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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

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Stephania Moreno photographed at SDSU (Melinda Sevilla/SDSU) Stephania Moreno photographed at SDSU (Melinda Sevilla/SDSU)

Final Semester: Structural Engineering Student Building Foundations for Successful Career

SDSU master’s student Stephania Moreno heads into her final semester and is ready to shake things up.
By Melinda Sevilla

As a first-generation college applicant, Stephania Moreno didn’t know what she wanted to do as she completed her senior year of high school, so she applied to many colleges. Consulting an adviser, she noted her best courses were in math and science.

“English wasn’t my first language, and numbers are the same in Spanish,” said Moreno, now a final-semester master’s student at San Diego State University. 

Growing up in Southern California, earthquakes have always been on Moreno’s mind. A San Diego native with family in Tijuana, Mexico, Moreno attended high school at the highly selective Preuss School at the University of California San Diego, where she discovered her love for STEM.

Though she always had her heart set on SDSU, Moreno was flown out to Chico State University for “Choose Chico Day” and offered a full scholarship, which she couldn’t refuse.

She then attended Chico State for her undergraduate degree, where she initially registered as a mechanical engineering student. While taking the only earthquake engineering course offered, Moreno discovered her passion for the area of structural engineering and promptly changed her major to civil engineering. 

“I’ve always had a passion for earthquake engineering without really knowing it,” said Moreno. “I wanted to analyze buildings in the event of an earthquake, but Chico State didn’t really provide much context, just design considerations you’d want to take depending on the state you are designing the buildings in.” 

Moreno became a founding member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), recruiting six students to participate in a seismic design competition and learning more about her passion - and learning that SDSU had a strong structural engineering program. 

After attending Chico State, Moreno wanted to stay in the CSU system and come back home. SDSU was the perfect choice, she said. 

“I wanted to do the typical go away from home then return thing, and it had always been a dream to attend SDSU, so it was perfect,” said Moreno.

In her first year of her master’s, she was quickly recruited by structural engineering professor Gloria Faraone via email in a call seeking graduate students interested in the numerical modeling of reinforced concrete structures, or the steel bar-reinforced concrete skeletons that constitute a building’s structure and walls. 

From there, Moreno learned how to use OpenSees software to simulate the response of structures during an earthquake. She uses a 2D code created by researchers at UC Berkeley to analyze stress vs strain curves and load vs displacement to gain data on how a given wall will react to an earthquake.

Moreno’s hard work so far has paid off. Her paper on reinforced concrete structures won the “Dean’s Award: Engineering” at the SDSU Research Symposium. She’s also a recipient of the SEAOSD Fellowship and the American Concrete Institutes’ Student Scholarship. 

“She is a role model for Latinas and women in structural engineering,” said Faraone.

But Moreno’s not done just yet. She’s excited for this fall semester to start and to expand her research and on campus impact even more.

“Before I graduate, I am excited to become a mentor to undergraduate students seeking further education as well as those interested in participating in extracurricular activities related to earthquake engineering,” said Moreno. 

As Moreno looks forward to fall 2022, she is also thankful for being able to pave the way for future scholars. “Being the first to attend graduate school is a huge milestone for my family and I am more than happy to be encouraging them to earn their degrees,” she said.

Next steps for Moreno’s research are analyzing not just a wall, but the whole building. Moreno will begin analyzing a 3D-coded version of concrete structures in a dynamic analysis of a 12-story building. 

Moreno’s final goals include pursuing a Ph.D. at SDSU at the same time for a government company and earning her Structural Engineer (SE) license. Her current internship at Sullaway Engineering allows her to work on two to five different projects per day and join projects in different cities and states.

She also looks forward to becoming a qualified Engineer in Training as she completes design courses that will strengthen her skills in structural engineering. 

“Every day, I see the positive impact earning my Master of Science is having on my life,” said Moreno. “I’m grateful and more than eager to see how I will continue to grow personally and within the structural engineering profession.”

Most importantly, this semester, she wants answers to her burning research questions —including eliminating a building’s earthquake damage.

“Currently, the research says we can’t prevent damage to the building, but we can prevent it from falling,” said Moreno. “I want to prevent damage to the building.”