UCLA Academics: Engineering Beyond the Classroom

Hello hello! My name is Sarah Ciudad, and I am currently finishing up my 3rd year here at UCLA studying Civil Engineering. I’m originally from Vacaville, CA, but decided I wanted to switch up the scenery and move to Southern California for college. My experience here has been as fun and stretching as it has been warm and beautiful.

As an engineering student, I quickly found that the opportunities for involvement on this campus are practically endless—and the same goes for the opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. Of the 1000+ student organizations and clubs, there are many that pertain to different focuses of engineering, and technical, hands-on projects that students work on throughout the year. I personally decided to get involved in a competition-based, geotechnical engineering project nestled within the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student organization.

Every project is different, but for this one specifically, each year we are tasked with designing and building a wall to hold back hundreds of pounds of soil, while only using Kraft paper, poster board, and tape to make the wall. I’ll spare you of the technical details (because not everyone is interested in geotechnical engineering, and I completely understand that), but I honestly thought that it was an impossible prompt when I first joined the project. Over time though, I started to learn the process of going about such a task: the lab tests performed, the calculations required, the actual construction of the wall, and the reasoning behind it all. Even cooler, as I progressed through my classes, I started taking courses that were more and more specific to geotechnical engineering. The material I was learning inside of the classroom was helping me gain a better understanding of the hands-on project, and vice versa too. The experience I had from the handson project was allowing me to have a more comprehensive and insightful grasp of the material being taught in class.

It was, and continues to be, so fulfilling for me to be able to use the stuff I’m learning in class, and turn it into a tangible, physical thing—especially when you get to compete! This past year, the project team and I travelled to Minnesota, where we represented UCLA, and competed against schools from all over the country. Frankly, it was a lot more fun than what some people would expect of an engineering competition. And looking back on where I was my senior year of high school, it’s funny, because I would have never thought that I would be able to say I went to Minnesota in the dead of winter to compete in a geotechnical engineering competition. But I am grateful for the opportunity to do so, and to do it while representing one of the best schools in the world, alongside some of the smartest and most compassionate people. Which happens to be another aspect of the project I wasn’t really expecting, but has proved to be such an integral part of my college experience: the people.

Like I’ve said, there are tons of projects in different concentrations of engineering, so students can join whatever interests them. The process, the product, and the general project might look completely different from my story, but the teamwork necessary to achieve the end goal is generally the same across all boards. That teamwork in these extracurricular activities is just a piece of the overall collaborative atmosphere that I have experienced within UCLA Engineering.

I’ve gained some of my best friends in college because I reached out to fellow classmates for help with homework problems I didn’t understand, or I asked to study for a test with them. I’ve found that most students at UCLA are more than willing to help each other, whether that’s working through problem sets together, or preparing to go to Minnesota for an engineering competition together. Whichever it may be, I am thankful for the people on this journey with me, and I hope you choose to join us in the fall!