ASCE Honors 10 in Student Edition of New Faces of Civil Engineering Program

February 21, 2013

Civil engineers in this country will face a variety of challenges in the future, among them meeting the needs of a growing population, rehabilitating the nation’s infrastructure, giving the built environment sufficient resilience to withstand the effects of natural disasters and climate change, and improving transportation systems. The work that civil engineers do is indeed important, for they are the ones who must devise solutions in such areas as community planning, energy generation and distribution, urban redevelopment, drinking water, and traffic congestion. The solutions obtained will to a great extent depend on the imagination and creativity of the next generation of civil engineers.

“Our engineering students are the future, and these individuals embody the best,” says ASCE’s president, Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S., D.WRE, F.ASCE. “We look forward to the great things they will accomplish over the course of their careers to serve the public.”

Each year as part of its participation in the National Engineers Week Foundation’s New Faces of Engineering program, ASCE, in a program of its own called New Faces of Civil Engineering, selects 10 engineers no older than 30 who have made extraordinary contributions to the profession. The 10 young engineers honored this year in the New Faces of Civil Engineering program were profiled in last month’s issue.

Last year ASCE and the National Engineers Week Foundation expanded their programs so that outstanding college students could be recognized as well. This is thus the second year for ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering–College Edition, and the students honored are selected on the basis of academic prowess, extracurricular community involvement, professional attitude, and commitment to the profession. The 10 students making up this year’s class are as follows:

Jessica Boakye New FacesDuring the past two summers JESSICA BOAKYE, S.M.ASCE, worked in the construction division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, where she helped to supervise bridge construction and review construction contracts before the contractors could bid on them.

“My experiences with construction,” says Boakye, a third-year student in the College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass), “have really taught me how important communication is. When an engineer fails to get his or her message across, it leads to real problems in the field or confusion in the contract. It really made me want to work on my communication skills so I can be a great communicator and leader in my field.”

Boakye, who is from Attleboro, Massachusetts, is a member of the team that will participate in the Seismic Design Competition, which is organized by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and next year she will be the team captain. She is also a member of the team that will participate in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, which is jointly organized by the American Institute of Steel Construction and ASCE, and of the school’s ASCE chapter.

“My first real experience with ASCE was my involvement in the UMass Seismic Design [Competition] team,” she recalls. “The goal is to assemble a multistory office building out of balsa wood that is cost effective and earthquake resistant. There is no real focus on earthquake engineering at my university, so this team was my chance to learn a little more about the earthquake engineering field. I wanted to learn more about seismic and dynamic loads, and I am now doing research with Professor Behrouz Shafei [Ph.D., who was honored in 2012 in the New Faces of Civil Engineering program] on the seismic response of skew bridges.”

Boakye says America’s failure to properly invest in infrastructure led her to choose civil engineering as her profession. “Like most people who go into engineering, I really enjoyed math and science in high school, and I thought engineering lets you use those skills in a way that affects the world,” she says. “What really made me pick civil engineering is the failing infrastructure in this country. Our bridges and roadways are reaching the end of their design lives, and we need good civil engineers to come up with effective solutions. Another reason civil engineering appealed to me was the public aspect. I really wanted to do something in public service, and civil engineering gives me the chance to do that.”

Simon Chen New FacesAs a volunteer in the program at the University of Texas at Austin called Projects for Underserved Communities, SIMON CHEN, S.M.ASCE, helped design and improve infrastructure in the city of Soyo, Angola.

“The elementary school [in Soyo] lacked a quality academic environment, with problems including lack of lighting and no clean water supply,” explains Chen, a fourth-year student in the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. “As a student myself, I believe education is significant for a career, and these children are missing this fundamental opportunity. We [the student volunteers] facilitated efforts to renovate the school, design the community pavilion, and construct the playground. With these experiences, I realize the complexities of the world, giving me clarity and direction of what I hope to accomplish with my engineering degree.”

Chen, who says he is interested in structural engineering, has also done volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity and local MATHCOUNTS competitions.

