FACETIME- Civil career: Pathfinding Garber engineers his exit

Nicholas Garber

Dr. Nicholas Garber may finally get some rest. After writing over 80 publications and reports, co-authoring a textbook, receiving numerous awards, and teaching on three different continents, he has retired at the age of 74 after thirty years at UVA as a Professor of Civil Engineering.

Instrumental in diversifying the engineering school, Garber came to UVA on sabbatical from the University of Sierra Leone after a phone conversation with Dr. Lester Hoel, a former mentor/professor at Carnegie Mellon and UVA's then Civil Engineering chair.

"After one year, they offered me an associate professor position," says Garber, "and I stayed for 30 years."

When the Sierra Leonean first came to Charlottesville in 1980 (after several years designing infrastructure for his native nation), he was the first African-American professor in the Department.

"I feel honored and privileged," Garber explains, "but at the same time I was slightly disappointed when I first came. I didn't see any black students in my classes."

After voicing his concerns to the Department chair, Garber was sent to personally recruit African-American engineering students from 1981-1982. In 1986, UVA launched it Center for Diversity in Engineering order to increase recruitment and retention of "underrepresented students."

And Garber notes that he has seen the major changes in the makeup of the students and faculty.

"When I first came, says Garber, "it was all white men. Now, there is a good representation of minority students and minority programs."

In 1996, Garber became the first African-American to serve as Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, a position he held until 2002. In 2005, he was named the Henry L. Kinnier Professor of Civil Engineering and, in 2009, the Director for the Center of Transportation Studies.

And study transportation he did. His highway safety reports impacted Virginia legislation, including the General Assembly's decision to re-establish a uniform speed limit in 1994. Moreover, his research into red-light or "photo-red" cameras was used in 2005 to ban such devices–- as well as to reinstate them in 2007. (Garber explains that while the cameras may increase the total number of crashes, they appear to decrease the number of potentially lethal "t-bone" crashes.)

"He was a great colleague and a safety expert," says Dr. Michael Demetsky, the current Civil Engineering department chair. "He was the conscience of the graduate program. He made sure that highway safety was an important part of all transportation projects."

Garber attributes his success to the support of his wife and kids, his friendship with Dr. Hoel and his family, and his membership at Trinity Episcopal Church. 

For the first time in 30 years, UVA open its doors this fall without Garber, but he hopes his efforts will not be forgotten.

"I hope that I'm remembered as a person, not as a black man, but as a person who has made significant contributions in educating civil engineers that will build the infrastructure of the U.S. and abroad."



Wow! Interesting, seems like a great person with an interesting story. Good role model for immigrants.

This article points out the problems with the PC term African American. Dave Matthews, a native South African, is an African American by the definition used here, but the Hook never refers to him that way.