Civil engineering major Clio Chen ’21 laughs now when she remembers struggling with the physics concepts in her sophomore year Statics course. Feeling out of her depth, she’d inform Medhi Omidvar, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, “I’m probably not going to pass this class.”
Those fears didn’t last long. Her hard-working fellow students and Omidvar soon boosted her confidence — and her determination to succeed.
“Dr. Omidvar had high expectations for me,” she recalls. “When I expressed doubts, he’d just say, ‘You’re going to get an A.’”
And, of course, she did.
Chen’s dedication and work ethic has been on full display during her time at Manhattan. A resident of Brooklyn, she makes a daily two-hour, two-subway journey to reach the Riverdale campus.
“You don’t know the struggle until you’re commuting for finals week,” she jokes. “Sometimes I don’t know whether I should use the time to sleep or to study!”
The commute is one she’s happy to undertake in pursuit of her goal of a career in construction, which she’s had in her sights since she was a student at Stuyvesant High School. There, she participated in the ACE (architecture, construction and engineering) Mentor Program of America and the New York City School Construction Authority’s (SCA) summer internship program.
Through the SCA, Chen interned at Turner Construction, where she was impressed by several Turner employees who also are proud Jaspers, including Brian Lowery ’65.
“He was such a motivational factor for me,” she says. The ACE mentor program also put her in contact with alumni who work at construction company Skanska. She notes, “Their experience made me see Manhattan as a possibility.”
Inspired, she applied to the College, and upon admission, was awarded the Francis R. Burde ’49 Scholarship. It made a difference for the first-generation college student and her family.
“I was really happy about the scholarship,” she says. “I thought it was only for one year, so it was a nice surprise when it appeared on my financial aid letter the following year.”
At Manhattan, Chen stays involved in the College community by reporting for the Commuter Chronicle and as a member of several student chapters of engineering organizations, including the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). She was recently nominated for membership in Chi Epsilon, the civil engineering honor society. This fall, she attended WE19, a conference and career fair hosted by the Society of Women Engineers in Anaheim, California.
Now, having an impact in her field while staying true to herself is one of her career goals. “I want to be professional, but also personal, because that’s just me,” she says.
One of Chen’s chief areas of interest in construction is sustainable project engineering. “Sustainability will prove to be more cost-effective in the long run,” she comments. “Climate change will hit the construction industry hard, so we have to consider environmental factors.”
She also wants to connect research innovation to real-world applications, noting: “I aspire to work on projects that integrate design engineering and construction management while contributing to infrastructure and the built environment.”
Chen continues to gain hands-on experience in the field. She interned at Turner Construction through its YouthForce 2020 internship/scholarship program in 2018 and plans to return in the summer of 2020. Last summer, she held a research fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, where she studied the effects of non-Newtonian fluids (fluids that don’t follow Newton’s law of viscosity) on the structural performance of concrete specimens.
“I didn’t know anything about the topic at first,” she says. “It was intimidating but really fun.”
Chen’s time at Manhattan has presented a wealth of possibilities, including the goal of earning a master’s degree in civil engineering — an option she didn’t consider when she began college. Citing the support and advice of Anirban De, professor of civil and environmental engineering, she says Manhattan’s faculty have fostered her expanded ambitions. Moujalli Hourani, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has also been influential.
“When you have professors like [Hourani] around you, it’s not only intense in terms of coursework, but it brings out your fascination,” she says. “You remember each moment.”
Again, Chen notes the importance of the Burde Scholarship in making her Manhattan education possible.
“I totally appreciate the donors because if not for them, I wouldn’t be here,” she says.
As for that two-hour commute? It’s a safe bet that, during finals week or otherwise, Chen is not asleep.