Student Profile: Anthony Vecchi (CivE, May 2015)

CEGE: How did you choose to major in civil engineering?

I knew in high school that I wanted something related to science and engineering, but no one in my family had done engineering and I didn’t know a lot about it. I thought the main thing civil engineers did was to build water towers! I grew up in Duluth on the shores of Lake Superior. I learned in one of my classes that even keeping something like Lake Superior as healthy as it is takes engineering. I never realized that was engineering. That helped me narrow down to a major in water resources.

CEGE: How did you choose to come to UMN?

I have some cousins who had gone to UMN. When I was applying to colleges, I talked to them and they helped me make the decision to come here.

CEGE: How did you get involved in ASCE and what has that involvement meant to you?

I was interested in civil engineering and wanted to know more about it. I did some research on the internet and found that ASCE was the big group for civil engineering students to be in. So, my first semester at UMN, I reached out to the student chapter. They were great about answering my questions and lined me up with an officer position that was very low commitment. My first semester I was the Freshman Representative; my role was mainly to advertise ASCE events to my freshman and sophomore classmates

I’ve continued with ASCE from my first year. Last fall I became the president and started my duties in January of 2014. My duties involve a lot of coordination and event planning; the rest of the officer board does a lot of the work. My role is long-term planning and working with the Minnesota section of ASCE as well as the department. I am really proud of moving the club to monthly general meetings. Open meetings are a good way to let more students find out about ASCE, see what goes on behind the scenes, and hear from a company or professional engineer.

My role in ASCE also led to me being invited to talk to groups. I participated in a panel discussion to answer questions for admitted students. I enjoyed telling why I like engineering and this department. It is helpful for new students to be exposed to all kinds of majors and have a chance to ask questions of students in those programs. ASCE has also been coordinating tours for school groups that want to come and see what we do.

CEGE: Tell me about some of the classes, professors, or assignments that really delighted you.

I really enjoyed Hydrologic Design with Professor Voller. That was my first class in water resources. It was fun to make connections between that class, what I was doing in my internship, and the research I had done with Professor Gulliver. That was the course where I first got to see what I will really be doing as an engineer.

CEGE: How about some that challenged you?

Steel and Reinforced Concrete Design was the most challenging class I have taken. It was a little out of my comfort zone and involved a lot of time-consuming work. I relied on my group of friends to keep motivated, keep trying, and keep studying!

Uncertainty and Decision Analysis in Civil Engineering was the first civil engineering course I had taken and it was really challenging. Professor Barnes challenged us to think differently about problems and to be OK with not having the perfect answer. As an engineer, I will have to approach problems that I haven’t dealt with before, use my own judgment, and explain or defend my motivations and my decisions. This department seems to stress that a lot. You learn the basics but also how to apply them to something you haven’t seen before.

CEGE: You have done research as an undergraduate. How did you get involved in that?

I really liked the idea of doing research, but I didn’t know how to get started. It seemed like all the professors were working on so many different projects, and I didn’t know how to help or why they would even want to let me help because I hadn’t really taken any civil engineering classes and I didn’t know much. I took a leap and contacted Professor Barnes. He invited me to his office and helped me choose a professor to work with.

I began researching with Professor John Gulliver and still work with him during the school year. I began working on a project to determine the infiltration capacity (the capacity to absorb water into the ground) of ditches along highways—the technical word for them is swales. The purpose of swales is to route water away from roads and route it to a catch basin, or in Minneapolis, to the river. Dr. Gulliver argued that while the swales are routing water, they are also infiltrating water, which is good for water quality. Pollution from the roads ends up in the soil and the top layer of grass. You can imagine how dirty water is as it comes off the roads. It would be good if some of that pollution could settle out before being dumped into the river.

Of course I didn’t understand everything about infiltration when I started, but every year it becomes more intriguing to me— what effect could this have if the swales are infiltrating water? Typically engineers design completely different systems for infiltrating water versus just putting a sloping ditch on the side of a highway.

My work involved taking measurements by the side of that highway the summer after my freshman year. Since then, I have been doing computer modeling work related to using the numbers and data we collected and putting that into a model that could be used to predict what will happen with certain storms.

It is fun to see the project change over time. I will pursue this topic for my senior honors thesis, too. I plan to finish up the project in the fall and write the paper in the spring.

CEGE: You also had an internship this summer. What did you work on?

I worked a summer internship at Barr Engineering. My internship at Barr started in my sophomore year, when professional engineers came to campus to critique our resumes. My resume included that I had been on the UMN cycling team. When I sat down to talk with a professional from Barr, we discovered that we both had an interest in biking. We ended up talking more about cycling than about my resume, specifically. A year later, that connection helped me get an internship. So, you have to be vigilant about promoting your image; you never know where a job or internship will come from.

At Barr, I was a water resources engineer. I did some modeling, working with some water quality data. I had a lot of exposure to mining companies in northern Minnesota, but also to smaller municipalities working on flood prevention and storm water plans. I was able to update some hydraulic models for flood protection measures in the city of Rochester.

Previously, I interned with WSB and was a water resources intern, there, as well. Mostly I worked on a stormwater monitoring system for the City of St. Paul. A couple times a week, I would be outside taking water samples. It was fun to be in the field

CEGE: How do you balance the challenging workload, your duties with ASCE, and all the other activities that you are involved in?

I’ve found that I have to get into a schedule. Most classes have homework due on a regular schedule and I can get into a rhythm: I know that on Wednesday I will be doing this kind of homework and on this day I will be doing the homework for another class. I’m lucky in that most of my friends are civil engineering students, so it is pretty easy to study and then to go out and have fun.

It can be a tough to balance school, ASCE, and having a personal life. But again, planning helps. I make a schedule and give myself a night off. I find I do better when I have given myself a break from studying and come back to it later, versus working all night or working 8 hours on one topic. Of course this is easy to say when I am not in the middle of a semester!

CEGE: Who have been your mentors?

Growing up, I looked up to my grandfathers a lot; they were both successful. When I got to UMN, I didn’t know what life would be like as a student or what things would be like after I graduated. It helped me to talk to older students in ASCE and hear them talk about different companies and which were good to work for, or about the importance of going to the career fair even as a freshman. My peers have been supportive, too, it is great to be able to bounce ideas off them.

CEGE: What are your aspirations after you graduate?

It has always been my goal to leave things better than I found them. Another broad goal would be to make sure more people know what civil engineering is—especially high school students—and to convince more of them to choose civil engineering as a major. People need to know more about civil engineering because it is so tied to everything we do in life. More kids would choose civil engineering if they knew what it is and how important it is.

Specifically, I plan to go to graduate school for a Master’s degree in civil engineering or water resources engineering.