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Four CCEE graduates win 2024 Outstanding Senior Awards

All CCEE graduates shine in their own way, using their degrees to create and improve sustainable infrastructure for the betterment of society. There are a select few, however, that demonstrate continued excellence during their undergraduate studies. Each spring, the department recognizes these students with four Outstanding Senior Awards.

This year, the awards went to: Grace Gould for Humanities, which recognizes high achievement in CCEE with an equal commitment to a broad liberal education in the social sciences, arts or humanities; Zoe Smith for Leadership, which recognizes demonstrated ability to provide guidance and direction within organizations and individually; Alvin Mutongi for Citizenship and Service, which recognizes significant humanitarian contributions that improve the welfare of fellow citizens and the community; and Brandon Tucker for Scholarly Achievement, which recognizes exceptional academic performance including participation in undergraduate research. 

Read more about what makes each of these outstanding grads exceptional and their plans for continued excellence looking toward the future. 

Humanities: Grace Gould

When Gould first began looking at colleges, she was drawn to NC State’s Benjamin Franklin Scholars program, which allows students to simultaneously pursue bachelor’s degrees in both engineering and the humanities or social sciences. 

“The program offered the perfect balance between technical expertise and a liberal arts education, aligning perfectly with my academic aspirations,” she said.

Gould married her love of math and science with her interest in humanities, majoring in both environmental engineering and philosophy, while also minoring in renewable energy assessment. She took advantage of NC State’s many opportunities to get involved, serving as a resident advisor, an undergraduate research assistant, a lifeguard, an academic tutor, and an intern at Hago Energetics during her tenure at the university. She also served as chair of NC State’s Sustainability Fund Advisory Board and as president of NC State’s Philosophy Club. 

“As the president, I have had the privilege of leading discussions, organizing events, and fostering a vibrant intellectual community centered around philosophical inquiry,” she said. “This role has not only allowed me to utilize my passion for philosophy but has also honed my leadership skills and promoted philosophy within the community.”

Joseph Krylow, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, serves as faculty advisor for the Philosophy Club. He said that, beyond the basics of professionalism, Gould demonstrates “vision” and “forward thinking.” 

“She sets goals for the club, both while it’s under her charge and beyond,” he elaborated. “For example, she looked at how the club was run in previous years and took member feedback to heart regarding the infrequency of club meetings. She set as a goal for the club to hold more meetings and has already nearly doubled the amount of meetings that were held on average during previous years. As a result of this and other efforts she has undertaken … the attendance at club meetings has risen from an average of five students per meeting in previous academic years to seventeen students per meeting this academic year. Her leadership has in short led to a stronger and more robust club. … I have tremendous respect for and confidence in Grace as a student leader and as an exemplar for others.”

Lada Kochtcheeva, a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, got to know Gould through her participation in the Global Environmental Politics class, which allows students to systematically look at the components of the international political system such as key concepts, institutions, mechanisms, and the principal international actors. She was impressed by Gould’s active and constructive participation in class debates, which demonstrated her “mastery over a wide range of theoretical concepts and case studies.” 

“Grace’s career aspirations revolve around establishing a sustainable consulting firm, where she envisions leveraging data analysis to guide companies in developing strategies to minimize their environmental impact,” Kochtcheeva said. “This underscores her commitment to blending her passion for sustainability with her expertise in data analysis to drive positive change within businesses and industries.”

For Gould, integrating her engineering expertise with insights from humanities is “essential for addressing the multifaceted challenges of our time.”

“By combining technical proficiency with a nuanced understanding of societal dynamics, cultural contexts, and ethical considerations, I am poised to make meaningful contributions that go beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries,” she said.

After graduation, Gould will work in solar land development at an engineering firm in Raleigh and plans to continue her education by getting a master’s in sustainable management.

Leadership: Zoe Smith

For civil engineering student Zoe Smith, becoming president of the NC State student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) was a full-circle moment. She initially learned about the organization while attending NC State’s engineering summer camp in high school. Unfortunately due to pandemic restrictions, the chapter became inactive, but Smith jumped at the chance to get involved when Teaching Professor Steve Welton sought to rebuild the program.

