It feels so good to be back in person.
Aashini and Shivani Patel came to the U.S. from India in 2018, both having been accepted to UMD. They knew they wanted to do Civil Engineering from the start, having grown up with a “background of Civil Engineering,” as Shivani puts it. Their father and grandfather are both Civil Engineers, and as children they were able to visit construction sites and see how buildings were made. Aashini says she found this “fascinating,” and that Civil Engineering was a “natural choice” for both of them. Aashini knew from the first that her interest was in the Geotechnical and Structural track. Shivani started in the Environmental/ Water Resources track, but later decided Geotechnical and Structural was the best fit for her as well.
Both sisters began their time in the department in Flexus, in which they made friends with fellow Civil Engineers, but it was only when Covid hit that they came to see how important joining student organizations was. Aashini says academic advisor Al Santos was always encouraging her to join ASCE and other departmental organizations, and she is now very glad she did. Both sisters are members of ASCE; Aashini is the ASCE Secretary this year, and Shivani is the Suit up and Be Civil Coordinator, in charge of its biggest networking event. Aashini says ASCE “has given me so much. It’s socially and professionally important, especially during the pandemic.”
Both sisters are also officers in Chi Epsilon Honor Society. This year, Shivani is ChiEpsilon’s President and Aashini is its Vice-President. Planning two big events—the Chi Epsilon Career Fair and this year’s Suit up and Be Civil event—has shown Shivani how much she likes organizing big projects. This in turn has fueled her decision to apply to graduate school, where she hopes to pursue a Master’s in Construction Project Management.
Shivani and Aashini are both members of Women in Engineering as well. Shivani is WIE’s Mentor Coordinator this year, and Aashini is a peer mentor for Flexus and Virtus students. “Women empowerment activities have motivated us to be women leaders” and to recognize “the importance of women leadership,” Aashini says. Aashini has also been involved in Alumni Cup. She is also an ASPIRE scholar, having received the ASPIRE Fellowship in Fall 2021 through the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech).
When Covid-19 hit in Spring 2020, the sisters were living on campus, but when classes transitioned online they went to stay with an aunt in Baltimore. For Fall 2020, they went back to their family in India. Even though the classes were online, the time difference created a huge challenge, with some of their classes taking place at the middle of the night in their time. For Spring 2021, they were back on campus. Despite the hardships of the pandemic, Aashini says they grew closer to friends in these times, since everyone was reaching out through Zoom and other online forums, seeking connection. At the same time, as Shivani says, “It feels so good to be back in person” this Fall 2021 semester. This is especially the case because it is their final semester, and this their last chance to experience all UMD has to offer.
Despite Covid, Aashini and Shivani have had productive recent experiences with an internship (in Shivani’s case) and undergraduate research (in Aashini’s). This past summer, Shivani interned for a small company called Atmos solutions, which has a strong environmental focus and does work in areas including project management and stormwater management. Since Atmos also does contracting for larger companies, Shivani was able to shadow some of those companies and thus get an experience of both big and small civil engineering firms.
Meanwhile, Aashini has been working since the summer doing undergraduate research with Dr. Aydilek. She is helping two of his graduate students with their research, which focuses on the structural and hydrologic properties of compost topsoil in highway systems. She likes that this research is “geo-environmental, not just geotechnical,” and she is “fascinated” by geo-recyclables, another interest of Dr. Aydilek’s. Doing this research has inspired her to apply to Master’s programs as well, specifically in the Geotechnical and Structural area.
When asked what they do for fun, both sisters mention their involvement in Alpha Omega Epsilon, a sorority for women passionate about STEM. They also both love going to soccer and basketball games. They also like just spending time with friends, including the friends they have made through ASCE.
Looking back on their time in CEE, Aashini says its student organizations are her favorite part of being in the department, along with the professors, whom she really likes. Shivani appreciates the department’s walk-in advising, and also that it is a relatively small department in a large college and university. “You get to know people, and the professors get to know you” she says. They also feel like the department is prioritizing diversity, particularly through its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee. DEI is also bult into a lot of the organizations of which they are a part.
As they prepare to graduate in May, both sisters have their sights set on graduate school, whether to further study Geotechnical and Structural engineering (in Aashini’s case) or Construction Project Management (in Shivani’s case). In the long-term, Aashini says she wants to work in the field, though she is not ruling out the possibility of a PhD. Shivani, with her focus on infrastructure, finance, and economics, hopes to work on big infrastructure projects. Both of these extraordinary young women, having had such a positive impact on their campus and department communities, are bound to have an equally profound impact for good wherever their paths lead them.