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Our Spring 2020 Award Winners

Congratulations to our Spring 2020 Award Winners

May 29, 2020

Award Descriptions

Certificate of Excellence (COE)

The Certificate of Excellence in Civil and Environmental Engineering awards are intended to honor those students who excel academically (GPA) and, perhaps more importantly, model what we look for in our most engaged students.  The students who make you look forward to teaching the classes they are in, who ask insightful questions, and who even help other students connect more meaningfully with the material. 


To students judged on efforts to prepare his or her self for a professional career in engineering including but not limited to participation in professional organizations, work experience, and community service.

Hal and Judy Cota

To academically outstanding senior-level students in the ENVE program who demonstrate an interest in community public health or industrial safety and hygiene.

Award Winners

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Anna Johnson

Civil Engineering, Senior

COE Award

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Ashley Green

Environmental Engineering, Senior

IAB Award

"Ashley reached out to me some months back and asked me for advice of whether attending grad school at UCI or in general was a good option. Since then, she has demonstrated great promise as a future Civil and Environmental Engineer. She has a very positive attitude and outlook on life and I greatly appreciate all of her feedback in class." - Derek Manheim, nominator

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Ella Hermann

Environmental Engineering, Senior

COE Award

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Jose De Jesus Chalapa Diaz

Civil Engineering, Senior

COE Award

"I have known Jose for over two years, interacting with him in classes and also through student club activities.  He is an excellent student, who is diligent, thoughtful, persistent, and goal orientated.   In addition to his studies, for the past two years, Jose has consistently been an integral part of the annual steel bridge competition held by ASCE and AISC. This year he has the responsibility of being the project manager for the team.  I have worked closely with Jose and he has shown the ability to think independently, oversee/manage various phases of analysis, design, and fabrication, and work within a team environment. Through it all he has always been upbeat and positive, which gives insight to his character.  These intellectual and leadership qualities will enable him to continue to succeed in both his graduate students as well as the career field." - Eric Kasper, nominator

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Paige Hermanson

Civil Engineering, Senior

IAB Award

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Rebecca Maloney

Civil Engineering, Senior

COE Award

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Ryan Anderson

Environmental Engineering, Senior

Hal Cota Award

"Ryan Anderson graduated in the blended BS/MS program this month with his thesis on simultaneous wastewater treatment and biofuel feedstock production. He helped operate 1000-liter microalgae cultivation tanks to evaluate improved microalgae strains under the varying conditions of the outdoors. The algae strains were improved by other students and research staff who applied specific evolutionary pressures over hundreds of generations. Ryan was also a Cal Poly wrestler as an undergraduate in Environmental Engineering and served as an assistant in several laboratory courses." - Tryg Lundquist, nominator

WERC 2020 Algae Team

ENVE Students win first and second place in WERC Competition

May 11, 2020

In April 2020, Cal Poly environmental engineering students competed and placed first and second in the WERC Environmental Design Contest. Every year, students compete in the WERC Environmental Design Contest for over $30k in cash prizes. Students are awarded for their solutions to engineering tasks proposed by industry partners and government agencies.  

Cal Poly’s first place photovoltaic (PV) team and second place phycoremediation team were chosen by a judge panel of engineering professionals for demonstrating their outstanding solutions to real-world environmental issues. Environmental engineering senior Joey Velasquez also won the Outstanding Student Award. 

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Cal Poly PV Team works on attaching
PCM to solar panels 

The WERC program originally began as the Waste-management Education Research Consortium and partnered with NM research universities, Sandia National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Dine College, according to the WERC website

The PV team was tasked with improving solar efficiency. For this, the five students attempted to implement a phase changing material (PCM) that absorbs heat as it changes from a solid to a liquid phase. They tried to pull the heat from the solar panel by attaching the PCM to the back of the solar panel, which ended up increasing power output by 3 percent.  

 PV project lead and environmental engineering senior Alex McConkey said that he enjoyed opportunity to apply the skilled he’d learned to a hands-on experience. 

