LAS CRUCES – Nine engineering graduate students from New Mexico State University have received awards totaling $45,000, from the Federal Highway Administration to support their transportation-related research programs. The students received Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowships ranging from $10,000 to $2,500.
Their skills are much needed. A White House Fact Sheet on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act states that over the next five years, transportation professionals will be in high demand to utilize the bipartisan investment of $110 billion of new funds for roads, bridges, and major projects. This investment will repair and rebuild, replace and rehabilitate roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. One in 5 miles, or 173,000 total miles, of our highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges are in poor condition. Bridges in poor condition pose heightened challenges in rural communities, which often may rely on a single bridge for the passage of emergency service vehicles.
“I am very pleased that our students have once again been offered Eisenhower Transportation Fellowships,” said Lakshmi Reddi, College of Engineering dean. “Their success is testament to the strength of our Civil Engineering Department’s transportation program which has a long and recognized history. I’m confident that this support will further them into positions of leadership in transportation careers.”
The Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program (DDETFP) awards fellowships to students pursuing degrees in transportation-related disciplines. “This program advances the transportation workforce by helping to attract the nation’s brightest minds to the field of transportation, encouraging future transportation professionals to seek advanced degrees, and helping to retain top talent in the U.S. transportation industry,” states the program website.
Civil engineering master’s candidates received the largest awards: Gregory Gonzales received $10,000 and Lucas Rivera received $8,500. Following them were civil engineering doctoral candidates William Toledo, $7,000; Andres Alvarez, $5,500; Saman Mostafazadeh Fard, $4,000; and Judit Garcia, $2,500. Three mechanical engineering doctoral candidates each received $2,500: Adam Bouma, Widad Yossri and Manuel Serrano.
“Since 2016, our engineering students have received 26 awards totaling $158,000. The continued support we’ve received from the FHWA the past six years exemplifies the high quality of our engineering students and faculty advisers,” said Civil Engineering Department Head David Jauregui. “The awards provide much more than financial assistance. As part of the award, students are supported to attend and present at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, students have opportunities to network with transportation professionals from academia and industry. In addition, the students are expected to publish their research in the form of a conference paper, journal article or technical report which brings recognition to NMSU. Through these activities, the students gain valuable research experience and interpersonal and intrapersonal skills which strengthen their career opportunities.”
Jauregui leads NMSU’s Bridge Inspection and Evaluation Program, a nationally-recognized program and important resource for bridge evaluation, bridge inspection training, and broad-based research and development for more than 40 years. The civil engineering program has conducted bridge, culvert, and pavement inspections for the state of New Mexico for many years which contributes greatly to the state’s transportation asset management planning.
“Scholarships like this are often make-or-break for students like me. It is heartening to know that there are organizations out there willing to invest in mine and my peers’ education,” said Rivera. “My future plans involve finishing my master’s degree, serving two years with the Peace Corps, and then either pursuing a Ph.D. in civil engineering or beginning my professional career in the industry—I have yet to decide.”
Rivera’s research involves scaling up from the lab to the field scale of a new biology-inspired soil improvement technique called enzyme-induced carbonate precipitation to help with the erosion problem found in desert and arid environments.
“My research pertains to the use of an ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC) developed at NMSU and its use as a rehabilitation concrete. This research stems from a project funded by the Transportation Consortium of South-Central States, which assessed UHPC produced with local materials to rehabilitate deteriorated concrete bridge decks,” said Toledo.
After the completion of his doctorate, Toledo plans to pursue a career in academia to gain experience as an educator and researcher and contribute to his Native American community by becoming an engineering professor at a tribal university.
Garcia’s project focuses on finding new, cost-effective and environmentally friendly supplementary materials that will mitigate cracking in concrete that decreases the service life of structures and is a major issue in New Mexico. She is investigating a locally available natural material mined from a pumicite deposit near Española for its ability to mitigate cracking in concrete.
Garcia found the Transportation Board Meeting particularly useful. “I got to talk to many people about my research and their work and research. It was nice to get feedback and look at research from a different perspective as well as getting to see research about problems I didn’t know existed. This conference helped me expand on how to look at research as well as other career options I can go into when I graduate,” she said.
After graduating with her Ph.D., Garcia plans to work in industry and get a professional engineering license. “I want to gain experience and be very knowledgeable in my field. I would like to be a well-rounded engineer that has worked in the field as a project manager and as a designer as well,” she said, adding that she would also like to open her own engineering business and perhaps becoming a professor to help the next generation address some of the nation’s pressing transportation issues.
Linda Fresques writes for New Mexico State University Marketing and Communications and can be reached at 575-646-7416, or by email at [email protected].
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