Civil Engineering (Geotech) Pre-Grad Intern Sonia Trujillo

Sonia Trujillo Graduate School: A Leap into the Unknown

I first learned about the opportunity of doing the IE Pre-Graduate School Internship at the very end of the spring semester of 2009. It immediately grabbed my attention because it could help me get more involved with the graduate student community. I have always wanted to get involved. Last semester, the department of Civil Engineering began a program that paired each student with a faculty mentor to discuss certain issues before advising for the following semester. My faculty mentor just happened to be a professor in Geotech, my area of interest within Civil Engineering. I took this opportunity to ask him as many questions as our time allowed about his work and whether he needed help with anything. He gave me something to do but only for a few weeks. The IE Pre-Grad internship course has been the perfect opportunity that I have been wanting. It allowed me to help my graduate student mentor with his research in offshore foundations and interact with his advisor.

The research project itself consists of testing different anchors at different locations. We are modeling the sea bed using a type of white clay. When conducting the tests, we determine the capacity of each anchor at different angles. The equipment for these tests is located at Pickle Research Campus, a research facility owned by the university. I had not been to this part of campus before, and the very first time was one of the most exciting moments. Pickle Research Campus is about nine miles from the main campus, and my mentor and I, along with another undergraduate assistant, took the PRC bus. It is remarkably exciting just being in this part of campus while having in mind that some of the most important research in the country is being done there, which brings me to a very rewarding part of the IE: the possible value of the research being conducted! If we discover ways to eliminate dept as an obstacle when designing structures, we could build them deeper and deeper into the sea. This could potentially eliminate the need to look for new places to drill. Also, we could significantly increase the number of wind farms (wind turbines in the same location used for production of electric power) in our country. It would be ideal to have more wind farms deep in the sea where the wind blows at its maximum. I am very passionate about the research I am helping with. I know that it has the power to change the future in a very positive way; this why I am thrilled to be even a very small part of it.

One of the things that surprised me the most is how serious graduate students and professors take their job. For example, my mentor is very friendly and has one of the most beautiful smiles, but when he conducts tests in the anchors we work with, he jokes zero percent of the time and is very dedicated. His advisor also takes his job very seriously. My mentor's advisor is also the faculty advisor for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Chapter at UT, and as an officer, I have had some opportunities to talk to him. He is friendly and likes to interact with students. However, when I have gone to see him at his office with my mentor to explain how the testing has been going, he is very focused on his job. He immediately begins asking specific questions about the results and demands to hear exactly the information that he is looking for. Together, my mentor and his advisor showed me a new version of responsibility. A very work related environment must be kept in order to work as efficiently as possible (no exceptions), and I am glad to have been exposed to this now because I am attempting to integrate it to the way I study, and I have seen noticeable improvements so far.

It is disappointing knowing that the semester is over because it marks the end of going to Pickle Research Campus to conduct tests and come home in dirty clothes, especially because this research project is not over and we do not have any final results. There was a conflict with my graduate mentor's schedule and mine, so we had to meet at different times on different weeks, and there were weeks when we could not even meet at all, so he would just give me material to read related to this research.

Applying to UT began as curiosity of how much there was left to see and how far I could go. Now that I am here, I feel like one of the most fortunate people in the world. In the same way, I was extremely curious about applying to graduate school. As a first generation student attending college, sometimes it is overwhelming to even consider this idea. That is why I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in the IE Pre-Grad Internship; graduate school seems less foreign and more possible to achieve. Because of IE I now plan on pursuing a graduate degree.

POSTSCRIPT: "I wanted to share the fact that during the last week of school my mentor's advisor asked me to go see him to close my internship. While I was there he asked me what I was doing next semester and I said, "I will just be taking classes. I wanted to ask you if it's okay with you if I continue helping Karan (my grad mentor) next semester." He responded by saying that not only was this fine with him, but that he was going to try to get funding for me so that I can work as an undergraduate research assistant! This makes me really happy."

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