“[Favorite part] besides winning? It was really cool to collaborate with the group and the team,” McConkey said. “It was also cool because we got to research something that has not really been done before — it’s a really new, emerging technology.” 

The phycoremediation team was tasked with using mircoalgae to remove metals from mining-impacted waters. The team’s design was a phycoremediation (remediation through algae) system that removed over 90 percent of metals from a mine water waste solution. They immobilized living algae into a material called sodium alginate. The system was a two stage treatment train: the first step was an algal column where mine water was passed through a PVC pipe containing the algal beads, the second step was a batch reactor that also had the algal beads inside.    

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Cal Poly WERC algae team

Algae team project lead and environmental engineering senior Dylan Kitao described the process as a “rollercoaster of emotions,” but said that he was ultimately glad to have participated.  

“We started with eight team members and had four team members by the time we finished,” Kitao said. “In addition, all of the algae we were trying kept dying! There were definitely moments where we didn't make any progress and wanted to drop the project all together. But it was so rewarding pushing through that adversity and seeing the project through.” 

McConkey added that, had the competition not been virtual, class work would have been postponed while the team was away competing. With the new platform for WERC, the team was faced with virtual learning on top of completing their design, presentation and research paper for the competition.   

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Students and faculty use Zoom
Conferencing to work on designs
for WERC together. 

Through the movement to online for both the competition and for school, the teams came out on top. 


Cal Poly ITE 2020

Family First: ITE

May 1, 2020

As a freshman in high school, Kezia Suwandhaputra’s father took her to an event for women in engineering. There, she met a woman who studied at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and who encouraged Suwandhaputra to pursue civil engineering.  

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Suwandhaputra is a third year civil
engineering student at Cal Poly.

It hasn’t always been easy pursuing civil engineering for Suwandhaputra. Being less inclined toward math and science, she struggled in the first couple of years in the major. She considered switching to city and regional planning (CRP), instead, but got through with hard work and the constant reminder that there was an end goal to reach.  

“It’s been a blast,” she says. “My major classes have been a really big help because now I’m actually applying the things I learned first and second year to real life applications.”  

Today, she is president of Cal Poly’s Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) chapter.  Suwandhaputra recalls going to the club fair as a freshman, trying to choose from the various engineering organizations. Ultimately, ITE was the one that stuck out to her the most.

ITE is an organization that aims to connect and educate transportation students and professionals. The Cal Poly chapter provides peers with the opportunity to learn from professionals, learn more about the field and make lasting change within the SLO community. 

Club member Emily Linn was instantly intrigued by the club her freshman year. Although it was nerve-racking at first to dive into something new, she felt at home after the first meeting she attended. Later, she attended the Student Leadership Summit (SLS) with ITE.

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“Going with ITE to SLS 2019 only cemented the “family” motto the club nurtures,” Linn says. “The club slowly became a place where I truly felt accepted, surrounded by people who would cheer me up when I felt down.” 

Suwandhaputra reiterates the “family” dynamic of the club. She says that while a significant part of ITE is networking with professionals and professors, it’s the students in the club that make ITE so special.  

“A lot of my close friends are in ITE,” she says. “And we all bond over the nerdiest things; like taking public transit or biking to school or ‘Oh, there’s a new bike lane here.’” 

Additional to SLS, ITE hosts firm tours, has events such as Mario Kart and the SLO Transpo Mixer, and competes in competitions like the James H. Kell Student Design Competition and the Student Traffic Bowl. 


2019-2020 ITE Officers

 Vice President Zachary Caipang, Treasurer Kiera Bryant, Secretary Katherine Lee, Professional Coordinator Ashley Yao, Social Coordinator Cody Lim, Outreach Coordinator Zachary Fucini, Marketing Coordinator Bryant Lee, and Historian Megan Mannion.

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Congratulations to SCE for the 2020 region 9 Distinguished Chapter Award!

