When Santiago El Awad was first awarded membership in the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program in the fall of 2019, as he was pursuing his master's degree in Civil Engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering, it was hard for him to process it all.
“It all felt surreal,” he said. “I knew this was a prestigious program from the Federal Highway Administration, where only about 150 to 200 fellows are selected yearly. It was reassuring that all the effort I had put into my research was paying off. That gave me even more motivation.”
Since that initial award, El Awad has received it again for the 2021 and 2022 academic years as well. The fellowship program provides merit-based support to students pursuing degrees in transportation-related disciplines.
El Awad is now a doctorate student working with Konrad J. Krakowiak, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering.
“Getting this award requires devotion, focus, and a lot of hard work,” he said. “Therefore, I keep myself self-disciplined, task-oriented and organized. By taking this approach, my research has the best chance to succeed, create an impact and offer valuable contributions to civil engineering, construction materials and society as well.”
El Awad graduated in 2014 from high school in Venezuela. He said the unstable political and economic situation in the country led to his decision to attend college in Houston, where his older brother, Salim, was already studying at the University of Houston.
“My parents, Gladys Ibrahim and Samir El Awad, made the
a decision to send me to a foreign country to develop and pave my way as a professional,” he said. “As a family, we decided on Houston since my older brother was already here, completing his undergraduate degree. I decided to apply to the University of Houston, where I began my undergraduate studies in the Fall of 2014.”
However, while family and location factored into El Awad's decision when it was time to pursue an advanced degree, it was the chance to work more with Krakowiak that swayed him.
“My mentor and academic advisor, Dr. Krakowiak, he has played a key role in my professional development,” El Awad said. “He has been an exemplary role model. He took me under his guidance as an undergraduate student, where he allowed me to intern in his materials research laboratory. Consequently, he offered me a research assistant position to pursue my master of science in Civil Engineering, where I graduated in August of 2020. I am now pursuing a Ph.D. under his guidance, and I'm expected to graduate in the spring of 2024.”
In addition to the DDETFP, El Awad has also received financial support from the University of Houston and a scholarship from Anton Paar, a manufacturer of high-end laboratory instruments. As he looks toward the future, El Awad said he was primarily focused on finishing the work of his doctorate.
“I still have a couple of years left in my Ph.D..” he said when asked about his plans. “For now, I can only say that I plan to keep improving as a person and taking advantage of the opportunities life will undoubtedly give me. Whichever route I end up taking in life, I hope I can keep learning and developing professionally and one day, be able to inspire the new generation of upcoming engineers. In the short term, I keep on working on my doctoral thesis such that it reflects the best of my original ideas and newly generated knowledge - hopefully by doing so, I will be able to provide valuable contributions to the field of civil engineering.”