“As treasurer during this period, our team worked to re-establish some of the most popular events such as the Student Steel Bridge Competition, employer presentations, and attending the regional conference,” Smith explained. “While the re-building process was difficult in obtaining funding, advice, and participation; we worked hard to establish an ASCE chapter for all the CCEE students. We focused on creating pathways for professional, personal and fun events to make the challenging university and engineering experience a little easier.”

Smith felt inspired to apply for the role of president during her senior year after participating in all that the ASCE chapter had to offer. 

“Zoe helps to engage and welcome new students into the activities, keeps things organized, and makes sure that things are complete and properly prepared,” Welton said. “She also accomplishes all of this with a grace and apparent ease that one can easily overlook the immense talent and skill that she possesses and quietly shares to keep the group on task and working together.”

Assistant Professor Jason Patrick said that, during her tenure as treasurer and president, Smith has exhibited “exemplary organizational skills, the ability to engage industry with academia, and a strong sense of engineering ethical responsibility.”

“Her efforts in leading the Shack-a-Thon team, via newfound collaboration with the American Concrete Institute student group to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity, showcase her altruistic spirit and dedication to community service,” he said. “Furthermore, Zoe’s involvement in rebooting the concrete canoe team (after several years of inactivity) highlights her passion to help and inspire others and willingness to go above and beyond. Her active role in planning and fabricating the canoe to meet the April deadline for the upcoming regional conference embodies her holistic strengths with attention to detail and the ability to lead, motivate, but also work effectively within a team.”

In addition to her roles in ASCE, Smith also served as a student liaison for the Dr. Paul Zia Distinguished Lecture series, a residential and workshop counselor for the NC State Engineering Camp, an undergraduate research assistant at the Constructed Facilities lab, and as an intern at various engineering companies including Dewberry, McAdams and Ross Linden Engineers. 

“Moreover, Zoe’s dedication to promoting engineering education is evident through her involvement as department student liaison and assistance with various workshops and events,” Patrick said. “Her active participation in the ASCE 100 Year celebration with the North Carolina chapter and the College of Engineering’s annual Open House reflects her commitment to representing NC State to external entities and inspiring prospective students.”

After graduation, Smith will work as a staff engineer with Bohler Engineering in land development.

Citizenship and Service: Alvin Mutongi

Alvin Mutongi has always had a strong sense of community and altruistic nature, with experiences spanning from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Guatemala to Kenya. The civil engineering student hit the ground running when he first came to campus, getting involved with several organizations including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Engineers Without Borders, CCEE Student Ambassadors, CCEE Peer Advisors, National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the Park Scholarship program.

“Through these experiences I learned about what it means to be a servant leader and how to leverage the resources available to have the most effective impact on my community,” Mutongi said.

As part of NSBE, Mutongi has helped create partnerships with the local Boys & Girls Club and NC State’s Engineering Place to engage children in STEM education, bringing more than 200 students to campus where they chatted with professors, college students and industry leaders about engineering.  

“We’ve also had the good fortune of working with the Wake County Public School System  to continuously reach out to Black students and show them how the tools of engineering can help them serve their communities,” Mutongi elaborated.

Kanton T. Reynolds, the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering associate teaching professor and director of undergraduate programs, said that Mutongi “selflessly embodies the ‘think and do’ motto that we ascribe to at NC State.” He noted that, through Mutongi’s role as a member and eventually president of the NC State chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, he worked on several community projects involving voter registration, managing interpersonal relationships, and assisting elderly members with household tasks, resulting in the fraternity twice-winning NPHC chapter of the year.

“Alvin has an incredibly rich and divergent set of talents and intellectual attributes that underscore his innate ability to relate to a wide variety of people while making them feel at ease. He always without hesitation works for the meaningful enlightenment and engagement of those who need the most assistance. His strong, yet diverse background has served as a crucible in honing his leadership and communications skills in environments where the growth and development of others is paramount.”

In Engineers Without Borders, Mutongi served as a co-lead of the Guatemala Water & Sanitation team and helped deliver remote hurricane repairs on water catchment systems to a small, central Guatemalan community called Caserio Panhux during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this position I was challenged and saw firsthand the value in building equitable partnerships with community partners as opposed to a paternalistic relationship,” Mutongi said. “Without the ingenuity, autonomy and efficacy of our in-country partners in Guatemala, we would have been stagnant for two years while the pandemic raged. Instead, we adapted to the challenges of the pandemic and adjusted our strategy for serving Caserio Panhux.”

