Maria Jose Echeverria

PhD(c) Engineering Sciences (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) PhD student Structural Engineering (University of Colorado Boulder)

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We are powerful and more capable than we imagine.

What do you do?

Have you ever wondered how safe the building where you live or work is if a mega-earthquake occurs? My research aims to investigate how vulnerable reinforced concrete wall buildings are and propose alternatives for damage control through seismic protection devices.

Why did you choose this field?

After the 2016 Pedernales (Ecuador) earthquake reinforced concrete buildings presented bad seismic performance, some collapsed or suffered severe damage. Significant economic losses and fatalities occurred associated with this poor seismic performance. This fact motivates me to investigate vulnerability and damage control of this type of buildings that is commonly used in seismic countries.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I was born in a tiny town located in one small but beautiful country in the middle of the world, ECUADOR. When I was a child, I dreamed of studying abroad and becoming a university professor and researcher. In Chile, I found an excellent opportunity to start making this dream come true. I traveled with a suitcase full of dreams, and I have learned more than I would have ever imagined on an academic and personal level. During my studies, I have had several academic achievements; I was awarded several scholarships and assistantships for my performance as a graduate TA. Today, I'm doing my dual degree studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, and I also received financial support as a TA for doing it. I feel reality overcomes my dreams.

Why do you love working in STEM?

My main motivation to pursue doctoral studies in Engineering Sciences was my vocation for teaching, which has been ratified by my experience as an undergraduate and graduate teaching assistant. I hope that someday I can have a job serving as a University professor. I am also interested in continuing to research in the field of earthquake engineering. The continuous experience of earthquakes in many seismic regions in the United States, Chile, my home country, Ecuador, among others, requires high-level scientific research. I firmly believe that while we cannot prevent natural disasters like earthquakes, we can avoid their fatal impacts on buildings. It is possible to build secure structures not only to save money but also to save lives.

Best advice for next generation?

Girls and women must recognize that we have the same skills as men in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Science has no gender; science belongs to everyone in search of a common good. A woman with passion and commitment can face challenges in STEM areas successfully; the first step is to decide to do so. Determination and perseverance overcome fears and obstacles. We are powerful and more capable than we imagine.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“You’re doing better than you think you are.”

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