Alumni Spotlight: Andrés Roda ENG’98, GSNB‘00

“Working at CAIT is like coming home.” – Andrés Roda

 

Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil Engineering, Andrés Roda spent a decade as an engineering consultant before returning to Rutgers in 2010 as a CAIT Engineering Research Manager. Today, he is focused on the BEAST (Bridge Evaluation and Accelerated Structural Testing) – a groundbreaking new bridge research lab – and other bridge projects. 

 

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Puerto Rico, where I lived until age ten, when my family moved to Middletown, New Jersey.

Why did you choose the School of Engineering?

As a state university, it was definitely on my list in high school. I was thinking of studying physics or physical sciences until I came up to look at Rutgers and saw Engineering was an option.

My grandfather was a surveyor in Puerto Rico and I’d always loved listening to his stories about building roads and aligning them with bridge crossings. My dad, who was a university facilities administrator, thought structural engineering was a good idea because I’d always have a job.

It’s a good fit for me. I’m particularly orderly – just ask my wife.

What attracted you to bridges?

I’m fascinated with how bridges work. They are real feats of engineering. Everything in a bridge must work together precisely, much like the gears in clocks do. It’s fascinating to see the ways everything comes together in a bridge.

I also enjoy the history of bridges and how this country’s economy exploded as the infrastructures that were built revolutionized the way goods and people can traverse the country.

Do you have a favorite bridge?

I admire the Akashi-Kaikyo in Japan, which at 12,800 feet long is the world’s longest suspension bridge. I teach a small class here for Governor’s School students and like to tell them that the span was so long when it was constructed that its towers had to account for the curvature of the earth. It’s a great example of how engineers constantly work to find new solutions. 

What kinds of solutions are you looking for today?

There was a huge infrastructure boom in this country in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet today our roads and bridges are deteriorating. It’s estimated that more than 30 percent of the nation’s 610,700 bridges are already past their 50-year design life.

It’s a tribute to our forefathers that engineers built resilient bridges that have done the job of moving people for a long time. But now it’s time to reinvest in these assets and renew them.

CAIT is always looking for new solutions. New Jersey, which has more than 6,000 bridges, is our living laboratory. We help bridge owners evaluate their bridges and sit down with them to come up with efficient solutions to make things work.

Will the BEAST help this process?

We’re really excited about the BEAST, which simulates real-life climate extremes and loading in a compressed time frame. With the BEAST, we can quantitatively and empirically show how a bridge will fall apart and deteriorate in a matter of months – rather than decades. This will help bridge owners make decisions that will lengthen the lives of their bridges and save money.

Did you have a favorite SoE professor?

I had several key professors. CAIT Director Ali Maher, who talked about the difference between knowledge and wisdom, is one. You gain knowledge in school. But as you go through your career, you develop the wisdom to apply that knowledge.

Professors Perumalsamy Balaguru; Nenad Gucunski; Trefor Williams and Professor Nawy, who has since retired, also made an impact on me.

What’s it like to work with some of these professors as peers?

When I came back to Rutgers, I said, “I’m here – let’s work.” It’s neat and really interesting. Working at CAIT is like coming home.

What was your biggest takeaway from the SoE?

I learned how to think outside the box to find a fresh perspective to solve a problem. I learned how to engage my brain to prepare for a career. The problems you face as you leave the university aren’t in the back of a book.

I also learned about time management. In high school, there was one building. At Rutgers, I had classes on three different campuses, so I had to apply critical thinking to my daily routine and learn how to balance study time, coursework and the social side of things. All of this prepared me to be truly independent.

What made the most difference for you?

I came to Rutgers at age 16, so there was a lot to get used to. Rutgers itself operates like a city, so it was especially helpful to me to live on the Latin Images special interest floor, which was a supportive and fun community.

What did you do for fun?

Rutgers was a fun experience. Latin Images had all kinds of activities on the floor. Dancing was a big thing. So were talent shows. I also liked playing basketball and sports and taking part video game tournaments and hanging out with they guys.

What is your favorite app on your phone or tablet?

I’m completely hooked on Overdrive, an audio book app. I use it every morning when I run.

What are you listening to now?

Right now, I’m into George Martin’s Game of Thrones books.

If you could go on vacation tomorrow, where would you go?

My wife and I had a destination wedding at the Sandals resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We’d love to go back!