Every weekend morning leading up to this weekend’s Mid-Pacific Regional Conference, Jorge Gonzalez, 22-year old civil engineering major, could be found practicing with other paddlers from the University of Nevada, Reno concrete canoe team at the Sparks Marina.
Each morning Gonzalez, president of the University chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American General Contractors (ASCE/AGC), would take his position and paddle with his teammates like a cog of a bigger machine.
Gonzalez was first encouraged to run for the position of president late last spring semester by the former president. Gonzalez had been a member of the ASCE/AGC student group since spring 2007.
“I’ve always looked up to the past presidents and just thought that they were great role models,” Gonzalez said. “I accepted the challenge willingly and it’s been a great year so far.”
The professional chapter of the ASCE aims to educate the general public about engineering and provides members with professional development. AGC also promotes construction and assures that contractors work safely. As president of the joint student chapter, Gonzalez found a whole new set of responsibilities for the year ahead of him.
Some of these Gonzalez’s responsibilities include overseeing the competition teams for the upcoming Mid-Pac Regional Conference, helping organize the conference, managing the budget and other reports, participating in department and college activities, organizing speeches and professional development events, liaising for the local chapters of the ASCE and the AGC, and recruiting and managing the student members of the group.
“Civil engineering is a people-serving profession,” Gonzalez said. “So the group’s goal is to educate the public about what we have to offer to them. Like quality drinking water, better roads, safer structures and overall a better infrastructure.”
Alongside his administrative responsibilities, he believes another important duty is in impassioning civil engineering students’ interest in their craft.
“The biggest thing for me this year is recruiting new members and encouraging younger members to be active,” Gonzalez said. “Students have to be passionate about their club or else they won’t be spending their weekends involved with the canoe or other competitions.”
But of all his duties as ASCE/AGC president, often the most talked about is Gonzalez’s involvement with the competition teams. The competition portion is made up of the concrete canoe team, the water treatment team, and the steel bridge team. Since the University is hosting this years’ regional conference, there is emphasis on doing well in the competitions.
This is Gonzalez’s first year as an official member of the concrete canoe team though he has assisted in the past two years. His motivation for officially joining the team as a paddler is rooted in tradition.
“It’s actually tradition for the ASCE president to be on the canoe team,” he said. “This year we had to try out to see who could make the canoe team and I made it somehow. I’m really blessed to work with such a talented group of students who have taken on pretty demanding roles.”
Gonzalez’s involvement with all the competition teams, especially the concrete canoe team, is a testament to his emphasis on teamwork and his willingness to get his hands dirty, well, with concrete.
“Jorge gets the opportunity to work in this at multiple levels,” said David Sanders, ASCE/AGC faculty advisor and civil and environmental engineering professor. “He’s not only at the top being the president but he’s also down in the trenches paddling and doing all the other work that needs to be done in order to make that happen.”
Sanders has seen Gonzalez take control of the student group but remain humble and open to other members’ suggestions.
“He strikes me as a humble leader,” Sanders said. “When things go well, I think that he sees that as part of the team effort. When things don’t go right, he takes those things seriously.”
Gonzalez’s eagerness to do hands-on work is rooted not only in his enthusiasm but with his interest in the field. He has found that his involvement with ASCE and the competition teams allow him to apply techniques and theories he has learned in class.
“You get to do a lot of hands on applications that you don’t normally do in the classroom,” Gonzalez said. “It’s kind of cool, going from paper to actual hands on and placing reinforcement for concrete.”
Being the ASCE/AGC president also allowed him to learn things an effective engineer should know but isn’t generally taught in the classroom.
“Essentially, by joining ASCE, you’re preparing to become a better and more effective engineer,” Gonzalez said. “I think being involved in such a large organization and the competition teams, it really opens up and develops your project management skills.”
Gonzalez hopes being president will help prepare him for the future. After spending a summer internship at a design build firm, Gonzalez wants to find work in that field, particularly in designing and building environmentally friendly structures. Design build projects, he said, are construction projects that are being constructed as they are being designed. Alongside working in design build or in project management, he hopes to study abroad before graduating this fall.
Gonzalez’s position is demanding and time consuming, especially in the days leading up to the regional conference. And though he understands what professional benefits come to him through his work with the ASCE/AGC, his role offers him one simple and fundamental experience.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s really what it comes down to.”