Energy Boost

For the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, the newly-formed Recent Graduates Advisory Committee helps bring curriculum development up to date.

Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Chair Charles Chadwell believes one word best describes the members of the Recent Graduates Advisory Committee (RGAC): Energetic.

“They’re really passionate, they really want to participate and they really want to do stuff,” Chadwell said. “They’re not sure what that stuff is yet… so my message to them is slow and steady wins the race. I have to remind them they don’t have to do it all in one cycle.”

The RGAC — the fourth committee on the department’s Industry Advisory Board (IAB) along with the Strategic Direction and Curriculum Committee, the Alumni Outreach and Engagement Committee and the Advancement and Advocacy Committee — was formed after an IAB meeting in late 2019.

Chadwell said the idea came up at a faculty meeting when, during a curriculum review, some members of the IAB expressed unfamiliarity with the experiences of new hires from Cal Poly.  

“Our IAB is all CEOs, directors and company owners and they are pretty far removed from what our graduates do day-to-day — that’s not really in their purview since that’s all run by middle management,” Chadwell said. “So, the thought was if we really want to understand how we’re doing with our curriculum, and make changes that best fit the current state of our Day-One Ready engineers straight out of the gate, why not ask the recent graduates?”

Alex Kwock and Kelsey Little, both 2015 civil engineering graduates, were among the 20 young alumni to answer the call to be a founding member of the committee.  

“Dr. Chadwell said it was a sub-set of the Industrial Advisory Board and it was a gathering of diverse individuals who wanted to improve the department,” said Kwok, who currently works as a civil design engineer for Lea & Braze Engineering in Hayward, Calif. “I thought it would be a good way to give back to Cal Poly and also to help our department and our majors remain at the forefront of industry like it was when I was there.”

Littell, an assistant resident engineer at TRC Companies in San Francisco, agreed.

“I had a really good experience at Cal Poly and I have always thought if there was a way to give back that’s not just financial, that would be awesome,” Littell said. “It was a cool idea — we get to get together and talk about Cal Poly for hours. I can do that.”

Littell, who indicated one of her few disappointments while she was a student was a lack of classes in one of her primary interests, construction management (something that is being rectified by the new Heavy Civil Minor Program), said the first lesson she learned on the job was the profession demands a wide spectrum of experience and knowledge.

“I now work in construction management but I’m focusing on transportation issues and I still need to know a lot about environmental stuff, water stuff and Geotech stuff,” she said. “Students think that when they get out there, they’re just going to work in their specialty, but you quickly realize everything is interrelated.”

Chadwell said the RGAC was currently working to address this issue — discussing and analyzing a systems engineering course about the interconnectivity between “all the different systems in the built environment.”

“The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) has made a systems course a curricular strategic direction, and the committee is discussing what that class looks like over 10 weeks and determining the course learning objectives,” Chadwell said.

Littell was enthused about any course that reviews how the many disciplines of civil engineering overlap.

“I think getting exposure to how it all interacts will be a fantastic leg up for students,” she said.

Chadwell said the students are seeing a lot of value in being a member of the RGAC.

“It’s more than a resume booster,” he said. “It teaches them about engagement with service work and it’s a way for them to partner with Cal Poly and feel like a valued member of our alumni base.”

Kwok, who practiced his public speaking and leadership skills as a College of Engineering Ambassador while a student, sees another benefit to being a member of the committee now that he’s five years in to his career.

“By the time the changes are made to the curriculum and the students graduate, we will probably be in management positions at our companies and be directly responsible for hiring decisions,” Kwock said. “This will benefit us because there will be a more qualified pool of applicants. It’s like an investment in our future, too.”

The Cal Poly College of Engineering understands there has been an enormous amount of turmoil and transition due to Coronavirus (COVID-19). As we continue offering support to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, we also continue providing critical updates as well as college highlights. Ours is a college full of creative and bright engineers and staff. For more information on COVID-19 visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. For more information on how Cal Poly is responding to COVID-19, visit the Cal Poly Coronavirus website Coronavirus website.

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