Pacific graduate named state’s top civil engineering student

Rogelio Garcia

Pacific's Rogelio Garcia ’21 was honored as co-recipient of the California Civil Engineering Student of the Year.

Rogelio Garcia ’21 graduated from University of the Pacific with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, a job with a high-profile company, and a prestigious and unprecedented award: co-recipient of the California Civil Engineering Student of the Year.

The honor from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is summed up by Pacific Professor and Chair of the civil engineering department Camilla Saviz: “This is a very, very big deal. He is the first student we have had to receive this particular honor.”

The ASCE awards are broken down into 10 regions. Garcia was honored in Region 9, which is the state of California. Garcia had to rise above an estimated 18,000 students from 25 California universities or colleges including University of California’s Berkeley and Davis campuses, Stanford, and many other public and private schools. Matthew Jacobson of Cal Poly Pomona was the other recipient.

“I didn’t expect it to be honest. When I received the email that I was a recipient I was shocked. It is such a huge award,” said Garcia, from Manteca. “I knew that I had won the Sacramento section, which by itself was a great accomplishment. But to win the region award … I am just very grateful.”

Garcia’s honor is a recognition of his body of work, taking into account academics, work experience, leadership, extracurricular activities and other aspects of a civil engineering education.

“Rogelio has done well academically and is an actively engaged student. He works well with other students in lab and workshops,” Associate Professor Mary Kay Camarillo wrote in a nomination letter. “Outside of the classroom, Rogelio has taken on leadership roles … He demonstrates abilities, dedication to service and aptitude for the civil engineering profession.”

Garcia was drawn to civil engineering at an early age, prompted by work with an uncle’s landscaping business.

“I did small construction projects. Basically, I liked conceptualizing and building things from the ground up. I started thinking about what careers would involve math and science and basically constructing things,” he said.

Saviz said civil engineering was the perfect field of education for someone with Garcia’s attributes.

“Civil engineers serve society. They create infrastructure that enhances the quality of life—clean water, roads, bridges, buildings, transportation systems. Civil engineers are the people who make these things work. Rogelio fits that description perfectly,” Saviz said.

Garcia said he started college as an introvert. He had to become comfortable working with others. Ultimately, Saviz said, Garcia became an “extremely strong leader in the classroom and with ASCE and other groups.”

One ASCE project involved students building—and flying—a concrete Frisbee. Garcia’s group won the competition.

“We had to build it so it was as light as possible,” Garcia said. “You could not use steel or a lot of other objects. So we had to be creative and used a window screen and Styrofoam as our rebar. It held together and only chipped in a couple of places. It was a fun competition.”

Garcia has embraced the School of Engineering and Computer Science’s Cooperative Education program. The experience he gained in co-op work with San Joaquin County and for construction company Clark Pacific was the perfect complement to his classroom and lab work, he said.

“The work with San Joaquin County was very rewarding, and it’s fun to drive on roads or bridges that I worked on,” he said. “You also tend to see other projects that you were not involved in and say, ‘I could build that better’ or ‘they should have done this or that.’ It is just a habit for civil engineers.”

With Clark Pacific, he had the opportunity to work on Google’s new Bay View headquarters.

“To me, it was a stepping stone. That was the first project I was involved with for Clark Pacific. It broadened my perspective of engineering,” Garcia said. “I mean, it’s Google, it’s a big company. I was involved in creating brackets. I had to do the calculations and all of the analysis. It was a big deal because I was involved in everything from design to testing. It was a great experience—scary at first, but everything worked out.”

Garcia will begin a job with Clark Pacific in July. He was recruited by former Pacific assistant dean Gary Martin, who now is with the Woodland-based company.

His final year at Pacific was “challenging,” Garcia said, but he has admiration for the job done by professors to help overcome challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the professors did a great job of accommodating. At the end of the day, I did not feel like I got any less of an education. But it was just more challenging on the students and the professors. It was doable for sure.

“And I am pleased that more opportunities are opening for students of color and women in engineering and other science fields. That is a priority for our school. The Pacific experience was the right one for me.”