Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Danny Xiao

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Danny Xiao
January 12, 2018

Dr. Danny Xiao has always had a love for maps, which is what eventually drew him to the field of civil engineering. He is currently an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW-Platteville. Along with teaching, he is also conducting research with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. He earned his doctorate degree from the University of Arkansas, he worked for the Arkansas Department of Transportation and Louisiana Transportation Research Center before joining UW-Platteville in fall 2015.

How did you initially become interested in engineering?

Personality. I always love hands-on things and feel bored about abstract thinking. My childhood dream was to become a pilot flying up in the sky. I did not get into space but chose civil engineering as my major because I love maps. I can read maps for hours and imagine the different views along a highway. I feel I was born to be a civil engineer because I have a map built in my brain.
Are you currently involved in any projects or research?

Currently I am conducting two research projects for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. One is investigating the impact of deicers on the durability of concrete pavements. Rock salt (NaCl) is the traditional deicer used in Wisconsin to keep roads safe for driving in winter. In recent years, newer chemicals such as CaCl2 and MgCl2 and liquid form “anti-icing” chemicals are used for winter maintenance. The objective of this project is to identify the use of different deicers in Wisconsin and investigate whether the currently used deicers adversely affect concrete durability. The second project we just started is to see if penetrating sealer can improve the performance of concrete pavement joints. We all probably have the experience driving on bumpy roads that “drop” at a regular frequency. This is because the concrete joints have deteriorated. Penetrating sealer could reduce the permeability of concrete, hence less water enters the concrete, so the water does not break the joint when it freezes. Both projects are aimed to make concrete pavements more durable so that less maintenance is needed, saving taxpayer money and making roads safer.
How did you get into teaching and why?

I was a tutor of middle school kids when I was in college. I really enjoyed helping them understand some difficult questions and encouraging them to go to college. Then I was a teaching assistant in the materials lab and some lectures when I was in graduate school. The positive feedback from students gave me confidence.
What do you find the most challenging and rewarding about teaching?

New faces every semester and I have only 15 weeks with them. My challenge is: how can I make their journey with me rewarding and fun, like treasure hunting. There are so many things to teach about construction materials and pavement, but what is the most beneficial content for students in a short semester? What is the most effective way to teach so that learning happens without knowing it? These are the challenges I am trying to improve. In terms of rewarding, I just came back from the Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association annual conference in Madison last week. In the conference I met four alumni who took my class and they said my class is one of their favorites and the content is very helpful to their job. This really makes me happy.
What do you like to do outside of the classroom?

When I am not teaching or preparing for teaching, I serve on technical committees in the national, state, university and community levels. Then in my free time, I enjoy doing activities with my kids such as practicing piano, riding bikes on Rountree Trail and reading books in the new public library. For myself, I wish I had more time to watch football, play guitar, hike in state and national parks, cook Cajun food and party with friends.

Interview conducted by Ryan Kotajarvi, Student Writer, Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact


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