James Lafikes

Ph.D. Civil Engineering
Previous Institution: University of Missouri - St. Louis
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Primary office:


Why was the KU School of Engineering Graduate Programs the right choice for you?

The programs offered by the KU School of Engineering work well for any career path and are led by extremely talented and supportive faculty. For my Master’s work, it provided a great background for materials engineering and concrete testing with my research and a great variety of structural engineering coursework that was invaluable during my stent of working in industry. For similar reasons, getting back into research and academics as a PhD student was the most appealing next step of my career. 

What are you currently researching?

Concrete materials! A long-term study led by Dr. David Darwin and sponsored by numerous state departments of transportation has looked at different variables for improving durability of concrete bridge decks across Kansas and the US. In a normal week, we mix a couple trial batches of concrete with variations in aggregates, admixtures, and cementitious materials for casting durability test specimens. Our lab work eventually gets implemented into the field with actual bridge deck mix designs and specifications. Here, we get to see our work being carried out on a large-scale, real life structure. This year, my main focus will be for a series of bridges being constructed in Minnesota. 

What is your favorite thing on campus or in Lawrence that a prospective student should check out?

The clubs and programs available through KU cater to just about anyone. There’s more to be involved with than time allows. Lawrence is also a great community with ideal qualities for a city of this size and close proximity to KC. The downtown area is a great place to be social with friends and family, but my favorite time is spent on trails and roads with running and cycling groups.

What advice do you have for prospective graduate students?

Trust your gut feeling – you are the only one who can make the best decisions for yourself. If you are seriously looking into different programs, seeing the place and talking with faculty and students in person is a necessity to get a better idea of how you would get through the journey. See what research projects are out there and get an idea for the courses you would be taking. Be willing to put in the work. Even more important than the problems you solve in in classes and research, grad school teaches you how to manage time and how to learn. Take in the experience, set ambitious goals, and work hard – the rewards will more than outweigh any struggles along the way. As a brilliant cycling instructor once said - “Without challenge, there is no change.”

Which committee are you on and what would you like to do in the next year to help current graduate students?

I am working in the Research & Outreach Committee. KU SoE offers a ton of resources to students throughout their stay here, and I hope that Research & Outreach can continue to be an outstanding area of support. Gaining insight into other research fields within the School of Engineering in the form of symposiums and presentation competitions is a great way to practice selling your work before graduation. Presentations and events involving industries and companies outside the University are also a great way to evaluate where we want to steer our careers toward. I hope that these events gain in popularity and publicity for the upcoming year. 


Engineering Research Highlights

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
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