“Throughout high school, I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, [which is] dedicated to building low-cost housing for the less fortunate people,” he says. “The organization uses volunteer labor to maintain a low cost for the homeowners to allow for housing and shelter to become more accessible to everybody. While volunteering, I have performed a wide range of tasks, from pouring concrete foundations to setting up wood framing walls, teaching me helpful technical skills that intrigued [me to pursue] structural engineering. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity has shown me the life of philanthropy and the profound impact I can have as an engineer.”

His involvement in the ASCE chapter at the university also has influenced him. “My involvement with the ASCE student chapter,” says Chen, who is from Dallas, “has introduced me to my peers with similar interests and promoted engaging discussions that stimulate my motivation to become a licensed structural engineer. Professionals come and speak to us about their responsibilities as structural engineers and experiences in the industry. By participating in the ASCE [National Student] Steel Bridge Competition, I have learned programs such as STAAD.Pro [developed by Bentley System, Inc., of Exton, Pennsylvania] and MicroStation [also developed by Bentley Systems], which are important computer programs that are widely used in the industry. These technical skills, knowledge, and life lessons I have taken away from ASCE will help me with my future career.”

Jackson Esoda New FacesJACKSON ESODA, S.M.ASCE, originally enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology as an industrial engineering student, but the summer before his freshman year he worked as an intern for Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors, of Birmingham, Alabama, and decided to pursue civil engineering instead.

“Being on the jobsite and seeing all of the team’s work being put into place by the field crew changed my outlook on civil engineering,” says Esoda, a fifth-year student in Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering. “The application of my work to real-world structures became a defining and critical desire for my career path, and I have never looked back.

“Should someone wish to know more about civil engineering, I would describe its immediate relevance in everyday life. From the roads we drive on to the buildings in which we work and everything in between—like retaining walls along the road and water distribution systems—the infrastructure upon which the world runs is designed by civil engineers. We use ancient materials to develop incredible modern feats.”

A member of the ASCE chapter at Georgia Tech and of the Student Alumni Association and Chi Epsilon, Esoda is also an active member of the school’s rowing and cycling teams. In May 2010 he was part of a cycling team that helped raise money for multiple sclerosis research, and he has also volunteered at local MATHCOUNTS competitions. As an undergraduate research assistant at Georgia Tech, he reviews design calculations and project drawings.

“The Georgia Tech ASCE chapter has been a great addition to my education,” says Esoda, who is from Marietta, Georgia. “The weekly meetings are fun ways to meet with classmates and enjoy a lunch, but the value goes far beyond that. [We have] presenters from various engineering firms from around the world visit every meeting to discuss relevant topics in engineering. This gives the members an enormous advantage in the job world, as they are well equipped with knowledge of current issues and brand-new technologies in our industry. I highly recommend it to all students.”

Margaret_Maggie_ Jacques New FacesAs one of two students from her school to travel to Haiti in June 2010 as part of the Hope for Haiti Project, MARGARET JACQUES, S.M.ASCE, had a chance to apply the engineering knowledge she had acquired in the classroom. She helped to provide clean drinking water to the victims of the earthquake that struck that country with catastrophic effect in January 2010.

“My trip to Haiti completely changed my goals for my career,” says Jacques, a fourth-year student in the School of Science and Engineering at Merrimack College. “I never realized before how much good I could do with a degree in civil engineering. Because of this trip, I now know that service work is something I absolutely need to prioritize in my career. My hope is to get a master’s degree in environmental engineering and focus on sustainable development for third-world countries, such as Haiti, where having clean drinking water is currently only a dream.

“I wish I had known how much the skills I would learn in school could turn into skills that are so needed around the world. I never thought that something I could use in the classroom could change someone’s life in a country like Haiti. It makes my profession and career choice that much more exciting.”

Formerly the secretary of the ASCE chapter at Merrimack and currently its president, Jacques is actively involved in outreach projects, including the Lawrence Math and Science Partnership, in which Merrimack students tutor underprivileged students in math and science in the neighboring city of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Jacques, who is from Chelsea, Maine, says that both of her grandfathers inspired her to pursue engineering.

