A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to a Greener Future
What is your major and area of focus?
My major is civil engineering and my area of focus is environmental engineering. After this upcoming semester, I will complete a minor in architecture. This will play an important role in my future goals. I am pursuing a master’s degree which fully integrates environmental engineering processes and architecture. It is my hope that this integration between both disciplines can result in the creation of buildings that are not just efficient in their use of energy, water, and resources, but also achieve an architecture that tackles regional problems, like air quality and land pollution, and global problems, like climate change and, in some cases, ocean acidification. Thus, the idea is that buildings will not just be mere machines for living, but will promote the sustainability of our important natural environments. For example, the Bank of America Tower, one of my biggest inspirations, is the most eco-friendly tall building in New York City. While this building is exemplary, the reason I am attracted to it is because of its incorporation of air filters. Such air filters provide the best indoor air quality in the city and consequently are cleaning the city’s air from harmful carcinogens, fiberglass particles, and other residuals from the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001. The concept in which buildings improve the condition of the environment is called “regenerative architecture”, which I am approaching with an environmental engineering focus.
What brought you to our department?
The University of Texas at Austin has one of the most established and recognized environmental and civil engineering programs in the country. Thus, I was very attracted to the department and to the possibility of meeting and working with great faculty. Thanks to the help of my current academic adviser, Molly Gully, I was able to make the best decision of my life, coming to UT-Austin.
What is your background?
I was born in Venezuela. Since I was a little boy I was taught about major environmental problems in our community, ranging from garbage pollution to increased industrial pollution. I became aware of these problems thanks to my family’s consciousness. When I was about nine years old, my family had the opportunity to move to Mexico, where I saw another culture, environment, and type of human experience. In Mexico, I gained an awareness of the living conditions of the less fortunate people in our society and the need to create better environmental conditions for them. After living in Mexico for five years, I moved to the state of Montana. I completed high school there, learning and perfecting my English in the process. In Montana, I further developed my views on environmental conditions and how to tackle global problems such as climate change and ocean acidification.
Please describe your role in student engineering organizations at UT and why you chose to get involved.
My biggest involvement in the student engineering organizations has been with the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), an organization sponsored by the CAEE Department and advised by environmental engineering Professor Richard Corsi. I started out as a project member on the recycling initiative and after one semester, became project lead and expanded the project to include the recycling of electronics and batteries on campus. Under my leadership, we also expanded the program to include eight locations, ranging from Jester West to the Campus Computer Store. After only one semester of being project lead, I was asked to become Vice President of Projects for the organization and we doubled the number of ESW active projects. Two of these projects were also awarded first and third place in the annual alternative energy competition hosted by the Student Engineering Council (SEC).
Another important accomplishment was the collection of materials and funds from the ESW national chapter and the Sun Edison company to start building a solar-powered smoothie cart. After completing my sophomore semester, I seized the biggest opportunity to increase my leadership skills and create a significant change at UT: I became 2012 President of ESW. As a president I have been able to work with eight passionate and excellent engineers from different majors. I have also helped to increase our student member base, which has nearly doubled. Also, we have tripled corporate involvement, generated a new website, participated in over 10 different events, maintained a positive budget, increased project accountability, connected with different environmental organizations on campus, won second place in the SEC video contest, and hosted the first ever ESW event for the campus-wide celebration of Earth Day. In addition to these accomplishments, I have reformed and updated the organization’s constitution, updated the ESW display case on the first floor of the ECJ engineering building, and helped instigate the beginnings of an inter-organizational environmental board, the Student Organizations for Sustainability Board (SOS), with a goal of improving the overall sustainability on UT campus. It is my hope that all environmental efforts on campus can come together to create a long lasting and powerful effect.
What do you like about the CAEE Department?
There are many things to like in the department of civil engineering, from the helpful and charismatic staff to the excellent faculty members and the diverse group of students. When I am in the ECJ building I feel at home because I see the familiar faces of faculty, staff, and students around me. The department provides me with a sense of importance, purpose, and familiarity. Throughout my two years in the department, I have enjoyed the great counseling from academic advisors Molly Gully and Joanne Belsley. I have also benefitted greatly from the mentorship of our easily accessible faculty members. I love talking to our faculty and appreciate their genuine care towards students. Last, but not least, the students in the department are not only diverse in culture, but they are also amongst the most caring and motivated people I have met. When one has an issue, we all come together to help each other out, a sort of engineering bond is always present.
What do you like about Austin?
Austin is a great city! I love the music scene, the extraordinary food, the outdoor activities, and the feeling of being in a small, but growing city. Living in Austin, I do not know if I want to leave. I love the plethora of music festivals that happen every year from Austin City Limits to Blues on the Greens. I also love to dance with friends! I love the outdoor activities that Austin offers, from kayaking to beach volleyball to hiking. One of the greatest things about Austin is the city’s focus on sustainability and its innovative, progressive, and smart solutions. I love to live in a city that is conscious about our future and always works to achieve a better one.
What would you like to do with your degree once you graduate?
Once I receive a master’s degree in environmental engineering, while exploring regenerative architecture from an engineering approach, I would love to work for a sustainable design firm such as CDM-Smith, Odebrecht, or Atkins. After gaining more experience in the workplace, I would like to direct my attention to fast developing parts of the world such as the Middle East, China, and the Americas. It is one of my great hopes to help the dire environmental situations in my home country of Venezuela, when the time is fit. Overall, I would like to take my goals and apply them to a global scale and help our world community achieve a more sustainable future.
Advice for incoming students?
Try out as many student organizations as possible in your first semester and then pick one or two to join! Become involved in engineering student life, that way you will meet the greatly diverse and exciting student body in our department. Also, get to know your professors, they are excellent at their specific areas and are willing to help to their best of their abilities with anything you might need. Last, but not least, go to class and take advantage of faculty office hours. Even though sometimes you may think you can do without going to class or a TA session, you are going to miss out on the support and the added knowledge that you would get if you attend. Useall the resources at your disposal; it will only make you a better engineer.
Juan-Pablo is studying abroad in Ankara, Turkey at the Middle Eastern Technical University, the sister university to UT. He is studying Turkish and modeling of solar concentrators. Although the class is for mechanical engineers, he has seen a great benefit towards his future goals as he is learning about solar power and sustainability issues with the heating and cooling of our buildings, which is a major consumer of energy. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in buildings sometimes account for 45-50% of the total building energy consumed. Thus, optimizing the heating and cooling loads of buildings will help develop a more viable future, especially in areas of the world where cooling loads are huge due to high temperatures climates.
"Studying abroad, I am able to interact with a wide range of Turkish and international students who also have sustainability in mind," he says. "Living outside of the US, I am learning so much about how different problems are tackled in different countries and how people live within their own culture. I am impressed by the efficiency of Turkish buses. They have bus terminals as big and predominant as airports, with buses offering an almost similar experience to flying. I have also visited and modeled heating and cooling loads for solar collectors in North Cyprus; attended an international conference of solar power and sustainability issues in Izmir; and visited some ofthe greatest buildings of ancient times –the Artemis Temple and the Library of Celsus in Ephesus. I highly recommend studying abroad for even a short time. It builds our global competency and helps us become better leaders!"