Maria Frias is a driven leader, mentor and future engineer.
Frias knew in middle school that she wanted to study civil engineering, and her passion was rewarded recently when she was named one of 10 "2018 New Faces of Civil Engineering, Collegiate Edition" by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
A senior in civil engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington, she has been involved in several student organizations, including UTA's ASCE Student Chapter, where she has served as president, concrete canoe design sub-captain and historian. She is also a member of the Engineering Student Council and was named the College of Engineering's Ms. Engineer in 2017.
Additionally, Frias is the recipient of a Dwight D. Eisenhower Fellowship and a National Institute for Transportation and Communities Scholarship and is an intern at Di Sciullo-Terry, Stanton & Associates, Inc., in Arlington.
The national ASCE program recognizes civil engineering students for their academic accomplishments and commitment to serving others. One honoree will receive a $1,000 scholarship.
"Each of the New Faces of Civil Engineering, Collegiate Edition, displays a passion and dedication for the civil engineering profession through their studies and extracurricular activities. They are the role models that the next generation of civil engineers will look up to," said Kristina Swallow, P.E., president of ASCE.
Frias said, "I was blindsided. I'm honored and humbled to have won. I never considered that I would be in this position."Frias' interest in engineering was ignited in seventh grade after she attended a STEM-focused summer camp. Her interest in civil engineering was confirmed in eighth grade, when her family moved to a new house and she spoke to a woman engineer involved in the design and construction of other homes in the neighborhood.
Prior to enrolling at UTA, Frias participated in an externship with a local civil engineering company, where she learned about land development.
"I feel like UTA has prepared me well for my future in this field. The classes and electives reflect what employers in the field are looking for, and I really like the professors here. They do a great job and put a lot of effort into making sure we learn what we need to be successful. That really makes a difference," Frias said.
Her faculty mentor, civil engineering Professor Jim Williams, encouraged her to become more involved in professional organizations, and his enthusiasm for transportation, as well as courses in urban planning with Kate Hyun, introduction to transportation with Steve Mattingly, and her current highway design course with Sia Ardekani, cemented her decision to pursue transportation engineering. She plans to begin studies toward a master's degree in the discipline at UTA next fall.
Williams expressed admiration for Frias and her work ethic.
"Maria is very deserving of this honor. She is an excellent leader and inspires her peers to do things and participate. She's someone I'd love to work with or work for," he said. "I didn't know her very well when she was elected president of our ASCE chapter, but she stood out right away. We've been among the top third of chapters nationally for the last three years, and a lot of that is due to her efforts."
Ali Abolmaali, Tseng Huang Endowed Professor and chair of the Civil Engineering Department, said that Frias is an example of the University's commitment to transforming the student experience by enhancing access and ensuring success.
"Being named one of the 10 New Faces of Engineering is quite an honor for Maria, and I am proud that she represents UTA. That Maria won this award is indicative of just how strong our undergraduate program is. Our students have engaged with professional societies nationally and have set themselves apart with successes outside the University in the steel bridge and concrete canoe competitions, among others," Abolmaali said.
UTA's Civil Engineering Department was ranked No. 82 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report graduate engineering rankings. It is the largest and most comprehensive in North Texas, offering bachelor's degrees in architectural engineering, civil engineering and construction management, master's degrees in civil engineering and construction management, and doctoral degrees in civil engineering. Research areas include geotechnical, water resources, transportation, structural and environmental engineering, as well as construction engineering and management, and infrastructure system engineering and management. More than 1,100 students were enrolled in fall 2017.
"As a UTA civil engineering alumnus, I was happy to see a UTA student among ASCE's Top 10 New Faces of Engineering, and I offer Maria my hearty congratulations," said Bill Hale, P.E., chief engineer at the Texas Department of Transportation, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees from UTA. "The education and training I received at UTA has served me well throughout my career, and the Civil Engineering Department continues to be a source of quality engineers and researchers who are making an impact on the transportation needs of this state."
Faculty members are involved in many transportation-related projects in Texas and nationally. Recent grants include:
" UTA researchers are part of three U.S. Department of Transportation grants that could be worth up to $12 million in funding. UTA was awarded funding which could total up to $7.7 million over a five-year period to develop the Center for Transportation Equity, Decisions and Dollars. C-TEDD is a collaboration between the Civil Engineering Department and UTA's College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs, as well as partners California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of South Florida. Shima Hamidi from CAPPA is the principal investigator. UTA's funding so far totals $2.8 million.
" UTA is also part of a U.S. Department of Transportation-funded consortium led by Louisiana State University that focuses on improving transportation infrastructure through research into innovative materials and new technology. Civil engineering professors Stefan Romanoschi and Anand Puppala are UTA's representatives. Their funding in the project's first year totaled $275,000.
" Civil Engineering Associate Professor Stephen Mattingly is UTA's representative with the third U.S. DOT-funded consortium, which is led by Portland State University. His first-year funding was $295,000. His projects include developing institutional infrastructure, evaluating transit connections for opportunities and developing a non-motorized data archive and tools.
" Nur Yazdani earned a $735,133 contract from TxDOT to inspect, evaluate and monitor DFW-area bridges for safety.
" Yazdani is also testing the performance of a carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer wrapping for future bridge repairs through another $598,953 existing contract from TxDOT.
" Puppala is the lead investigator for a $770,909 TxDOT contract with a team from Texas A&M Corpus Christi and the Texas A&M Transportation that will use unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect highways and railroads remotely and develop guidelines for how to safely complete the task.
" He is also using a $360,000 TxDOT interagency contract to test the performance of recycled materials and geocells in a highway-widening project in Johnson County, Texas.
Founded in 1852, the American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 civil engineers worldwide and is America's oldest national engineering society. Through its strategic initiatives, ASCE works to raise awareness of the need to maintain and modernize the nation's infrastructure using sustainable and resilient practices, advocates for increasing and optimizing investment in infrastructure, and seeks to "Raise the Bar" on engineering knowledge and competency.