Cal Poly SCE Earns ASCE Distinguished Chapter Award

Apr 24, 2020

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Cal Poly’s Society of Civil Engineers (SCE) student chapter recently received the Distinguished Chapter award for Region 9, which covers the entire state of California. This honor is awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to one outstanding student chapter in each region.  

Structural engineering professor Daniel Jansen served as faculty advisor to the club this past year.  

“It’s a great group of students and they really don’t need much advising,” Jansen said. “They have good internal leadership and a dedicated core of officers.” 

Civil engineering senior Rebecca Maloney is the president of Cal Poly SCE. Maloney got involved with the chapter as a freshman. She started in the mentorship program, moved on to join the events committee the next year and became the Vice President of Events her junior year.  

“SCE has become my community on campus.  It’s where I have found people that I know will be in my life long past when we all graduate,” Maloney said. “Being a part of the club has given me many opportunities to pursue leadership roles and, in turn, I attribute a lot of my personal, academic, and professional growth to these opportunities — such as starting to overcome my never ending fear of public speaking.” 


Over the years, SCE has become known for planning and executing the Civil and Environmental Engineering Career Fair alongside the student Society of Environmental Engineers (SENVE) chapter.  Maloney also noted that the club has been growing their peer-mentorship program for four years now.

Jansen said that, in addition to their leadership team, all of the members (around 250 students) help the club to participate in and excel at many different things. From the peer-mentoring program, to community outreach, to Concrete Canoe, Steel Bridge, transportation and environmental engineering events at the Pacific Southwest Regional Conference, the club has been successful for years. 

“To me, this award is far more meaningful than any single event, because it recognizes the collective excellence of the student chapter and the contributions of so many,” Jansen said. 

All of the clubs and organizations that Cal Poly CE/ENVE offers are amazing, Maloney said. SCE happened to be the club that she decided to stick with. 

“I have been so fortunate to be a part of such an amazing organization throughout college, and it will definitely be what I miss most once I graduate,” Maloney said. 

FARO®’s  donated laser scanner allows students hands-on experience.

Getting Into Focus

Apr 20, 2020

With just a few clicks, students can accurately measure complex objects and buildings. Thanks to FARO’s donation of their latest FocusS series laser scanner, students will be trained and ready to use these tools when they graduate.

Our department has prioritized advancing construction engineering curriculum as civil engineering students have shown increased interest in entering the construction field. Construction engineering professor Hani Alzraiee created the Advanced Building Information Modeling for Civil Engineering (CE 415) course to prepare students interested in the field. With the donation of the FARO® Focus Laser Scanner, Alzraiee aims to train CE 415 students to use the scanner and analyze the data it collects in the design and construction process. The classes focuses on managing vertical structures, BIM based quantity take-off, clash detection, and 4D modeling.

Senior Raphael Maciel was one of the first students to use the laser scanner,

“Hani got us really excited about the class. When we went  outside actually started using the scanner, it was really interesting and that got me more excited about it.”


FARO’s FocusS series laser scanner has a built-in 8 mega-pixel, HDR-camera that captures detailed imagery easily while providing a natural color overlay to the scan data in extreme lighting conditions. The scanner is  light weight, small and has a 4.5-hour battery runtime per charge making the FocusS Laser Scanner truly mobile for fast, secure and reliable scanning. The point cloud data captured by the scanner can be used with FARO programs or third-party programs like Autodesk.

FARO’s gift has transformed and enhanced our construction engineering curriculum. With industry support, our students will receive the training they need to be successful in their careers.

“I want to thank FARO® for this gift,” Alzraiee said. “I also want to thank them for the training they have provided for me in order to get up to speed with using their tool and their software. As well as the continuous support we are having and their contribution to the classroom.”


Continue reading Getting Into Focus...

Spring Senior Projects Zoom Forward

Apr 10, 2020

As COVID-19 spreads across the world, higher education students find themselves quarantined, some stuck in their hometowns while others still are limited to their college town residences. Cal Poly is among the numerous American universities switching to online learning.  

