Engineering Fresh Faces: Lydell Wiebe

A man with glasses and a hardhat stands in a building under construction

Photo by Jin Lee

Welcome to Fresh Faces. In this series, we’re highlighting 43 Engineering faculty members, all hired within the last five years, who are doing interesting and innovative things in the lab and the classroom.

Since 2013, Lydell Wiebe has worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at McMaster. He specializes in earthquake engineering research. A recipient of the faculty’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2017, Wiebe is passionate about working with students. He also enjoys spending time with family, playing music, running and baking bread.

On running, playing music and family life

I’m coming off of a knee injury right now so within the last year and a half, I’ve barely been able to run and it’s just within the last six or eight weeks that it’s starting to feel better. This year, I want to at least hit 5km. By the end of the summer I should be there.

My next goal is to run the Around the Bay Race in Hamilton. It’s 30 km, which seems like just the right distance – not quite a full marathon but more than a half. It’s also the oldest road race in North America and it’s something that’s special about Hamilton. There’s something really neat about running that distance with a group. I remember the first race I ever ran. I was about an hour into it and I could hear a mom saying to her kid, “These people have been running for an hour already.” The kid looked up with his eyes wide and said, “whoa.”

I am a classically trained pianist. I was in a band for about five years that did a lot of different styles, mostly folk and indie influences. I miss playing as regularly as I did then, but my kids are giving me reasons to play music again – even if it’s mostly nursery rhymes. Now my daughter is learning how to play the harp so I am also learning a little bit.

My daughter will be four in a couple of weeks, my son is turning two and number three is on the way in a couple of weeks.

My kids teach me how new and exciting the world is and my partner teaches me how to look at the world in a different way. Together, they determine how much sleep I get every night.

On his passion for teaching

What makes me most proud is when I can see my students succeeding. Whether they are undergraduate or graduate students, when I can see that they’re able to do something that they weren’t able to do before and I got to play a part in that, I can’t imagine what would be more fulfilling for me.

On earthquake engineering

I always thought buildings and bridges were fascinating. As a kid, I remember looking up at these tall buildings and thinking it was really cool that someone could do the math to make them stand up.

Earthquake engineering is an area that is changing rapidly. There’s a lot of research to be done. No one had ever measured an earthquake 100 years ago. They didn’t know what it actually did. The changes in computer technology over the last decade have made a huge change in the models that we can make of buildings and the predictions we can make about how they’ll behave during an earthquake. We’re developing systems that will allow communities to recover a lot more quickly after an earthquake without being much more expensive to build.

On helping others

When I was in grad school I’d have lunch once a week at a drop-in centre for people dealing with poverty. The people I met there taught me a lot about a way of life and challenges that I’ve been fortunate enough not to have.

There’s an organization called Indwell that provides housing for people who need assistance. Together, with my family once a month, we make a lunch for people who are living at an apartment building close to us. It’s a way of helping to make sure there’s a healthy meal at the end of the month when funds may be running low, but it’s also a way to get to know what the issues are and staying connected to the community.

Inside the lab…

I love meeting with students.

Outside the lab…

I love running, music, family and baking bread.


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