintain strong connections with one another or create new relationships with other alums and support each other as they continue along their career journeys.

Tufts School of Engineering alumni thrive at companies and institutions across the globe – like Delve Underground. Founded in 1954 as Jacobs Associates, the underground tunnel design firm sees many Tufts grads from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in its new hires thanks in large part to support and encouragement from alumni within the company and faculty at Tufts.

The Tufts connection

Delve Underground’s long history of employing Tufts alumni starts with Bill Edgerton, E70, who credits his own decision to pursue a career in the tunneling industry in part to Professor Emeritus Lew Edgers. During Edgerton’s time at Tufts, Edgers was a teaching assistant focused on geotechnical engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He was instrumental in promoting regularly organized field trips to support-of-excavation jobs. Edgerton’s student experiences at Tufts led him to a career in the tunnel industry. After a career in several construction companies, he began his consulting career at Delve in 1987, served as president from 1999-2012, and currently works as a principal engineer on a major tunneling project in Washington, DC.

At Tufts, Edgers continued to encourage students to pursue the tunnel industry throughout his career as a professor of civil and environmental engineering. He advised other students who went on to work at Delve Underground, including Eileen (Cooney) Test, E05, and Daniel Ebin, E10, EG12. Test recalls her first introduction to tunneling coming during her Tufts senior capstone project on ground freezing, that was utilized on a Big Dig tunnel in Boston. While Test was originally focused on a career in structural engineering for buildings, hands-on-experiences — including research on rainfall-induced landslides in Japan supported by the Tufts Cataldo scholarship — helped her develop the mentorship which led her to find her passion in the tunnel industry.

Similarly, Ebin’s internships and experiences while at Tufts led him to the tunneling industry. He recalls a particular guest presentation during Professor Chris Swan’s Introduction to Geotechnical Engineering course from Michael Torsiello, E03, EG05, who worked for Delve from 2007-2015, that sparked his interest in the company.

Ebin is currently working on a project close to the Medford/Somerville campus, where Delve Underground is the lead designer on a contractor-led design-build team for the rehabilitation of the 31-foot-diameter Sumner Tunnel that carries traffic for a mile under Boston Harbor, connecting Boston and East Boston. Constructed in the 1930s, the tunnel rehabilitation project involves repairing the deteriorated concrete in the tunnel and installing new precast concrete arches to reinforce the tunnel as well as modernizing other structures and systems within the tunnel.

The value the Tufts connection has on the job is noted by Ebin. “Since working at Delve, I have run into other Tufts alums on projects,” he says. “Both within the company and when working with alums at other companies, it jump-starts building a working relationship knowing the quality of their education and how they were taught to think and solve complex engineering problems.”

Interdisciplinary hands-on learning

In addition to the strength of the Tufts alumni network, Tufts’ rigorous engineering education and liberal arts curriculum prepares students to be flexible and informed on the job.

“The thing about the underground industry is that you can’t use the same solution on all jobs. You have to understand the underlying theory to reach innovative solutions,” says Edgerton. With a solid foundation in theory and an emphasis on hands-on learning, a Tufts education produces well-rounded engineers with traits that are well suited to the demands of the tunneling industry, such as flexibility, creativity, and leadership skills.

Edgerton recalls the impact of Tufts courses such as Professor Kentaro Tsutsumi’s Structures on an Elastic Foundation class, which “went way past formulas” and gave Edgerton some of the skills he would need to succeed in the industry. For Karen Quinn, E09, now a senior project engineer at Delve, courses such as Edgers’ Foundation Engineering and Professor of the Practice Brian Brenner’s Concrete Design helped her to develop the geotechnical and structural skills she would need in her career.

Access to a liberal arts education, with requirements to take an English class in the first year and classes and instruction in technical writing and presentation skills, helps set Tufts grads apart in the engineering industry. The Tufts alums at Delve universally noted the value of the technical writing courses they took at Tufts. Tara (McAuliffe) Nicoletti, E94, joined Delve Underground in 2015 and is currently a lead associate and senior marketing manager for the firm’s east region. She leveraged her engineering technical writing education to shift from structural engineering to a marketing role at Delve, and she put her Tufts engineering and technical writing education to use preparing the proposal that helped Delve win the Sumner Tunnel project.

Continuing the legacy

Former Jumbos at Delve Underground have been paying it forward for decades, sharing their knowledge and experience with Tufts students and recent graduates, and adding their expertise to complex underground projects. New hires benefit from their leadership and mentoring. And contacts with other Tufts alumni at the firm, on projects, and in the engineering community as a whole give Tufts students a significant advantage as they begin their career.

Finding a Tufts connection helps new graduates to feel supported as they enter the workforce. Mike McKenna, E96, EG98, connected with fellow Tufts student Alberto Bonilla, E02, through an internship experience during college. McKenna moved to Delve after the internship and convinced Bonilla to join him upon graduation.

Quinn leveraged Tufts’ powerful alumni network and discovered Torsiello in the Tufts alumni directory while looking for CEE alums in the LA region. “Right away it felt very welcoming. We had a lot to talk about with our New England/Tufts connection despite being on opposite sides of the country,” says Quinn. After appreciating her connection with Torsiello, Quinn also helped hire Jeremy Stone, EG13, who worked at Delve from 2018-2022.

Delving into the future

The Tufts legacy within the company continues to this day. Jessica Lieu, EG24, has been working for Delve for three years and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on structural engineering on a part-time schedule. The flexibility of the part-time master’s degree program allows Lieu to balance working at the company and furthering her education at the same time.

From left to right: Professor of the Practice Brian Brenner, Eileen Test, Daniel Ebin, and Professor Emeritus Lew Edgers.
From left to right: Professor of the Practice Brian Brenner, Eileen Test, Daniel Ebin, and Professor Emeritus Lew Edgers.

Tufts alums regularly pay it forward. Test and Ebin returned to Tufts in 2022 to give an Introduction to Tunneling presentation to an engineering class. In August 2023, Ebin took several students and Tufts Professor Masoud Sanayei on a tour of the Sumner Tunnel project, where he serves as deputy design manager. The group saw the installation of new precast arches, backfill grouting, installation of new tunnel systems, and learned how the ventilation system works.

Test, who recently celebrated 17 years at Delve Underground, attributes her longevity in this industry and at Delve to the facts that no project is the same and that she can use and build upon her background in both geotechnical and structural engineering. Quinn echoes the sentiment. “I’ve worked on Metro tunnels in downtown LA, road tunnels in Australia, sewer tunnels in D.C., and wine caves in Napa,” she says. “You never know what you might work on next, or where you may encounter a fellow Jumbo.”