Next in the GCSP spotlight series is Hilary Chaimov. 

Hilary is a third year studying Civil Engineering. She is a member of the Leadership Academy, a peer mentor for the Honors College, and is in the MECOP internship program. She completed an internship with the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation last summer and has studied abroad in London, Cuba, and Spain.   

Her Grand Challenge is “Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure”. The goal of this challenge is to modernize infrastructure so it can support civilizations in the centuries ahead. This challenge relates to the research component of the GCSP because research is essential to develop sustainable ways to improve current and future infrastructure. This challenge also relates to the multicultural dimension component of the GCSP, because different countries have different ideas on how to develop sustainable infrastructure and therefore communication with other countries is important. Her involvement in the GCSP has allowed her to conduct undergraduate research for the College of Engineering School of Civil and Construction Engineering and complete a three-month internship in Spain.  

To fulfill her research experience, Hilary researches the sustainability of concrete used in the Pacific Northwest. She is looking at different concrete mixes from the Seattle area and is evaluating the amount of CO2 each mix will emit during its lifespan. She will then compare the values of CO2 emitted with the current standards. She expects the concrete mixes from the Seattle area to emit less CO2 than what the current standards allow. If this is true, then there is potential for stricter regulations. The research is considered a lifecycle analysis and involves data gathering, processing, and interpreting. Currently, Hilary is in the data processing phase. 

This research experience impacted Hilary’s engineering education by allowing her to see the connections between what she learned in her material classes and real-world applications. 

“I think my research adds another side to my education,” Hilary said. “We learn all these concepts in class like what materials go into concrete and how we make it, but it’s interesting to see how this translates to industry. This research gives me a little window into one path I could take after school.” 

Hilary enjoys this research because it directly relates to her challenge and is constantly challenging her to become a better engineer. 

“I think that it directly relates to my challenge because I am looking at concrete, which is one of the most commonly used building materials in the world,” she said. “The only way to restore and renew our urban infrastructure in a sustainable way is to ensure that the materials we are using are the best and most sustainable they can be. This research allows me to look at the sustainability of concrete and to keep pushing for a more sustainable mix.” 

To fulfill her multicultural dimension, Hilary completed a three-month internship at the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid, Spain. As an intern, Hilary worked on a portion of a five-year research project that focused on evaluating the impact of nature-based solutions. A nature-based solution is an application of plants to any type of built infrastructure such as green roofs, a green water system, or live plants climbing along the outside of the building. The research project was specifically looking at how these nature-based solutions help mitigate the impacts of climate change and lower the amount of CO2 that is present inside the buildings. The goal of the project is to quantify how good these nature-based solutions are so builders and planners know if they are worth investing in. This research experience gave Hilary her first glimpse of engineering in practice. It also allowed her to improve her Spanish. 

“The entire internship was in Spanish,” Hilary said. “I did an immersion program since kindergarten and now I am bilingual, but once I got to college, I did not have time to continue studying Spanish. I’ve always wanted to be able to work in a Spanish speaking country when I’m done with school and this experience allowed me to learn a lot of the words and terminology that are specific to my field.” 

This experience also gave Hilary a different perspective on what restoring and renewing urban infrastructure could look like. 

“The infrastructure in Spain is completely different than the infrastructure in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. “So, the solutions they come up with in Spain are entirely different than ones we think of here, but that doesn’t mean the solutions couldn’t be used in both places.” 

To help her go to Spain, Hilary was awarded a scholarship through the GCSP. 

“The scholarship from the GCSP allowed me to travel to a different city outside of Madrid and see this structure that I’ve seen in books for the past 10 years,” she said. “That was my favorite memory of the entire trip.” 

Hilary’s experience in the GCSP has helped her become a better engineer. It has helped her see the bigger picture in civil engineering and has helped her become a well-rounded engineer. 

“I think that a lot of times engineers get a little bit of tunnel vision,” Hilary said. “A lot of the time, engineers keep their head down to focus on the task and get it done. I think that the GCSP challenges us to pick our heads up and see the bigger picture. I joined the Grand Challenge Scholars Program because I thought it was a way to demonstrate that I am a well-rounded engineer and it would ensure that I got that rounded experience in my education. I think that without the GCSP you can join clubs that are part of your major or other athletic teams, but to complete the GCSP you have to do more and think bigger. There is no way around that. That’s why I joined and think it’s a really good program to be in.”