Vocation Quest Part Three: Engineers Conclude Their Vocational Journey With A Point Of View From Dean Rojas

Liz Kyle
News Editor

This series follows two UD engineering students, Joshua Romo and Tom Tappel, who are on a mission to discover how successful engineering majors found their own vocation, as well as their major fitting in with the University’s purpose, “The University For The Common Good.” This is the final part of the series. We invite you to read part one here and part two here.

With their journey coming to a close, Joshua Romo and Tom Tappel are beginning to wrap up their findings in their vocational discovery investigation. To get one final source of insight, the duo sat down with the dean of UD’s school of engineering, Dr. Eddy Rojas.

Rojas was named dean of the school of engineering in July 2014 and previously served as director of the Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Among a vast collection of accomplishments, he received a licentiate, a five-year professional degree, in civil engineering from the University of Costa Rica and three degrees (M.S. in civil engineering, M.A. in economics and a Ph.D. in civil engineering) from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

I didn’t get into engineering because I wanted to be famous or because I wanted to make a lot of money…My motivation was to make a difference.

While growing up in his native country of Costa Rica, Rojas was exposed to engineering and was immediately attracted to the field. His best friend’s father was an engineer, and Rojas recalls many memories of tagging along with him on engineering adventures to underground tunnels and a local reservoir. Seeing engineering put into action left Rojas inspired.

“I always knew I was going to be an engineer. It was clear to me,” Rojas said. “I was in a developing country. Engineers were looked at as the ones who are really going to make a significant difference in the development of the country. I remember thinking, ‘This is what I want to do, I really want to make a difference.’”

The transition from high school to college was a breeze for Rojas since he viewed his first semester of college at the University of Costa Rica as one big review of material. He took his educational opportunities seriously and found joy in educating others and tutoring his peers. He even ended up getting a job offer post-graduation to teach at the university, which he excitedly accepted. From that point forward, he knew his calling was to be in academia.

Eddy Rojas, dean of school of engineering, after meeting with Romo and Tappel.

“I always loved education. When they offered me the opportunity as an instructor at the university, it was a dream come true to me. I loved engineering. I loved teaching, and this was the perfect way to combine both my passions. When I began teaching, I decided that this was what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” Rojas reminisced.

After spending the beginning of his career teaching in Costa Rica, he set his eyes on the U.S. to obtain a higher education. But, he had one small problem: he didn’t know how to speak English.

Still, Rojas didn’t let that obstacle stop him. For a couple of years he took English classes on weekdays for three hours a day. He describes his journey to the U.S. as an adventure and a leap of faith for him and his wife’s educational goals.

“Costa Rica is a special place in the sense that education has been valued since the country’s beginning. I went to a public university that was top notch, and many of the faculty members got their education from the U.S. or Canada. Being able to see those professors with Ph.D.s made me believe that it was possibleit was something within my reach. We were coming to a foreign country and culture, everything was completely different. To us, it was well worth it to come here for our education.”

Ever since Rojas arrived to the U.S., he’s taken advantage of every opportunity he could get his hands on. After he joined the UD community, he brought along a notion he always held dear to his heart: making sure to implement “Engineering that Matters.”

With this phrase, Rojas means not just doing something because it can be done, but because it should be done. He believes it’s important for engineers to recognize that their decisions are going to have consequences, and encourages students to look at the broader impacts of engineers’ creations. This principle directly fits into the university’s mission of being “The University of the Common Good.”
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“To be honest, I didn’t get into engineering because I wanted to be famous or because I wanted to make a lot of moneythat was never my motivation at all,” Rojas said. “My motivation was to make a difference. I think it’s important for all of our students to understand that when you become an engineer, you have responsibilities that are not only about yourself they’re about your community. Engineers have a special set of skills and a responsibility to make sure those skills are used for the betterment of humanity and for the common good.”

The connection between an engineer’s responsibilities and being conscious of the community are brought to life through UD’s ETHOS (Engineers in Technical Humanitarian Opportunities of Service-Learning) Center. The program, created by a team of engineering students in 2001, gives students the opportunity to participate in immersion trips, student focused activities and hands-on projects around the world for 10 weeks. When Rojas was named dean of the school of engineering, he transformed the program into its own center to make sure all engineering students have the opportunity to experience engineering that matters.

In terms of the school of engineering’s future, Rojas sees the program growing and becoming stronger. Within the next few months, two new staff positions within the school of engineering are set to be established: a community liaison and an industry liaison. The two new liaisons will serve to improve the relationship between the engineering school and UD’s industry partners and the surrounding non-profit organizations in the Dayton community. Rojas hopes to create more opportunities for students while giving them that experience necessary to find their true passions.
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“The majority of our students want to do more,” Rojas said. “As a student, participate in ETHOS, participate in a semester of service, study abroad, open your eyes to the possibilities. Look at all the opportunities you may have to learn about different cultures, to learn from the people who might not be as lucky as we are and to look at society to see what engineering has done over the years.”

With Rojas serving as the final piece to Tappel and Romo’s vocational puzzle, the duo feels confident with their newly found perspectives. They have learned a lot from this journey and they hope other students can contribute to this new conversation of vocation and being a member of “The University For The Common Good.”

“The main reason we got into this was to work with the school of engineering to better engage students with their own vocations,” Tappel said. “I think there’s two things that I’ve learned that are important to this process: to reflect and take time out of your day to ask questions about what you’re doing, being more intentional when moving through college.”

“I hope this series gets people thinking, and, hopefully, it inspires fellow engineers to reach out and contribute to this conversation,” Romo said. “I think more than anything, I feel more excited about the future of the school of engineering.”

Photos Courtesy of Christian Cubacub/Staff Photographer, Joshua Romo and Tom Tappel