The Virginia Tech Graduate School will honor John R. Hillman with the 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award at commencement on May 15. 

Hillman, who earned his master's degree in civil engineering in 1990 and now lives in Chicago, has been involved in the design, inspection and construction management of just about every kind of bridge that can carry pedestrians or vehicles ranging from bicycles to trains. He specializes in unique designs that address difficult transportation dilemmas.

But the founder and president of HC Bridge Company, LLC is perhaps best known in the transportation and engineering worlds for his invention of a hybrid composite beam (HCB) that makes bridges safer, stronger, and lighter, with a manufacturing and the production process geared toward environmental sustainability.

As a graduate student at Virginia Tech, Hillman developed several lightweight floor systems for steel-framed buildings, including some hybrid-composite solutions, so he was familiar with their advantages in construction. But Hillman said composite materials pose a fundamental problem for bridges because they are flexible. His solution was to put place the concrete and steel inside a Fiberglass box.

The beams have been used in highway and bridge projects in at least 11 states and Hillman has received numerous awards for his invention.

Hillman was named a 2013 Champion of Change for Transportation Technology by President Barack Obama and honored at the White House. In 2012, he received the Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from American Society of Civil Engineers.

In 2010, Engineering News-Record gave him its Award of Excellence. He was a co-recipient of the 2010 Construction Innovation Forum’s NOVA award and also that year won the American Composite Manufacturing Association’s Ace Award. Prior to that, he received the ASCE’s National Grand Award in 2009 and was honored by Popular Science Magazine in 2008 for his HCB invention.

Hillman, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, holds four U.S. patents as well as 24 international patents and has worked at several well-known bridge companies, including Figg & Muller, Jean Muller International, and VSL. He is employed as the Bridge Practice Leader for Parsons Transportation Group.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.