From Illinois Tech Magazine: River Renovation



By Andrew Connor

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In 1993 brigades of volunteers, working alongside the United States National Guard, hastily filled sandbags to create makeshift dikes as flood water overtook the riverside town of Warsaw, Illinois––among them, then 8-year-old Jessica Henson (ARCH ’08). Heavy rainfall and colder than normal temperatures led to above-average soil moisture, causing hundreds of miles of the Mississippi River to swell and the ensuing flood to result in billions of dollars in damage. Known as the Great Flood of 1993, it remains as one of the worst floods in U.S. history.

Though Henson vividly remembers the flood’s destruction, she also recalls, more fondly, the land around the area teeming with wildlife, and playing with her brother along the many streams that branched from the river.

“Life centered around the river where I grew up. We lived by the heartbeat of the Mississippi River, right at what is historically known as the Des Moines Rapids and Lock and Dam 19, and, gosh, we loved it,” says Henson. “But what the river was doing at any given moment was very present. My dad worked in a corn syrup refinery along the river, and when the river was low, it had implications for their cooling processes. When the river was high, it impacted getting to my grandma’s house because the bridges would close.”

Living so close to the Mississippi River instilled in Henson a love of nature and the outdoors that stays with her today, and as she grew up, she acquired a passion for architecture as well. To test whether architecture was really the path for her daughter, Henson’s mother signed her up for Experiment in Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, a summer program for high school students interested in the profession.

“I think my parents sent me to that two-week program to determine that it was wrong for me,” says Henson. “But it was so perfect; I had probably the best two weeks of my life. It was all the things that I had wanted to do, bringing together art and creativity with my interest in math and engineering.”

Read more on the Illinois Tech Magazine website

Photo: Damon Casarez