Student from China Fuels Passion for Engineering in Arizona

February 25, 2016

Yijie Gao has adjusted well to her new life in America – except for one problem.

“The food is so different,” Gao laughed. “I actually discovered some good Mexican food recently, but Chinese food is still my favorite.”

Gao, S.M.ASCE, is a civil engineering student at Northern Arizona University, working in a dual-degree program with Huaqiao University, in her home of China. She has been selected as one of the ASCE 2016 New Faces of Civil Engineering – College.

Gao arrived in Arizona last year, pleasantly surprised to find mountains and temperate weather amid the desert. Still, it was a big adjustment from the humid, coastal environment of her hometown, Fuzhou.

“At first it was really scary because I didn’t know that much about the country,” Gao said. “I know some aspects of U.S. culture, but I never studied abroad before that time. It’s a completely new experience for me. People here have been very nice to me. It’s been great.”

Gao embraced her new surroundings, joining several campus organizations. She is an active member of Northern Arizona’s ASCE Student Chapter, now serving as a fundraiser. She is also the activity coordinator for the school’s Global Engineering Outreach Club. And she’s working with local elementary students to develop a rainwater catchment system as part of a Habitat for Humanity project.

“I am very passionate about the things I am able to do now,” Gao said. “I hope I can discover more as I go further into the civil engineering field.”

Gao’s interest in civil engineering stems from a basic concern for the planet.

“Climate change is a big concern globally,” Gao said. “I feel like there’s this responsibility or kind of push for me to do something environmental-oriented.”

Her experience in America at NAU has only affirmed those beliefs.

“I feel like people everywhere are kind of the same,” Gao said. “They’re generally nice. If we figure out a way to come together and have the same goals to deal with the global environmental problems, we can make a difference.”

ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering recognition programs highlight the next generation of civil engineering leaders. By showcasing young, diverse, talented engineers the program shows that engineering is an exciting profession open to everyone. Ten honorees are selected by ASCE in each of two divisions: collegiate and professional.

Honorees receive recognition during National Engineers Week, which runs through Feb. 27, and at ASCE’s annual Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) Gala, March 17, in Arlington, VA.

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