TEES program inspires undergraduate students to choose graduate school

April 15, 2011
| By: Aubrey Bloom

April 15, 2011 - Laura Ortiz and Benjamin Garza were civil engineering majors at Texas A&M University-Kingsville when they participated in the 2010 TEES-sponsored Undergraduate Summer Research Grant (USRG) program at Texas A&M University's Dwight Look College of Engineering.

Annually, the program gives high-achieving engineering students System-wide the chance to conduct research in a faculty lab, because undergraduates who have the opportunity to do research are much more likely to continue their studies toward a doctoral degree. That's exactly what happened with Ortiz and Garza, who decided a Ph.D. was the path for them and are now enrolled as engineering graduate students at Texas A&M.

As a graduate student in structural engineering, Ortiz is continuing her summer research with Dr. Mary Beth Hueste, professor of civil engineering at Texas A&M. Under the USRG program, Ortiz developed a framework for ranking older bridges that takes into account historical significance, structural condition, and functionality, to guide engineers in deciding whether a historic bridge (those more than 50 years old) should be rehabilitated or replaced.

Her research is particularly relevant to Texas, considering the state has 384 bridges that are 50 years or older. Additionally, Ortiz has been selected to receive a 2011 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, one of the most prestigious awards a graduate student can receive.

"The USRG program gave me the tools to accomplish my goal of graduate school and encouraged me to apply for fellowships," Ortiz said. "Dr. Hueste introduced me to the subject of historic bridges, and I feel my research will make an impact by helping to preserve our nation's historic bridges and ensure their structural and functional adequacy. I would recommend a summer research program for anyone interested in graduate school."

For his summer research, Garza investigated carbon nanotubes and nanofibers as reinforcement materials for Portland cement, the substance that binds concrete together. Reinforcing concrete with carbon nanotubes could eliminate the need for steel reinforcement bars, making concrete stronger, lighter, and more economical, since concrete is the world's most popular structural material. Now that Garza is a graduate student at Texas A&M, he will be meeting with his faculty mentor for the USRG program, Dr. Rashid Abu Al-Rub, assistant professor of civil engineering, on the next research steps.

"Although I had already made my decision to attend graduate school, the USRG program provided me with a glimpse into engineering research that otherwise I would not have had. Because my experience was so great, I knew that Texas A&M was the right school for me. I highly recommend the USRG program to any student who is considering attending graduate school," Garza said.

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