2016 Fulbright-EQC Graduate Award in Natural Disaster Research grantee Alex Shegay is soon heading to the University of Washington on his Fulbright exchange. In the US, he will research the seismic performance of high-rise structural walls towards his PhD in Structural/Earthquake Engineering at The University of Auckland. Alex, 24, graduated with a BE(Hons) in 2014 from The University of Auckland.
How did you first become interested in structural engineering?
In my undergraduate studies I got to experience a diverse range of engineering disciplines ranging from fluid engineering to engineering geology. A few courses were on structural engineering, all of which were taught extremely well. I was captivated by the idea of having the knowledge to be able to design something that will be built and used by everyday people. On a personal level, this was, and still is highly gratifying concept.
What do you enjoy about structural engineering?
Initially, it was the tangibility of the actual structure that gave me enjoyment from engineering. Although I have not had as much opportunity to engineer structures in my post-graduate studies, I discovered that research is an even bigger position have a positive influence on the industry. Knowing that my research can make advances to the vast field of structural engineering knowledge is in itself very rewarding. Being in this field has also made me realise just how close-knit and collaborative the structural engineering community is. Being part of this international team is a very cool feeling!
Tell us more about the research you will be doing on your Fulbright-EQC Graduate Award in Natural Disaster Research.
My time in the US will be spent using the experimental data obtained from testing prior to departure to create validated computer models. I will be collaborating with leading researchers in the modelling field to create models that can then be used to cover a broader range of design variables beyond the experimental program. My goal is to bring this knowledge back to New Zealand.
“Being in this field has also made me realise just how close-knit and collaborative the structural engineering community is”
You mentioned in your application that society invests a lot of trust in structural engineers. How would you describe the sense of social responsibility that you will have as a structural engineer, and how do you plan to live up to it?
I think it is important to understand that even though it is the engineering consultancy that is responsible for their design, the guidelines they follow are based not only on experience, but also on research. Being part of a team conducting research into structural engineering, I feel an even greater responsibility to conduct quality, practical research that can used by practicing engineers. As a future consultant, I think responsible engineering is having certainty in your knowledge, particularly in being able to understand prescribed standards rather than blindly following them. My doctoral studies are definitely a leap towards this level of understanding.
What are you looking forward to the most about your Fulbright exchange?
From everything the Fulbright experience has to offer, I am most looking forward to meeting new friends both in and outside of my study. I think there is nothing more fascinating than sharing cultures, whether it be through food, sport or mere conversation. I would hope to make strong relationships with the people I meet so maybe one day I could be a host for them in New Zealand.
When looking for scholarship and exchange opportunities, why did you decide on the United States in particular?
In my field of structural and earthquake engineering, the countries most advanced in these topics lie around the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’. Although my university has good relationships between Japan and Chile, by far the most collaboration happens with the west coast of the United States. I saw the Fulbright as an opportunity to build on and develop the existing academic relationships. An English speaking country is also a bonus!
What made you decide Fulbright was right for you?
I first heard about the Fulbright programme through a university presentation from a Fulbright alumni. The programme seemed like a great way to take my doctorate studies overseas while getting the experience of living in another country. After talking to a few more alumni around the office, I found that their experiences were unanimously positive, gaining not only knowledge, but also professional relationships, friends and life experiences. I could not pass on such an opportunity!
The Fulbright-EQC Graduate Award in Natural Disaster Research is for a promising graduate student to undertake postgraduate study or research at a US institution on the field of natural disaster research. One award valued at US$31,000 plus $4,000 travel funding is awarded each year. Applications close on 1 August annually.