Four Loyola Marymount University students pursuing their civil engineering degrees placed third in an interscholastic competition held at CSU Northridge earlier this spring.
The student team included Marina Rios ‘23, from Santa Barbara; Vicente Lamera ‘23, from Clarksburg, CA; as well as Alberto Castro ‘23 and Derek Carlton ‘23, both from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Joseph Weber, assistant professor and chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in the LMU Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering, mentored the quartet.
The competition was the “GeoWall” portion of the Pacific Southwest American Society of Civil Engineers Student Symposium. The geotechnical engineering objective was to design and build a model mechanically stabilized earth retaining wall using paper reinforcement.
“Essentially, you are building a self-sustaining wall,” Rios said in a recent interview. “There is a four-sided wooden box full of sand, and you use paper strips to enforce the sand.” Next, one side of the wall is removed, and the wall is supposed to stand on its own. “You use the science behind soil mechanics – understanding the properties of the soil and the stresses that it’s causing on the paper and the wall – and then you design based on that,” Rios said.
Lamera said: “The idea is pretty much what we see on embankments on the sides of freeways – what’s keeping up all that soil is a similar process.” Dams and levees are among other uses mentioned by the students.
Rios, Lamera, Castro, and Carlton had all just taken an LMU soil mechanics course, which made for a smooth segue into the GeoWall contest. The team’s extensive research, study, and preparation for Northridge included coming up with formulas, making calculations, consulting textbooks, doing trial runs and running tests, and checking in regularly with Prof. Weber.
“This was a very difficult project,” Rios said, “but it was seamless because we all just worked really well together. We understood each other’s strengths and weaknesses. It was a great balance.”
Rios and Lamera give enormous credit to their two classmates who aren’t quoted in this story. “They’re committed,” Lamera said of Castro and Carlton. “Not just to finding the solution, but both of them always wanted to understand why the solution is what it is.”
Placing third at the Symposium was no easy feat, particularly given LMU’s size compared to much larger institutions of higher learning “This competition was super humbling,” Rios said. “We realized how small we are compared to these universities with 30,000 students. Their civil engineering clubs have like ten times the amount of students that we do. It made the achievement even more gratifying.”
In addition to their successful real-world demonstration live at the Symposium, Rios, Lamera, Castro, and Carlton also had to write and submit a report prior to the competition, and make a five-minute presentation at Northridge. The ultimate proof, though, was in the pudding. Their mini-retaining wall held, even as they stood upon it.
So, what’s next for these four Lions? Castro has a civil engineering job lined up back in New Mexico. Carlton will head to graduate school at UCLA for structural engineering. Rios is starting a structural engineering internship in Los Angeles. Lamera will attend graduate school at Notre Dame for entrepreneurship.