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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Civil engineering builds opportunity to help others

A desire to help others, an unplanned job opportunity and the persis¬tence of a faculty member led to an unexpected career path for New Mexico State University graduate student Sarah Williamson.

Sarah Williamson found a passion for civil and environmental engineering while trying to find a job related to politics and outreach projects. (NMSU photo by Erik Stenbakken)

"When I first came to NMSU I was not enrolled as an engineering student; I was enrolled as a government major because I felt that politics was the only avenue for a job where I could get paid to do outreach projects," said Williamson, who graduated in December 2010 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. "I had hopes of working internationally with developing countries on their human and health rights. I was able to get a job working on campus, but not in the govern¬ment department. The only job I could find was working as a research assistant in civil engineering for Dr. Ricardo Jacquez."

Williamson reluctantly took the job, and Jacquez, now dean of the College of Engineering, repeatedly encouraged Wil¬liamson to consider changing her major.

"I finally gave in and enrolled as a civil engineering student and in my very first semester I was asked to participate in a field research project with a profes¬sor," Williamson said. "I was able to gain firsthand knowledge of environmental en¬gineering work, in the field, doing research for the Environmental Protection Agency. And I was hooked."

That first experience then led to opportunities to do outreach projects, Wil¬liamson's original goal.

"Dr. Jacquez started encouraging me to look into outreach projects in which engineers traveled to foreign countries and helped them with some of their basic civil engineering needs: water and wastewater facilities, drilling for water, performance-based building for bridges and homes, etc.," Williamson said. "That is how I came to be interested in contaminant removal in water systems, as well as sustainable engineering projects."

Williamson, from Farmington, N.M., has been employed by the Civil Engineer¬ing Department since her freshman year teaching labs and has worked on several research projects under the tutelage of civil engineering faculty members.

Williamson started work on her master's degree in the spring 2011 semester with Associate Professor Paola Bandini and Professor Adrian Hanson, civil engineering department head.

"I am hoping to pursue the aspects of sustainability in geo-environmental engi¬neering in my research," Williamson said. "Hopefully I will be able to continue this work with a doctoral program, and go on to teach at the university level. It's an excel¬lent avenue to continue my own education, work as a consulting engineer and continue doing research with students."

During her time at NMSU, William¬son has also been active in student organiza¬tions. She has held leadership positions in the NMSU student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, and has been a member of the Concrete Canoe team for several years. Last Spring Williamson was one of the captains of the team, along with Adrian Delgadillo, and they helped organize the American Society of Civil Engineers' Rocky Mountain Regional Conference, which was held at NMSU last spring.

"We competed in the conference and won the concrete canoe competition," Wil¬liamson said. They went on to the National Concrete Canoe Competition at California Polytechnic State University in June where they placed 11th. They enjoyed the experi¬ence and are hoping to make it to nationals again this year.

They also were able to raise about $45,000 to cover the costs of hosting the 13 universities that attended the regional conference at NMSU.