Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A simple bridge truss was the first structure I ever analyzed. The simple combination of beams that could hold cars, trains, and trucks over long spans of water fascinated me. Having the tools to analyze the loads on the truss further increased my interest in structures. I encountered the bridge in a textbook for my first engineering class.

Knowing that the professor, Mr. John Doe, was a tough teacher, I asked him for the textbook so I could study and get ready for the class over the summer. Just arrived from Belize, I was determined to succeed. In class we learned about forces on simple members and then we put the members together to form a simple truss. At this point I had almost decided that structural engineering was the career for me. From there the class just took off: We went on to frames, distributed loads, considered friction; basically we were incorporating real world considerations into structural members. I loved the practical, problem solving aspects of the field.
At UC my classes were even more advanced. In my analysis and design classes, I especially enjoyed studying steel design because we not only learned the use of the load resistance factor design but also applied that knowledge — I designed a four-story building. The professor was a practicing engineer, and he always related the subject to real life steel structures he had engineered, for example, the SB Medical Center, an all steel building with a base isolated campus. This is the kind of project on which I would like to work, designing the structure and considering how the building will respond to ground motion. After two quarters of structural analysis, I had come as close as possible to analyzing real world structures. Looking back I realize, I had learned great tools for structural analysis, but my "tool box" was still inadequate. I lacked a very important tool: finite element analysis. According to my professor, finite element analysis has revolutionized structural analysis.
Although I liked my classes, my internship experiences really confirmed my interest in structural engineering. While working at Caltrans as a student volunteer, I reviewed computer grading output for streets under construction. The computer suggested numbers for the road grading, and I had to plot the numbers and make sure there were no abrupt grade changes so the water can drain off easily to the sides of the road. It was exciting to know that I was the last checkpoint before the whole project went for approval. It was enjoyable working on something real — Main Street — but I was somewhat disappointed I did not have the chance to work on any structures.
At UC I volunteered through the Student Research Program to work in the geotechnical library. I worked directly with a doctoral student and helped him to develop a geotechnical data base for the local area. I interpreted the data Caltrans had collected and recorded it in a form accessible to the computer and easy to read. It took hours to finish the job, but I enjoyed the precision involved so I did not mind putting in the time. My supervisor liked my work so much, he hired me to continue the project during the summer. Working on this project also showed me the importance of soils in determining buildings' responses to earthquakes and awakened my interest in the response of skyscrapers to seismic stress and movement.
At First Choice U, I plan to enroll in the structural engineering and geomechanics program. In this program I hope to draw on my structural analysis and geotechnical research background as a foundation for studying more advanced concepts. I am particularly interested in researching the ties between the structural engineering, geomechanics, and applied mechanics. I believe research is necessary to acquire data and formulate theories, but it is just as important to know how to apply those theories and use that data in the real world. I hope to be involved in some structurally related research at First Choice U. I am particularly interested in two research facilities: The Structures and Composites Laboratory and the Earthquake Engineering Center.
After completing my degree in engineering and working on engineering projects, I know I want to design structures. That is what has fascinated me since I took Mr. Doe's class. I also know, however, that designing structures of a complexity that appeals to me requires "more tools in my toolbox." Those I can acquire only by continuing my education. To be competent and competitive I will need a masters degree. After completing my degree, I would like to work for an American engineering consulting firm and engineer complex structures and tall buildings, perhaps focusing on the problems surrounding designing for earthquakes. My long-term goals are to return to Belize and found my own engineering consulting firm there.
Structural engineering will allow me to pursue a career where I can be creatively involved in problem-solving and design functional structures, like the simple truss bridge that initially captivated me in Mr. Doe's class. My classes, work at Caltrans, and internship in geotechnical engineering have increased my knowledge of and interest in structural engineering since I first looked at the textbook shortly after my arrival in the U.S. A masters degree will give me the up-to-date tools and knowledge to be competitive and competent.
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