Wall encourages students to expand horizons

Originally from Seattle, Wash., traveling long distances for his passion for engineering is no stranger to Thomas Wall, who recently won the prestigious J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship to spend a total of nine months studying and researching at the University of Amsterdam and Oxford University.

Wall is currently a Ph.D student in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and plans to conduct research on transportation policy in Europe, focusing on retrofitting infrastructure based on climate change.

According to Wall, modern infrastructure designs are for a climate that is normalized, but now, with the suggestion that there will be an increase in the frequency and impact of storms, engineers must selectively fix old infrastructure and develop new design plans for new ones, all while properly managing budget.

As such, Wall plans to study infrastructure management at Oxford and transportation planning at Amsterdam.

Wall places heavy importance on establishing an interest in engineering early on, as he is active in the Tech chapter of Engineers Without Borders, in which he focuses on promoting high school research efforts.

“I think it’s really important to get out to people in the high schools, even if it’s just to generate a bit of interest in engineering,” Wall said. He emphasized a need for more engineers in the future.

For the past two summers, Wall and other members of the CE department have worked with a teacher from Westlake High School, immersing him in the CE research to develop a transportation planning teaching model for his introduction to engineering course.

Wall describes his own entrance into the field of civil engineering as largely an influence of the people around him. His time at Oregon State University shaped his views.

“My grandpa was a civil engineer, so the idea was sort of comfortable. I switched [from ME] to CE after my freshman year. The people in the program were like my family,” Wall said.

“[But] it’s not like I’ve always had this vision of doing CE. When I joined, I hadn’t even thought of transportation initially,” Wall said. He mentioned a previous experience in which an interviewer asked him if he liked cars, planes and boats, as a credential for enjoying engineering.

Wall chose to come to Tech, over University of California, Berkeley, for his postgraduate work because of the Institute’s nationally competitive program in transportation engineering and once again, because of the friendliness of the faculty and students in the program.

Wall plans to pursue a career as a college professor.

“[It’s] not only for the research aspect…but also the teaching aspect, [which] would be extremely rewarding and important,” Wall said.

Wall is also considering careers in consultancy and work in the public sector with the federal government or the state Department of Transportation.

“[Tech’s] Fulbright recipients are not just going to learn in another country. They are also contributing their own knowledge,” said Karen Adams, interim director of Tech’s Fellowship Communication Program, in a press release.

As advice for students who aspire to the Fulbright, Wall recommends having two to three months to produce a personal statement and a statement of grant purpose, but cannot underscore how helpful the support of his advisors and professors.

His process was initiated when he learned that the Fulbright applies to engineering students, along with science students.

Wall believes the most rewarding aspect of the Fulbright is that it is a vehicle for international research.

“It’s not just a one-way street of benefits for the US. It’s meant to be a two-way exchange between research in the US and research abroad. I think [many] of the EU’s policies can be applied with some reworking to the US, and there are good infrastructure management methods in the US that could be brought to the EU,” Wall said.

The board also offered Fulbright scholarships to two other Tech students. Alice Wang, EE ‘10, and Hunter Causey, MS CE were recognized for their accomplishments and aspirations for work in international research.

The youngest of the three Tech Fulbright Scholars, Wang plans to study computer applications to conflict resolution, creating a culmination of her engineering degree and her minors in Economics and Law, Science and Technology.

Meanwhile, Causey plans to spend 10 months in Mongolia to study the effects of climate change on the Tuul River and its people, as his global outdoor adventures have allowed him to develop an appreciative desire to protect “one of the world’s most pristine river systems.”