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Elevating Excellence at the 2014 CEPAC Awards Reception at CME

Less financial stress. More time to study instead of work. Pursuing internships and professional student organizations. For some undergraduate students in the Department of Civil and Materials Engineering, having these small luxuries can either be a key or a hurdle to their academic success. In response to the growing needs of CME’s diverse student body, CME’s Civil Engineering Professional Advisory Council (CEPAC) reached deeply into their network and gave generously—establishing many scholarships to assist CME students who demonstrated outstanding promise through academic performance.

Opening the ceremony for the 2014 CEPAC Awards, the Council’s Chairman Kenneth E. Nelson, P.E., delved into about the history of CME, CEPAC and how the Department and Council have worked diligently to raise the profile of civil engineering—by raising up a diverse population of civil engineering students.

When CEPAC was established in 2000, this well-rounded group included civil engineering faculty members and professional practitioners came together with the goal to enhance undergraduate education. Along with providing a wealth of knowledge and external feedback on areas of curriculum improvement to better prepare students,CEPAC Members also enthusiastically stepped up as volunteers, teachers and counselors. In their tireless efforts, the Council was also identifying the needs of, and establishing new scholarships for students who demonstrated need and excellence—bolstering the students’ abilities to continue in their studies.

In 2009, Nelson said CEPAC decided to host an event to recognize all of the scholarship recipients as well as their donors—giving each a chance to meet each other and see the fruits of their labor.

What started off as 16 scholarships and recipients in 2009 has now grown to a robust 22 scholarships and 39 recipients in 2014—with several scholars winning multiple awards. As the program has grown, so has the attendance of UIC alumni as award presenters for their companies—returning to their roots and engaging with the next generation of civil engineers. As many presenters introduced their awards, they also added a bit of the personal history that tied them to UIC, as well as what the award meant to them.

Sargent & Lundy Scholarship Award, CEPAC 2014 One example is the Sargent & Lundy Scholarship, also established in 2000, by a dedicated group of Engineering at Illinois alumni and friends employed at Sargent and Lundy. This year's award was presented by two UIC alumni and senior leaders at Sargent & Lundy—Dennis Demoss (right) and Shiven V. Sulkar (left), who talked about the award's history and their personal ties to UIC, before presenting awards to Estefan A. Diaz, Brandon P. DeRosario, Nicolas Lordis, James J. Pinkl, Daniel J. Wierzbicki, Abdul Aziz Yakubu (not present) and Amari D. Griffin (not present).

Another exceptional example is Dr. Christopher B. Burke, CEPAC Member, CME's Professor of Practice, and creator of two awards: The Christopher B. and Susan S. Burke Graduate Student Scholarship Award, and the Rosemary Burke Scholarship. While presenting the second scholarship to Cristian X. Vargas*, (who would go on to win two additional awards that evening), Dr. Burke emphasized the importance of fostering academic excellence, to the attendees, and to the students in particular, the importance of being well-rounded engineers.

“When I first arrived at CME, it was to interview for a position in the department,” said CME’s Interim Department Head Dr. Karl Rockne, introducing the Professor Robert H. Bryant Scholarship. “One of the most unforgettable people I interviewed with? The late Professor Robert H. Bryant.” As Dr. Rockne shared this anecdote, several audience members who had either worked with or been a student of the late professor, smiled and nodded. After the reception, they would go on to share their own UIC stories of life as an engineering student, faculty, and of course, their interactions with the beloved emeritus professor.

Nancy Anderson Holmes Scholarship CEPAC 2014Before she presented her scholarship, Dr. Nancy Anderson Holmes took the stage with Ken Nelson and treated the audience to a little history of UIC and the Professor Edward H. Coe Scholarship. Dr. Holmes, a triple-degree holder from UIC, was a member of the first UIC College of Engineering class, and its only woman graduate. Professor Edward H. Coe was a colonel in charge of an engineering corps in World War II, a U.S. Army veteran, and a civil engineering professor at UIC’s original Navy Pier location. As a student of this professor, Dr. Holmes provided a small window in time about the pioneer faculty of UIC engineering. Transitioning seamlessly from UIC history to her personal history, Dr. Holmes talked about the inspiration behind the Nancy Anderson Holmes scholarship—her aunt—who pursued an engineering doctorate, but was denied the degree because of her gender. In honor of her aunt, Dr. Holmes established the Nancy Anderson Holmes scholarship in 2006 to benefit UIC civil engineering students.

After all the awards were presented, students Kent A. Andrews, Kimberly A. White, Cristian X. Vargas and Adam M. Dasoqi asked to say a few words to the audience.Andrews CEPAC 2014

"Thanks to the CEPAC Scholarship, I have more time to spend on my studies, and at home with my wife and newborn," said Andrews, who plans to do civil engineering infrastructure work in under-served communities across Asia.

"What these scholarships allow me to do is participate, in everything at school," said Vargas*, who won three separate awards this year. The path to this point was the culmination of a long and difficult road to CME. After being rejected to the program the first time he applied in 2007, Vargas focused on his grades in a community college, trying again Vargas CEPAC 2014in 2010. "I applied again, and I was rejected, once again, but I never gave up the entire time, and focused on getting myself here." Today, Vargas' dedication has earned him an excellent academic record and the ability to participate—serving as outreach director for SHPE (the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), where he promotes the society's vision of encouraging more students into STEM. Vargas is also a member of the ASCE Student Chapter at UIC. His team, which worked on the Steel Bridge Competition took third place, which qualifies them for nationals.

White CEPAC 2014White, a self-described wanderer through several programs at UIC, starting off as an undeclared liberal arts major, spending years exploring other options but finally finding her home in CME. "I am very, very thankful for this award [the Clark Dietz Scholarship]," she said, "it's a stressful time right now, around midterms, and this is such a good nudge to keep going." Although White had no engineering experience, or engineers in her family to help her navigate, she said the CME, and now CEPAC have provided excellent support and guidance so she can pursue a career in structural engineering.

Dasoqi CEPAC 2014
"As all of you know, studying engineering takes lot of time and effort," said Dasoqi, who won the T.Y Lin International's Engineering Merit Scholarship. "It feels good to be rewarded, too but it feels even better to know I also have the support of the faculty, alumni, donors and CEPAC—thank you all."

To view highlights from the entire event, visit our photo gallery

To learn more about CEPAC or to participate in the Council, please contact us at for more information.

The complete list of scholarships and winners will be posted shortly. Thank you for your patience.

November 2014

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