Hostetter’s research to help people with disabilities



Haley Hostetter wants to be part of the force behind updating building codes.

The 2016 Jasper High School graduate and Southern Illinois University - Carbondale senior is studying civil engineering with a focus on structural engineering and hopes to be part of the research community responsible for recommending building code adjustments to make structures more accessible to people with disabilities. She’s already well on her way. She recently won a Graduate Research Fellowship award from the National Science Foundation.

“I’m hoping to make a difference in building codes and adjust them for people with disabilities,” Hostetter said.

Her inspiration comes from her experience volunteering with Saluki Service Dawgs, a student organization that works with SIT Service Dogs of Ava, Illinois to help train future service dogs. For the program Hostetter helped expose the dogs to different settings, such as classrooms, stores and other public spaces. The dogs-in-training wear harnesses and look a lot like the service dogs they’ll become. The experience helped her see how inaccessible the world can be for people with disabilities.

“Other people are always looking for your disability,” Hostetter said. “And some may even ask about it.”

To develop her application for the Graduate Research Fellowship award, Hostetter combined her experience with Saluki Service Dogs and the earthquake research skills she gained during the summer of 2019 in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at University of California - Berkeley’s Simulation and Computational Modeling Center. The project she proposed in her application looks at earthquake evacuation plans for structures and how they affect people with disabilities. It was a unique idea, she said, because while earthquake structural research is quite popular, not many studies look at it from the viewpoint of people with disabilities. And most evacuation studies are done about fire. Evacuation studies look at how the hazard in question affects people’s ability to get out of the building. Earthquakes are a unique situation, Hostetter said, because they often come without warning.

“In a fire, there’s usually a couple minutes [of warning],” she said. “The fire is on the 10th floor, and you’re on the fifth.”

With earthquakes, she said, geologists can predict when one may come, but not exactly when. And once it hits, there’s not a lot of time to react.

The Graduate Research Fellowship award will help Hostetter cover the cost of the master’s program in civil engineering she will be enrolling in at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina this fall. There, her advisor works in research on fire as a structural hazard, so she knows she may have to tweak her research to focus on fire as the hazard being studied rather than earthquakes. Right now, she said, she’s hoping to be part of one of her advisor’s joint projects with a transportation professor at Clemson that is conducting a fire evacuation study for those with disabilities in various types of structures.

Hostetter is the daughter of Vida and Jeff Troutman. Growing up, she most enjoyed the math and art classes she took at Jasper High School. Those interests led her to pursue an architecture degree at SIU - Carbondale after graduation. But one semester in, she knew architecture wasn’t for her.

“I’m too analytical,” she said. “And I’m too much of a perfectionist.”

She explained that architecture is on the artistic side of structures. Architects design the structures, then bring the designs to engineers to figure out how to make them work. Hostetter wanted to work in a field that was a little bit more concrete but would still let her be creative at times. That led her to civil engineering with a focus in structural engineering.

“I like that structural engineering is so analytical, but at the same time is so diverse,” she said.

After her two-year honors program at Clemson, Hostetter said she will either pursue her doctorate or start her career as a structural design engineer at a large firm where she will be able to pursue research and experimental projects.

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