“Both were engineers and the smartest people I have ever met,” she says. “They are simply my heroes, and ever since I was a little girl, I’ve looked up to them. One helped design planes in World War II, and the other was a mechanical engineer with his own firm in Boston. They both had incredible careers and did such a variety of things. Because of what they told me, I knew that engineering would prove to be a career full of excitement.”

Marcella Kennedy New FacesEach year during Engineers Week, the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering hosts an event that seeks to give youngsters a better understanding of engineering. And every year she has been at the university MARCELLA KENNEDY, S.M.ASCE, has worked as a volunteer at the event, where, among other activities, he has helped schoolchildren build bridges using balsa wood and assisted in rounds of the West Point Bridge Design Contest.

“When I meet students at various outreach events, I like to describe engineers simply as people who create new things and improve things that are already there,” says Kennedy, who is from Louisville, Kentucky. “When I was growing up, I didn’t understand how incredibly diverse engineering could be. However, when it’s put that simply, I think it becomes much clearer. Civil engineers don’t only design bridges; they improve infrastructure that is used every day. Chemical engineers don’t only sit in a lab doing titration; they improve chemical products that you use every morning to get ready for school. It’s important for children to know that engineers need to be creative.”

Vice president of the ASCE chapter and secretary of the Chi Epsilon chapter, Kennedy is captain of the team that will participate this year in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition. She was also a member of last year’s team, the first in the history of the University of Louisville to qualify for the national competition. Moreover, she cofounded the school’s Engineers Without Borders–USA chapter, and as its current vice president she is planning a project that would provide clean water to villagers in Honduras.

“I helped found the Engineers Without Borders chapter at the University of Louisville,” says Kennedy, who also finds time for Habitat for Humanity, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, and MATHCOUNTS competitions. “Before we gained official chapter status, we volunteered with other nonprofit organizations to assist them with international engineering projects. One such project involved building a water tower for a children’s nutrition center in Zacapa, Guatemala. This project directly affected hundreds of families; it was truly life changing. Because of that incredible trip, I’m certain that I want to be involved with humanitarian engineering for the rest of my career—and the rest of my life. There’s so much that engineers can do to help. We have the potential to be very powerful, and we can use that power for good.”

Paul Martinez New FacesActive in community affairs in San Antonio, PAUL MARTINEZ, S.M.ASCE, once volunteered as a phone counselor for a crisis hotline.

As he recalls, that experience “gave me a more in-depth interaction with people who really needed help, and I was able to provide it.” Martinez, a third-year student in the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio, explains that “doing this was very gratifying, and I came away with more respect for others as I realize many out there were going through many difficult situations.

“I also volunteered with the San Antonio Parks [and Recreation] Department surveying plants, endangered and invasive, for a new parkland development. This was very fun, as I have a great interest in wildlife and was able to help in developing a place that could be enjoyed by other wildlife enthusiasts, as well as all of the public.”

A member of the university’s wrestling club and involved in martial arts training, Martinez has been a member of the teams participating in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition and ASCE’s National Concrete Canoe Competition.

Last November he was elected president of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s ASCE chapter, and his desire to pursue graduate study has been aided by his acceptance in the university’s Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program.

“Involvement with the ASCE [National Student] Steel Bridge Competition has helped me develop the great team working skills with other engineers needed to be a successful engineer,” says Martinez, who is from Houston. He notes that the competition also helped him gain “hands-on experience in welding and cutting steel, which I believe to be important because you can actually see different properties of a material that you may only read about.”

As Martinez explains, “Civil and environmental engineering focuses on applying the physical, chemical, and biological sciences to the real world, although our technical knowledge and expertise are called upon in consulting for proposed projects, as well as being on-site sometimes to make sure everything in construction is going according to the technical designs.”

Martinez, whose grandparents came to this country from Mexico, says it was only when his cousin Victoria Cabrera graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in electrical engineering that he began to think that he might have the ability to become an engineer.