With the “Learn by Doing” ethos that Cal Poly offers, moving courses to this new form of “distance learning” can be difficult.  

CE/ENVE lecturer and senior design project coordinator Paul Valadao notes that, in light of recent events, guiding student online has its positive qualities. It makes the faculty more accessible to the students.  

“It is important to note from the onset the “Learn by Doing” experience is at its core, best harnessed in-person,” Valadao said. “There is no denying this. Although it is also worth recognizing that transferring the spring quarter and latter portion of CE Senior Design to an online distance-learning format has made the faculty more easily accessible to our students.” 

Similar to most departments at the university, CE/ENVE faculty are utilizing the conferencing platform Zoom Video Communications. Through Zoom, more of the focus lies in team-based project submittals, rather than individual exams.  Students are encouraged to take the opportunity to further develop project communication.  

“CE Senior Design students are most successful if they willingly and effectively work together,” Valadao said. “The refined skills derived from this student-team collaboration will be directly applied to our graduate's first job in industry, allowing them to be ready day one.” 

For Valadao, working with the seniors on their final projects is “one of the coveted highlights” of his job. He’s been involved with CE Senior Design for over a decade, and he still looks forward to it every year. 

“I truly cherish the opportunity each academic year and find it tremendously rewarding to take this journey with our graduating seniors in this valuable course,” Valado said. 

GeoWall Competes in Nationals

Mar 9, 2020

This year's GeoWall team competed in the 2020 GeoWall Nationals Competition, held at ASCE GeoCongress on February 26th, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cal Poly's team comprised of Project Manager Claire Anovick, and team members Ian Kitamura, Eza Gaigalas, and Matthew North.

"Acting as the 2019-2020 GeoWall Project Manager has been incredibly humbling and rewarding experience. This year we’ve developed stronger relationships with advisors and sponsors, navigated a new budgeting system, and improved our construction processes. Most importantly, the team fosters a collaborative and energetic group dynamic that makes project managing a breeze. It has been an honor to lead the team and be a voice to younger members who are excited to learn about our process and the high quality of geotechnical engineering skills we bring to GeoWall." Anovick stated.

The team was tasked to design and build a model mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) retaining wall using paper reinforcement taped to a poster board wall facing. After spending Fall Quarter testing backfill and reinforcement properties, designing the retaining wall, and writing a final design report, Cal Poly was accepted to compete at Nationals.

Poly's GeoWall took home 10th place overall, and enjoyed attending the 2020 GeoCongress. Looking forawrd, Anovick detailed how the team prepares for its upcoming Regionals: "GeoWall has a lot of work ahead of itself before the Regional Pacific Southwest Conference (PSWC) in April! Our team will be spending the next few weeks improving wall design and construction methods after seeing the top-tier competition at Nationals...Regardless of the work ahead of us, we look forward to competing along the rest of Cal Poly SLO’s project teams and representing Cal Poly’s geotechnical engineering program at PSWC." 



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Professor Stefan Talke Receives Funding for Proposal

Professor Stefan Talke Gets Funding for Proposal

Jan 15, 2020

Professor Stefan Talke Receives Funding for ProposalProfessor Stefan Talke has received funding from the National Science Foundation to take part in three workshops on coastal resilience. The proposal is titled “CoPe RCN: Advancing Interdisciplinary Research to Build Resilient Communities and Infrastructure in the Nation’s Estuaries and Bays.” It aims to establish research networks to connect scientists, engineers, practitioners, and policy makers with hopes of improving climate change adaptation in estuaries and bays. 

Professor emeritus Sam Vigil served in the US Navy from 1966 to 1995.

Meet the Faculty: Sam Vigil

Jan 8, 2020

In 1965, Sam Vigil was a student at CSU Hayward (now called Cal State East Bay) studying physics. Vigil’s life took a turn that year when he received a letter from his local draft board on Christmas Eve. 

