Engineering, Graduate & Professional Studies

2024 COMMENCEMENT SERIES | Graduation and Mother’s Day create a special weekend for a new construction engineering Ph.D.

There is no greeting card that can sufficiently congratulate and recognize the hard work and success of Dr. Sisi Han during Commencement weekend. Han, with the help of her daughter Caroline, will celebrate her Ph.D. in construction engineering and management on Saturday, May 11, and her sixth Mother’s Day a day later.

It’s the culmination of years of orchestrating an impressive balancing act – something Han says she couldn’t have done without help from the campus community.

“Marquette has given me a lot of support in both academics and life,” Han explained.

Han first arrived at Marquette in 2017 to pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering with a specialization in construction engineering and management, building on a master’s in logistics technology and supply chain management and a bachelor’s in logistics engineering earned from Guangzhou University and Central South University of Forestry and Technology, respectively.

Han was drawn to transition toward civil and construction engineering because of its potential impact on communities that she observed firsthand growing up in rural China.

Hailing from the Hunan province of China – known for monsoons, damp winters and hot, humid summers – Han received a bit of a shock to the system when she first experienced a chilly Wisconsin winter. But in time, Milwaukee became home. Those same winters make for some of her favorite memories with Caroline, now six years old and a lover of cheese and ice skating.

“My daughter was raised in Marquette’s Child Care Center,” says Han, who praises the teachers there who helped look after Caroline while Han was teaching or conducting research. “My girl always proudly says, ‘We Are Marquette!’”

Born in March 2018, Caroline has been a part of Han’s journey at Marquette almost from the beginning, giving her much to juggle but also much to be grateful for.

“Caroline had the special chance to ‘take’ multiple engineering classes before I delivered her,” Han says. “Life is tough, especially for women in engineering and being a new mom.”

According to the Society of Women Engineers, women only earned 26% of the engineering and computer science doctoral degrees in 2021-22, and according to the National Association of Women in Construction, women only represent 9.9% of the wider construction industry.

Han persisted though, and with Caroline at her side, continues to succeed. Since arriving on campus, Han has successfully defended her master’s, advanced to a doctoral program, published eight peer-reviewed journal articles and six peer-reviewed conference papers, served as a teaching assistant and research assistant, and recently defended her doctoral degree.

Her research publications have also earned her the 2022 Best Paper Award from the Journal of Architectural Engineering and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Editor’s Choice from the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. As a rising research leader, Han’s interests include construction engineering applications of artificial intelligence, computer vision and building information modeling integration – all emerging technologies shaping the future of her field.

She credits her advisor, Dr. Yong Bai, McShane Chair and professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, for encouraging her to explore her research interests and pursue competitive opportunities and projects at Marquette.

Han now plans to live up to the same goal she shared in her Marquette Graduate School application years ago: to excel as a true teacher-scholar who will advance the field both as an impactful educator and innovative researcher. She is eager to influence future generations of engineers in the classroom while also leading research and technology to advance the field and serve communities.

Her next step is yet to be determined as she assesses multiple opportunities. No matter where she ends up, Han will carry great memories of her time at Marquette.

“Thank you, Marquette, for giving me a great educational experience,” Han says.