“Vicky was the first to graduate from college in our family, and [she] later obtained her master’s in engineering management while working at Northrop Grumman,” says Martinez, who is working as an intern in the San Antonio office of Terracon. “I did not believe I was up to par with her and thought a degree in engineering was unattainable for me, but through a new-found passion to achieve the most in life, I applied myself and have never looked back thanks to her.”

Luis Mendieta New FacesHaving spent the first 18 years of his life in Bolivia and the next 2 in Norway, LUIS MENDIETA, S.M.ASCE, knows a thing or two about infrastructure in other countries.

“I’ve had the experience of seeing firsthand [in Bolivia] how bad some of the living conditions are,” says Mendieta, a third-year student in the University of Florida’s College of Engineering. “People did not have a decent road to get from the city to their home in the countryside, [and] they could not sell what they grew [because of a] lack of infrastructure. Or they suffered from the lack of water or electricity because there were not enough [engineers] with the required knowledge to serve the community.”

As a member of the university’s Engineers Without Borders–USA chapter, Mendieta was able to go back to Bolivia after his freshman and sophomore years as a member of teams that built a system capable of providing freshwater to people in the area. “[During the] last two summers I traveled to rural Bolivia with Engineers Without Borders,” says Mendieta, who still refers to La Paz, Bolivia, as his home. “The first year we assessed different solutions for water distribution. We had to negotiate with different NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and had a dialogue with the community to reach an agreement to sample water and soil and make different measurements. For the whole year we had planned to install a small dam and geomembrane reservoir.

“This experience was useful to learn problem-solving skills. This opportunity shows in the most vivid way how important it is to help people around the world, [because] when you are an engineer, you are the solution.”

In addition to Engineers Without Borders, Mendieta does volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, and last year he helped to build homes in Gainesville, Florida, and in North Carolina.

“Participating in Engineers Without Borders has been an amazing experience,” says Mendieta, who will be leading another team to Bolivia this year. “I have had the chance to experience a little bit of the real engineering world—assessing a site, planning, and implementing your own work. I had the great opportunity to work and bond with other people in my field and other majors. In addition, it has been a fantastic way to learn topics not related with my current subjects, and it gave me the chance to meet professors and other professionals.”

Sabrina Rivera New FacesWhen SABRINA RIVERA, S.M.ASCE, began her studies at California State University at Long Beach, she was a biology major.

“I never thought that I would be an engineer, but after my first semester I knew that biology wasn’t for me,” recalls Rivera, who is now in her fourth year in the school’s College of Engineering. “I have always been interested in environmental issues, and [one of the graduate student advisers] told me about the many ways civil engineers were improving water and wastewater treatment, about building bridges and improving the relationship of our built environment with the natural one. I changed my major the next day, and I can honestly say that it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

The current president of the school’s ASCE chapter and a member of the team participating in the National Concrete Canoe Competition, Rivera also serves in a liaison capacity between the chapter and the Younger Member Forum of ASCE’s Orange County Branch, part of the Los Angeles Section, and last year the chapter and the forum jointly hosted an event that challenged middle school students to build bridges using Popsicle sticks.

“I wish someone [earlier in my life] had told me of the seemingly endless possibilities that are available through engineering,” says Rivera, who is from Long Beach, California. “I was always under the impression that engineering was too hard, but now that I am in my senior year I view all of those struggles as important building blocks for the person that I have become. I really want to find solutions to many of the challenges that our society faces and make the world around me a better place.”

A member of Chi Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi, and the Golden Key International Honor Society, Rivera has also served as treasurer of the Engineers Without Borders–USA chapter and written grant applications for that group. As a volunteer in the activities organized by the Orange County Branch in connection with Engineers Week in 2012, she helped youngsters build towers using spaghetti and tape, and this year she organized a cardboard boat race for students. She also lent a hand in an event organized two years ago by the Society of Women Engineers that gave girls in elementary school an insight into the making of concrete.