“So I’m going along, taking 13 to 14 units, and then in 1965, on Christmas Eve, believe it or not, I get a letter telling me that my deferment’s gone and I’m now what’s classified as 1A (available for military service),” Vigil said.  

Despite being a full-time student and originally having a valid student deferment, Vigil had been listed as eligible for the draft. From the experience of his friends, he said there was only about one month to take action in response to the letter before being drafted.   

Vigil initially decided to join the Navy the Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate (AVROC) program but ended up failing the depth perception test in the eyesight portion of the physical. The Navy then called him and asked that he try out for the larger branch called the Reserve Officer Candidate (ROC) program. After trying out for the ROC program – which this time didn’t require a test of strong depth perception – he passed the physical and waited for six months to hear back.  

Vigil officially joined the Navy in May 1966. When he started in his reserve unit, he took a test to become an electronic technician, since that was his “hobby at the time.”   Professor emeritus Sam Vigil served in the US Navy from 1966 to 1995.

“The [Reserve Center] calls me back the next day – again, this is pre-Internet days, so we had to make phone calls – and he said, ‘Well there are no openings [for electronic technicians],’” Vigil said. “He said, ‘There’s another rating that’s very similar called a communication technician.’ And I had no idea what that was, and it turned out to be highly classified, so he didn’t even know what it was. But they had a branch in that rating that worked on electronic equipment, so I said ‘well, I’ll take that.’” 

Vigil transferred to UC Berkeley in winter quarter of 1967, graduating in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. In October 1969, he entered active duty as an ensign. From communication technician to commander, Vigil served in the Navy Reserve and on active duty from 1966 to 1995.  

The military provided him with a range of opportunities, including the chance to live in Puerto Rico for three years as part of the Naval Security Group – the branch of the Navy responsible for signals intelligence gathering and cryptology. 

After earning his master’s degree in civil engineering, Vigil transferred to the Navy Civil Engineer Corps. He served another 20 years in the Navy Reserve with assignments in Navy Construction Battalion Two (also known as the Navy Seabees) and engineering projects in the U.S., Europe and the Philippines. He retired from the Navy Reserve in 1995 with the rank of commander.  

Education still played a crucial role in Vigil’s life alongside his involvement in the Navy and the Navy Reserve. After his release from active duty in 1973, he earned a master's degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M in 1974 and a doctorate in engineering from UC Davis in 1981. Vigil’s graduate education was funded by the G.I. Bill, RA and TA appointments and Navy Reserve pay. 

In 1980, he joined Brown and Caldwell, a major environmental engineering firm in the Bay Area, where he worked on energy conservation, recycling and waste-to-energy projects. In 1982, he joined the faculty of the Cal Poly Civil and Environmental Engineering department where he taught courses in water and waste-water treatment, waste management and sustainable environment engineering. He is now a retired environmental engineering professor at Cal Poly and continues to lecture part-time. 

Vigil credits his Navy experience in the Civil Engineer Corps and his consulting experience at Brown and Caldwell with helping provide his students with “real world” problems.  

In addition to teaching, Dr. Vigil has been involved in various research projects in waste management and sustainability. He is also a co-author of the widely used textbook “Solid Waste Management: Engineering Principles and Management Issues” published by McGraw-Hill in 1963. He is a professional engineer, a board-certified environmental engineer, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional and a fellow of the Air and Management Association.  

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Professor Emeritus, Sam Vigil, retired from the United States Navy in 1995.

Meet the Faculty: Veteran's Day

Nov 11, 2019

Sam Vigil is a retired environmental engineering professor at Cal Poly and continues to lecture part-time. Before getting into academia, Vigil served in the United States Navy from 1966 to 1995. At the time of his retirement in 1995, Vigil was a commissioned officer for the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps on reserve duty. The retired professor began teaching at Cal Poly in 1982 and earned the status of Professor Emeritus in 2009. 


You can find a full profile on Professor Vigil here. 


Continue reading Meet the Faculty: Veteran's Day...


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