As a Park Scholar, Mutongi applied for and was awarded a grant to travel to Kenya and renovate an elementary school library in his grandmother’s village. As part of the initiative, Mutongi partnered with a larger nonprofit to start a book drive to help students improve literacy and shipped more than 500 books to Kenya.

“I have had the incredible opportunity to learn from leaders in my community and around the country,” he said. “The process showed me how to advocate for the needs of my community. Once I was awarded the grant, the real work began, and I had the opportunity to learn just how much work it takes to implement physical change.”

“Alvin is a paragon of service who possesses sound judgment and impeccable character. I believe that he is a rising star and future leader,” Reynolds said. “His rich set of skills and diversity of experience has given him the opportunity to contribute to the climate of collaboration and engagement at NC State and in the surrounding community.”

After graduation, Mutongi will work as a wastewater engineer for Black and Veatch in Virginia Beach, Virginia, assisting with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT). 

Scholarly Achievement:  Brandon Tucker

When looking at his strong involvement in CCEE and other engineering pursuits, it’s hard to believe CCEE student Brandon Tucker wasn’t always set on the path to become a civil engineer. In fact, when he first arrived on NC State’s campus, he thought he was going to study computer science. But he quickly changed course — he was drawn to civil engineering because of its “tangible impact on people’s lives, from energy and water systems to transportation needs.” 

“Interdisciplinary coursework in landscape architecture and natural resources helped me realize my further passion for urban planning, which encompasses engineering, social, and natural considerations at once,” Tucker said.

While maintaining a 4.0 GPA and graduating in only three years, Tucker explored his interests through a variety of opportunities both in and out of the department. 

As a freshman, he began volunteer work with Professor Joe DeCarolis’ energy modeling team, where he performed data analytics to determine renewable energy requirements for  different states. The following year, he continued undergraduate research as part of the Coastal and Computational Hydraulics Team with Associate Professor Casey Dietrich and graduate student Tomás Lopez. The project was related to predictions of coastal flooding due to hurricanes.

“I helped run more than 1 million CPU hours of hurricane models to train our machine-learning model called Concorde, which can predict storm-driven flooding in seconds,” Tucker explained. “I also created detailed Python examples for Kalpana, an intermediary model used by researchers across the country.”

“This was a lot of work,” Dietrich emphasized. “Each hurricane simulation can take several hours on a parallel computing cluster and generate gigabytes of data, and so it took about two months to complete the simulations. It would have taken much longer without Brandon’s help and creativity. He wrote scripts to automate the process to submit, monitor, and archive the simulations, and he contributed to a post-processing visualization script. His documentation and examples are now shared widely with all users of the software. Brandon is strong at the technical skills of computing and programming, but he also sees the larger picture and looks for ways to contribute.”

In addition to undergraduate research, Tucker also worked as an intern at Hazen and Sawyer in Raleigh, and was heavily involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers Sustainable Solutions competition. He served as a volunteer STEM coordinator and tutor for nonprofit Hope Center at Pullen and worked as a CCEE Peer Advisor, mentoring first-year civil engineering students.

Tucker even took his engineering pursuits overseas, traveling to Ireland to participate in the CCEE Summer Study Abroad Program, taking courses CE 301: Civil Engineering Surveying and Geomatics and CE 383: Hydrology and Urban Water Systems on the University of College Dublin campus and visiting Irish hotspots including the Cliffs of Moher, the Howth Cliffs, the Giant’s Causeway, and the towns of Belfast and Derry. The trip was overseen by Professor William Rasdorf and Teaching Assistant Professor Jonathan Miller. 

“Brandon’s passion for civil engineering goes beyond the classroom,” Miller said. “He continually showed a sincere and honest desire to thoroughly understand topics covered in my courses. In Ireland, he would come back from trips and instead of talking about tourist sites, he would relate how Irish landforms represented watershed delineations. … What sets Brandon out amongst his peers is that he doesn’t just show a broad desire to learn about civil engineering, but he learns and works on projects with joy.”

After graduation, Tucker will pursue a Master of Civil Engineering at CCEE with a focus on transportation systems program while also completing a Graduate Certification in City Design from the College of Design.