Teaching Trust: CI Student Days Develops Young Leaders

August 23, 2018
The winning team at CI Student Days; from left, Huzefa Dewaswala, Huan Ying Zhang, Nelsy Badia, Will Harned, Zachary Armstrong, Ryan Pegels, and Mitchell Hallee. PHOTO: Nelsy Badia.

Nelsy Badia is gearing up for graduate school this fall, working toward a master’s degree in construction engineering and management at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ.

After five days in San Diego at the ASCE Construction Institute’s Student Days, there’s not much grad school can throw at her that she hasn’t already seen.

“Now I feel like I have a pretty good advantage starting the program,” Badia said. “I think it’s going to help me a lot.”

Badia, S.M.ASCE, a recent graduate of Stony Brook University in New York, captained the winning team in the Student Days Heavy Civil Engineering Team Challenge Competition, held Aug. 3-7 in San Diego.

Her teammates included Zachary Armstrong (University of South Florida), Huzefa Dewaswala (University of Illinois at Chicago), Mitchell Hallee (Princeton University), Will Harned (University of Kentucky), Ryan Pegels (Purdue University), and Huan Ying Zhang (New York University).

“When I first came to the competition, I was expecting to win,” Badia said. “I felt like it was very doable. But as the project started I realized how difficult it was. And then I realized it wasn’t really all about winning. It was about all the learning we were doing.”

The team challenge is the centerpiece of Student Days. This year’s competition tasked student teams with developing a written construction project proposal and oral presentation for a pedestrian bridge in San Diego. The students had to develop a written construction bid and proposal that considered all real-world conditions, including local laws and regulations, traffic effects, and community needs. Badia and her team got a crash course in risk assessment, cost estimating, subcontractor managing, and scheduling.

The students come in with different leadership and management skills. But under fire over the weekend, those skills evolve and grow.

“I’ve never worked on a team where you had to rely on other people so heavily as this,” Badia said. “Trust was a big issue. In the beginning, I kind of wanted to micromanage everything and basically do everything. But pretty quickly, I realized that wasn’t going to work.

“I realized that to do a project of this magnitude, you really have to rely on others. So I thought about the way I like to be managed. And I know I don’t like being told specifically what to do. I like to give my input. So when there were decisions to be made, I was sure to ask everyone’s opinions and took those into account with my own opinion.

“That allowed for really good communication. And I think the main reason we won was that we got along so well as a team.”

Advice from the pros

Every year, one of the key components of CI Student Days is connecting students to young professionals in the field. These CI young professionals are perfectly positioned to act as mentors – old enough to have worked out some career wisdom for themselves, but young enough to not be that far removed from their own student days.

This year, Peyton Gibson and Saumil Maniar were among the ASCE Younger Members to act as mentors. Here’s some of the ace advice they shared:


Peyton Gibson, EIT, A.M.ASCE, civil engineer, waterways and concrete dams:

“My piece of advice for those transitioning into the professional world (trust me… I just recently did this myself) is to make yourself uncomfortable.

“One of the best ways to do this is to force yourself to meet new people and try new things. Allotting some of your free time to professional organizations (go ASCE!), a local fitness group, or other hobbies you always wanted to try will give you a sense of purpose and motivation outside of work and allow you to grow your network.

“It’s definitely not easy, but well worth it in the long run.”


Saumil Maniar, P.E., M.ASCE, Associate, PMA Consultants:

“From my experience as a Younger Member and a hiring professional, everyone takes time to develop soft skills.

“Construction projects involve a lot of people with technical and non-technical backgrounds. Being able to explain your work, identify key points, and question or debate issues is important to your professional career. Effectively presenting your work to your supervisor, team, or a client will be a big part of your work, and the first step to finding your voice is to practice.

“Joining your local ASCE group, speaking in school chapter events, and listening to colleagues speak at conferences will get you there. Knowing local construction topics and reading related news articles will also help in forming your conversation topics.

“Construction is a team sport, so accurately presenting your work will also reflect on your team.”

  • Developing a young leader.

  • Avatar Ralph H. Tulis, P.E., M.ASCE, M.ACI

    Education is essential for a career in engineering no matter what path is chosen. But just as important is the collaboration with those who turn a concept into reality.

    I learned as much, or more, from those who actually wore a toolbelt. Just because you can design something does not automatically transform it into reality. One has to know how, by what individual steps, a concept makes that transition into a real object or structure.

    In addition, while physical testing and modeling offers insight into the behavior of our designs, knowing how it will fail can be just as insightful. Knowing the likely failure mode helps us to anticipate ways to avoid conditions that could result in failure.

    As engineers, we must NEVER lose the connection with how our concepts transition in reality. It is in the transition process that we learn how to improve the design, to make it easier and simpler to construct, which in turn results in a less costly final product.

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