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Aidan Bjelland found opportunities to grow academically and professionally and to serve his fellow students while at Arizona State University.
Bjelland transferred from Central Arizona College to ASU as an upper division student in 2017 and majored in civil engineering.
He will receive his bachelor’s degree with honors from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU in December.
While at Barrett, he served as vice president of the Barrett Honors College Association of Nontraditional Students (BHCANS) and focused on services for transfer students like himself.
“When coming to a university as a transfer student, you’re into the thick of things with a fraction of the connections other students have,” Bjelland said.
“You have to catch up to speed as quickly as possible. As an officer of BHCANS I believe I helped in aiding students to bridge that transfer gap by guiding students toward Barrett resources, offering advice based on my own experience, and fostering a small community of transfer students with events,” he said.
In addition to assisting transfer honors students, Bjelland served as the treasurer for Chi Episilon, the honors society for civil engineering students.
Chi Epsilon offered great academic and professional networking opportunities for engineering students, with industry professionals including project managers and CEOs attending the organization’s meetings, Bjelland said.
In the week running up to graduation, we asked Bjelland to reflect on his undergraduate years and his future plans. Here is what he had to say.
What is an interesting moment, story, or accomplishment from your ASU career? Something you experienced that defines your time at ASU, or an opportunity you had that stands out, or something you accomplished that you’re proud of.
I was gladly able to participate in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, with the help of Dr. Keith Hjelmstad and Dr. Kristen Ward, where I researched how to induce stability in structural systems affected by earthquakes. During this year long research project, I was able to create and compare a MATLAB model to a physical model of a shear building with an attached pendulum undergoing an earthquake. To model the earthquake for the physical model, I built a fully functional shake table using a drill press and Arduino, a platform used for building electronics projects..
What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
My original career plan was to enter industry after receiving my master’s degree in structural engineering because I felt as though it was something I ought to do. Over the years of speaking to people in the engineering industry and gauging what it was like, I was extremely apprehensive about going into industry after graduating because I felt as though I wasn’t truly interested in it. After speaking to several mentors and professors for advice on the subject, I realized that I wasn’t really considering how passionate I was about education. So my “aha!” moment was recognizing that I wanted to pursue academia instead of industry and get a PhD in structural engineering.
What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
While taking HON 370, History of Ideas, I gained a lot of perspective about how ideas and attitudes change over the course of history as well as how to judge the merits of a concept. As an individual, this really struck me as I never considered the world from the angles presented in the course and realized I never truly grasped a nuanced “bigger picture” of the world’s history. It was simply spectacular (and in some cases horrifying) to see how everything was connected and lined up.
Why did you choose ASU?
I chose to come to ASU due to it being close to home and for its well-regarded engineering program. I was not ready to start spending thousands to live away from home, so being able to minimize costs by staying home and commuting have been a life saver. Additionally, transitioning to ASU from community college was easy to do as a majority of my credits were transferable.
Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU and what was that lesson?
Dr. Hjelmstad, a key mentor throughout my education at ASU, has advised me through a variety of projects, has given me numerous opportunities to be a TA, and provided me with invaluable advice through the years. Perhaps the best piece of advice he gave me was to take a step back and evaluate where I am now and where I plan on going. This piece of advice reflected in my thesis, my FURI experience, and in my long-term career goals. At the end of the day, I don’t know every part of my path in life, but I take it one step at a time and constantly reflect on it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
One piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years has been to always seek out opportunities when they present themselves. Being naturally introverted, I was always afraid to seek out opportunities because I feared I would be rejected or fail. However, as I grew up, I realized my only regrets were missing out on great opportunities because I always talked myself out of them. Thankfully over the years, I had friends and professors in my life who would always push (or sometimes shove) me into opportunities and really get me out of my comfort zone. At the end of the day I learned that the worst thing someone can say to you is no, whereas in the best-case scenario you could gain the experience of a lifetime.
What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
My favorite spot on campus is the student lounge on the fourth floor of the College Avenue Commons. In general, this is where I spent the majority of my time as a civil engineering student as it’s been the center point of most things having to do with civil engineering.
What are your plans after graduation?
I am currently in the 4+1 program in structural engineering, meaning I’ll be completing my master’s degree here at ASU. After obtaining my master’s degree, I plan to pursue a PhD in structural engineering. Ultimately, I aspire to be a professor one day, to work in academia, and to do a bit of consultant work on the side. Being able to be an undergraduate teaching assistant has been one of the best experiences of my life and has showed me how passionate I am about education. I hope in the future that I’ll be able to continue to assist other civil engineering students in achieving their dreams like I’ve been assisted in achieving mine.
If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
Due to my passion for education, if I were given $40 million dollars, I would work to reform the U.S. secondary education system to focus on mastery instead of standardized testing and long-term career goals. This would be done in order to create an interconnected system between secondary education and universities where pathways could be prepared for students to achieve those goals. Ultimately, the objective would be to change education to focus on the measurable skills that students are learning and applying those skills instead of on getting a certain grade.
Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism.