One Student's Formula for Success: 'Put Yourself Out There!'
DIEGO DE BEDOUT (BCE 2018; MS 2019) has developed a personal philosophy that helps make him one of CEGE’s most successful students. Ironically, dealing with failure is his key to success.
De Bedout was introduced to this way of thinking when his best friend’s father recommended a book, “The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life,” by Tal Ben-Shahar.
“It confirmed a lot of what I believed, but it taught me to think less of perfectionism. The book is not about not doing things right. It says perfection is an illusion, and you have to seek balance. The author says that trying to be perfect will not lead to happiness, but in fact can hold you back as you try to avoid the possibility of failure. He says we either learn from our failures or we fail to learn. I have been trying to do that. Yes, I will fail sometimes, but I will succeed sometimes.”
De Bedout embraces this life philosophy thoroughly. “My mom makes fun of me for being involved in so many things. I like being busy, I’m an extrovert, and I really like people. I put myself out there and good things happen.”
De Bedout came to UMN from Costa Rica. His mother wanted him to stay close to home and study at her alma mater, University of Costa Rica. His father, who studied industrial engineering at Texas A&M, wanted him to study in the U.S. De Bedout considered his parents’ advice and was accepted to both universities, but he chose to come to the University of Minnesota.
“Being on my own has made me grow up. I came knowing no one and now I know a lot of people and have professional connections. I cannot stress enough how lucky I have been. I have come to appreciate how much your life is shaped by the situation you are born into. My parents raised me with a hard-working attitude. I was given a lot of opportunities, but they made sure that I was going to take advantage of them.” It seems embracing failure has started Diego De Bedout on the road to success.
De Bedout is close to his family and has found winter breaks to be a great time to visit them. Summers, however, are for working.
During his freshman year, De Bedout attended the CSE career fair and met an assistant project manager from American Engineering Testing (AET). He spent the first summer of his college career at AET as an intern. His lab technician duties included testing soils, concrete, and aggregates, much like the tests he performed in his materials and soils courses.
In summer 2016, De Bedout returned home for a three-month internship with Empresa Constructora Bilco Costa Rica SA, a general contractor. De Bedout wanted to learn about structural engineering and construction in Costa Rica because he sees himself working there in the future. He worked as an assistant to the project manager on a $50 million mall and apartment building project, where he became familiar with how to set a post-tensioned slab. Three weeks into the summer, the CEO asked him to take on the management of a “small” internal project: moving the company offices into a new building with amenities fitting a consulting firm. De Bedout learned how to work with a variety of stakeholders, including in-house architects and interior designers, and how to manage a budget — his was $250,000. He also learned how much he enjoyed the management piece.
The past two summers and during this school year, De Bedout has worked for a curtain wall engineering company that produces the exterior enclosures of buildings — not the structural elements, but windows and stone or aluminum extrusions that can be seen on the exteriors of skyscrapers. De Bedout was introduced to the main aspects of structural design of custom curtain wall and transitioned into project management roles, including the management of subcontracts, preconstruction planning, and estimating work. He helped prepare bids for some “pretty cool buildings,” including several in Chicago and in other major cities in the U.S. “I want to eventually tell my kids I was involved in a skyscraper that is 80-plus stories high!”
Integrated BE/MS and research
De Bedout is in the integrated bachelor’s-master’s program and completed some of his master’s requirements as an undergraduate. This spring, he will complete a Master of Science in civil engineering with an emphasis in structures.
Graduate coursework has included classes in masonry, wood, and prestressed concrete structures. Courses in structural dynamics and earthquake engineering were of interest to him. “Earthquakes are recurrent in my home country,” he notes, “and it’s important for me to understand their repercussions in structures.”
De Bedout has worked for the past year with Professor Lauren Linderman on a MnDOT project related to the structural dynamics of large highway signs. Sometimes the signs get caught by the wind; this can cause fatigue problems and potential failure of the supports. The project uses strain gages to understand the performance of the signs. De Bedout carried out an investigation regarding how strain gages can be affected by Minnesota’s extreme temperature changes. Those impacts need to be accounted for in the mathematical models Linderman and her research team are building. De Bedout ran tests in the temperature chambers in the Galambos Structural Engineering Laboratory.
He has seen how research differs from industry. “In research, you have more freedom to explore various ideas, to come up with models and analyze behavior. Industry has stricter guidelines about what should be achieved. Seeing both has been a great value in my education, and I can apply both to my advantage. To the research world, I bring a task-oriented, project management approach that helps me think about what needs to be done and how to get there in a time-efficient way. In an industry setting, my research skills will help me analyze and develop better processes.”
“One of the first events that I attended on campus was an organization fair. I met and became good friends with another student who invited me to be part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, a national organization whose mission is to promote the development of Hispanics in the STEM fields. I served as internal relations officer and then as treasurer my junior year. We worked with high school and middle school students and taught them about science and engineering and why it is a cool field. We also went to national conferences and learned about leadership and professional practices.
“I’m pretty tight with a group of Latino people here, and I also have great friends through CEGE and my fraternity (Phi Kappa Psi). The fraternity network has helped me meet people to have fun with and build lasting professional connections. Living in the fraternity house near the CE Building allowed me to get a lot done socially and philanthropically.” De Bedout also served as the treasurer for the fraternity, which he counts as one of his most valuable experiences. “The budget was complex, and I had to manage that and a group of about 100 people. It was a great experience to work with such a large organization with so much at stake.”
College Commencement Speaker
When he saw the college’s call for a student commencement speaker, De Bedout put himself out there. De Bedout sent in an essay, resume, and a letter of recommendation from Professor Randal Barnes, who has been a great mentor and advisor. “He also helped me with my application essay,” De Bedout noted.
“Later, they called me in for an interview with the Dean and then awarded me the opportunity to make the commencement speech. My mom and dad and sister came for commencement; they were excited to hear me speak. I did not think I would get nervous, but when I sat on the stage and looked at the number of people in Mariucci arena, it was somewhat frightening: I had to take a deep breath and give it a go. Eventually, I felt comfortable and had fun with it.”
De Bedout recently accepted a full-time job in Minneapolis at New Hudson Facades as an associate project manager, where he plans to gain valuable experience.
For those still in school, De Bedout offers this advice: “Don’t be afraid to fail. Put yourself out there! You never know what will come from a single conversation with someone.”
“I could really make a difference”
De Bedout first became interested in civil engineering because of a problematic bridge in his home town. The bridge was on Highway 1, the major highway that goes north-south through the country, from Panama to Nicaragua. Through most of San Jose the road was three lanes wide, but it narrowed to two lanes at the bridge, which carried about 90,000 vehicles a day. In addition, there was a structural element that caused the engineers concern, so the bridge was often closed for repair. The result was a great deal of congestion and traffic chaos.
De Bedout thought, “If that bridge could be fixed, it would be so much better for everyone who had to cross that bridge daily. I could get involved and work on this problem and really make a difference in people’s lives.”
The problems went on for eight years. Several government officials lost their positions over the issue. A new bridge was finally opened in 2017. (The Tico Times, May 25, 2017).