Having graduated from top civil engineering school in the world, I would like to share my experience to be a civil engineer. My name is Silvia Pratama; and I just obtained my bachelor degree in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley in December 2014. Berkeley is ranked as number one public university in the world and the experience that I got in Berkeley is priceless. Berkeley has not only provided me with endless educational support, but Berkeley is also full of amazing faculties, mentors, and peers who are always very supportive and passionate to help students get on the right career paths.
Being a civil engineer is a calling that I found after experiencing a magnitude 7.6 earthquake in my hometown― Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province, Indonesia. The earthquake hit Sumatra Island on September 30, 2009. It severely damaged many residential and commercial buildings because of poor construction and design flaws. Approximately 4,017 victims were reported and more than 250,000 families lost their homes. Because of the excellent work and good conscience of the civil engineers who designed my home, I am still alive today. This traumatic experience between life and death was the turning point for me; I was inspired to be a civil engineer, with good work ethics, in-depth knowledge and expertise in the field.
A few months before leaving Indonesia to continue my education in the U.S., I helped out at my father’s construction business in order to gain more exposure in the field and I continued working for my father during summer vacation from June to July 2011. The business is a local construction company focusing on the development of rural areas in Riau Island. I was in charge of checking the amount of materials at the site, worker’s attendance, as well as working in the administration office sorting documents and typing proposals for the upcoming projects. Although I worked for about seven to eight hours a day, I felt that it was not enough to learn all the practical skills.
‘Learning by doing’ is the only way to acquire hand-on-experience that I would not attain from classroom learning. One time, I went with my supervisor to control the progress of a school building project in one of the cities in Riau Island where one additional story was being added to the top of the existing building. I spent most of my time in this project and I learned that the concrete should be mixed in a specific order: water, cement, gravel, and finally sand. If we reverse the order, it will affect the quality of the concrete. Another valuable piece of knowledge that I learned is to be able to distinguish whether or not the concrete has too much sand or too little water in it by looking at the color of the cement. Additionally, we have to know the types of soil that we are dealing with before we could dig the ground and install pilings into it.
All the attainable knowledge that I gained is priceless, particularly in understanding workers. I had to deal with unpredictable weather, the harsh condition of the transportation, and older workers who resented a younger intern. Thus, I had to repeatedly adjust my attitude and engage workers in the project. I had to learn how to motivate them and inspire them to work as an efficient team by taking patience and open-mind into consideration.
Overall, having that summer sparked my interest to become a civil engineer. It was also a good gauge to confirm that I have the skills to be successful in this field. I would like to dedicate my knowledge and ability to create a better environment by implementing good work ethics such as ensuring the steadiness of the infrastructures and the safety of the children and people in the community. Civil engineer is a noble job that requires someone with good ethics, knowledge, and experience since it concerns the life and death of families, kids, and people in general.
Having said all of that, Berkeley helped me and motivated me to keep doing what I love. During my senior year, I worked for a year as an Undergraduate Research Apprentice with Professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, Ph.D, P.E. to perform Double Angle Tension Test, analyze the shear lag factors, and present the results of the findings in front of prospective new students during CalDay on April 2014. Double Angle Tension Test is a test to measure the tensile strength of double angle steel structure; the test is done by putting a piece of double angle steel in a compression machinery and measure the force where the steel cracked. After the data is obtained, calculation is needed to calculate the shear lag factors because shear lag factors is used to increase the strength of a piece of steel.
Not only my advisor helped me academically, my advisor encouraged me to participate in campus-wide student organization such as taking part in American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). I was the event manager for ASCE for a year from Fall 2013 through Fall 2014. And soon, I was fortunate enough to build good connection with my Engineering Faculty and Professor. In Summer 2014, due to Professor Astaneh’s recommendation, I received stipend from Quest Program of College of Engineering with Ms. Meltem Erol for conducting summer research on connections of steel structures.
Berkeley has proved to have the best resources to help me shaping my career path in civil engineering world. My professors and colleagues are firm believer of gender equality. Being a woman civil engineer is not easy, but a woman is capable of doing what a man can do as long as she has a passion in doing what she loves the most.
Throughout my journey in the U.S., I have turn into an intense, results-oriented, self-starter whose drive and sense of urgency are tempered and disciplined by my concern for the accuracy and quality of my work. My approach to anything I do or am responsible for will be carefully thought-out, based on thorough analysis and detailed knowledge of all pertinent facts. I am highly motivated to give my very best in everything I do. Go Bears!
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