Curiosity into Probability
A lifelong love of bridges and structural architecture led Lindsay Otto, an IIHR graduate student, to study civil engineering. She says she always loved looking at highway interchanges on drives through big cities when she was young. Her interest never wavered, and as she looked toward college, she considered careers that would put her passion to work.
Otto decided on an engineering program at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) where she graduated with a degree in civil engineering and four internships. She expanded her resume again when she spent the summer in Lubbock, Texas, where she worked with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Her internship duties involved studying the flood frequency curves of around 700 stream and river sensors throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
After reviewing her options, Otto chose the Sustainable Water Development (SWD) program at the University of Iowa. She says she loves that Iowa strives to use a holistic approach to water research, specifically the connections among food, water, and energy.
Her internship with USGS was a big part of her graduate education because students in SWD are encouraged to spend time exploring possible careers in their field.
“I still don’t really know what I want to do, but I had a great time with the USGS,” Otto says.
Some SWD students — Otto included — spend time working for the Iowa Flood Center as part of their studies. Otto is developing a statistical model using Iowa stream sensors that she hopes to use to understand flood probabilities. Each year, specific flood levels have a statistical chance of occurrence. Current methods only consider the largest flood from any given year in their calculations. Her job is to take past stream sensor data and use them to determine the statistical probability of future floods. Otto is attempting to integrate floods from each year into a single flood model that will be more accurate at determining floods based on the data from past years.
True to her engineering roots, Otto loves puzzles. She also likes laid-back wine nights, board games with friends, and the odd game of trivia. In her remaining free time, Otto serves as the vice president of Students of IIHR (SIIHR), a group that brings together students working at the institute for bonding events. The group recently went on a hike at MacBride State Park, and took a trip to the local apple orchard. They are currently planning a trip to the Maquoketa Caves in Jackson County, Iowa.