“I eagerly look forward to any opportunity to promote engineering,” she says. “I have shown my enthusiasm through my leadership as ASCE [chapter] president this year, where we have more than doubled the number of members within the organization.”

Stacia Slowey New FacesBefore accepting an environmental engineering internship with the Western Research Institute, STACIA SLOWEY, S.M.ASCE, thought that she wanted a research career.

“That experience helped shape my career goals in a positive way,” says Slowey, a fifth-year student in the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. At the Western Research Institute, she says, “I worked in a lab measuring different parameters in order to optimize the performance of lab-scale microbial fuel cells. That helped me discover that my passions were on the design side of things.”

That revelation led Slowey to apply for another internship, this one as a design technician for the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT).

“I prepared contract plans, developed typical sections, and produced plan sheets for the development of multimillion-dollar highway projects,” she recalls. “The work experience I have gained through WYDOT exposed me to the various exciting opportunities within transportation engineering.”

Active in several university outreach projects, Slowey has made presentations to middle school students on geotechnical engineering, and as a member of the honor society Mortar Board, she reads to youngsters at an educational center in Laramie, Wyoming, and she also organized a book drive as part of the Mortar Board’s national Reading Is Leading initiative.

In addition to membership in the ASCE chapter at the University of Wyoming, Slowey belongs to chapters of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and the American Water Works Association.

“Participation in professional engineering societies’ student chapters allowed me to have exposure to real-world engineering projects, participate in design competitions, and meet friends and potential employers,” says Slowey, who is from Thornton, Colorado. “I also gained the experience of running large events when I planned the Mystery Design Competition for ASCE’s annual Rocky Mountain Regional Conference, hosted by the University of Wyoming.

“Through the Institute of Transportation Engineers, I gained the experience of managing an organization’s finances and was introduced to different forms of intelligent transportation systems. Being president of the Society of Women Engineers’ [chapter], I learned how to run an effective meeting. Being part of professional societies rounded me out as a student and provided meaning to my engineering course work.”

Caroline Williams New FacesAt first CAROLINE WILLIAMS, S.M.ASCE, wasn’t sure why she wanted to pursue a career as a civil engineer, but now everything’s clear.

“I chose to become a civil engineer specifically because I had an interest in structures, especially bridges, and was intrigued to learn more about this topic,” says Williams, a third-year student in Michigan State University’s College of Engineering. “I am looking forward to seeing where my degree takes me because I know there are plenty of opportunities in my life ahead.”

Williams is the president of the ASCE chapter at Michigan State, a cocaptain of the team participating in the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, a member of the team taking part in the National Concrete Canoe Competition, and a member of the Michigan State chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. She also participates in the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers’ mentoring program, and in 2011 she took part in a day organized by ASCE, the Michigan Society of Professional Engineers, and the American Council of Engineering Companies to discuss issues having a bearing on engineering with state legislators in Lansing, Michigan.

“As the president of the ASCE chapter, I have learned more than I ever would have expected before I obtained this position,” says Williams, who is from Canton, Michigan. “I have mostly learned the importance of a leader to consistently stay organized and think ahead. From general meetings to field trip planning to facilitating fund-raising efforts, plus more, it is imperative to remain organized so efforts are consistently successful. I am glad I am practicing these skills now because I think it will help me a great amount once I become a researcher in the field of civil engineering.”

Williams has been a structural engineering undergraduate research assistant at Michigan State since May 2011. That position “has greatly influenced the direction of work I believe I will pursue,” she explains. “My job as a researcher has taught me that I would like to participate in something where I know I will help advance the industry. After pursuing a master’s and a doctorate degree, I would like to become a researcher to study innovative structural materials. I want to become a researcher because I like the idea of working on projects that have never been researched before.”

Williams is of the opinion that “an engineer must be open to new ideas, have a drive to make a difference, and communicate effectively. All of these qualities are important when working in teams and especially in any sort of engineering work because it allows for the product to be more optimally designed. Overall, though, engineering is about solving problems more efficiently.”

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