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Four CCEE PhD students chosen for prestigious Rising Stars program to prepare for teaching and research careers

Four of our graduate students were chosen for the prestigious CEE 2020 Rising Stars program held this year at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). They include Sadia Afrin, mentored by Fernando Garcia MenendezMinerva Lissette Bonilla Ventura, mentored by William Rasdorf; Laura Dalton, mentored by Mohammad (Moe) Pour Ghaz; and Elizabeth Ramsey, mentored by Emily Berglund.

CEE Rising Stars is an academic career workshop for outstanding women doctoral students and postdocs who are interested in pursuing teaching and research careers in Civil and Environmental Engineering. Rising Stars was launched at MIT in 2012, and has been hosted at several universities since.  CMU is the host for this year’s remote sessions which focus on career paths, securing a faculty appointment, and thriving as a new faculty member. Participants get personalized feedback and are paired with a faculty mentor from CMU.

“This award gives me the opportunity to interact with outstanding faculty, mentors, and female professionals in my field. I have already gotten valuable feedback on my application materials from the renowned faculty members of CMU, which enriched my application package and helped me better prepare myself for future job searching. This program is a milestone in my career path, and will greatly bolster my pursuit to be a faculty/research scientist.”    Sadia Afrin, PhD candidate

Following are the profiles of our four superstars as they appear on the CMU CEE website. Of only 24 participants from around the country, we are thrilled that four are from our department!


Sadia Afrin


Air quality Modeling,

Wildland Fire Smoke

Public Health

Big Data Analysis

Sadia Afrin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering at North Carolina State University. She also worked at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for eight months as part of her National Science Foundation (NSF) Intern award.

Her research work focuses on air quality modeling and data analysis approaches to assess the air quality and health impacts from wildland fire smoke with the ultimate goal of reducing the growing and alarming threat of fire-caused air pollution. She uses a chemical transport model (CMAQ) to simulate air quality impacts of wildland fire smoke and to investigate the tradeoff between wildfire and prescribed fire smoke exposure. From her research, she wants to provide better insights into fire smoke management to the academic and research community, land managers, and policymakers.

Because of her academic and research excellence, she achieved several awards and grants including the Graduate Research Innovation (GRIN) grant from the Joint Fire Science Program, Best Student Poster –AAAR, Graduate Merit Scholarship-NCSUDean’s Scholarship-BUET.

Minerva Lissette Bonilla Ventura


Construction and Transportation Engineering

Minerva Bonilla earned her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Texas Tech University in May 2018 and her M.S. in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in Construction from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in May 2020. Minerva is currently working towards her PhD in Construction and Transportation Engineering at NCSU and her expected graduation is May 2023.

Bonilla is interested in the construction of sustainable infrastructure, especially transportation infrastructure. There is a need for both restorations and the creation of new sustainable infrastructure to enhance transportation safety. This can be achieved, in part, through the construction of Diverse Modern Unconventional, Intersections, and Interchanges (DMUIIs). However, contractors are reluctant to build these types of intersections. To overcome this setback, Bonilla’s research includes the study of DMUII constructability implications so that DMUII projects can be easily selected.

Upon completion of her PhD program, she plans to pursue a career in academia and her area of research interest include constructability, modern unconventional intersection and interchanges, funding allocations, risk management, and project success.

Laura Dalton


Mass transport in cement-based materials (concrete durability)

Laura Dalton is currently pursuing a PhD in Civil Engineering at North Carolina State University (NCSU). She has six years experience operating and utilizing X-ray computed tomography (CT) to non-destructively analyze porous materials. She began her research career at the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) as a Mickey Leland Energy Fellow in 2014 where she developed a passion for using CT scanning to solve problems. After completing her masters, she returned to NETL to continue developing a career utilizing CT technology.

Her research focused on using CT scanning at a range of scales to analyze foamed cement pore size distributions and to measure in situ contact angles of supercritical carbon dioxide in sandstone cores in support of carbon capture and storage. Dalton’s current doctoral research involves using multiple imaging modalities (X-ray, neutron, and electrical impedance tomography) to obtain complementary data to better understand mass transport through cement-based materials.

She was awarded the Provost Doctoral Fellowship from NCSU to support her 2018-2019 PhD studies, is the lead author and/or co-author of 13 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and was recently awarded a 2020-2021 Fulbright fellowship to complete research in Finland.

Elizabeth Ramsey


Sociotechnical Modeling

Elizabeth Ramsey is a member of the Sociotechnical Systems Analysis Laboratory at North Carolina State University, where she began her PhD in Civil Engineering in Spring 2018 and completed her M.S. in Civil Engineering in Fall 2017. Prior to studying engineering,she graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in 2008 with a B.A. in Peace, War, and Defense, completed an M.S. in Strategic Intelligence at the National Intelligence University in 2010, and worked as an analyst for the Department of Defense for five years before coming to NC State.

Her M.S. research applied agent-based modeling to analyze the dynamics between water infrastructure and consumers in Jaipur, India, which was funded by the Fulbright-Nehru Student Grant and the National Science Foundation Graduate StudentResearch Fellowship. In her PhD studies, she is applying agent-based modeling and inverse modeling approaches to explore the connections between drought, groundwater, migration, and social unrest in Syria. Her PhD research is funded by the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Her primary areas of interest are sociotechnical modeling, overcoming data scarcity, the nexus of water resources and national security, international development and improving global water, sanitation, and hygiene access.

“Our Department and the Graduate School provide targeted professional development services to complement the strong technical training our graduate students receive at NC State and to help them reach their full potential in their careers. We take great pride in our efforts to increase underrepresented minority participation in our graduate programs. Therefore, it is rewarding to see our female doctoral students being selected by competitive programs that recognize potential talent for success in academic careers.”   Dr. Ranji Ranjithan, Director of Graduate Program for CCEE