Double major Anthony "TJ" Cook finds wide horizons at ASU at Lake Havasu City

May 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Anthony “TJ” Cook headed just a few hours down the interstate to attend college at ASU at Lake Havasu City, but he found that it opened up a whole new world. TJ, ASU Havasu graduate Anthony "TJ" Cook displays "forks up" at Lake Havasu City's famous London Bridge. Download Full Image

“During my time at ASU, I was able to meet people from all over the world, and it surprised me how different their experiences were compared to my own,” said Cook, who hails from Victorville, California. “I loved talking to people about their hometowns, what languages they spoke and what they were passionate about. My experience at ASU changed my perspective about the world in general and made me realize that we are all part of a global community. 

In his four years at ASU at Lake Havasu City, Cook accomplished quite a lot, including double-majoring in political science and organizational leadership, receiving multiple Pitchfork Awards as part of various organizations, interning with the mayor and serving leadership positions for nearly every club on campus. He also worked as a resident assistant, where he created opportunities for students to connect with one another.

Cook shared more about his time at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I realized I wanted to study political science during the 2016 presidential election. At that time I was a senior in high school and had no real interest in politics. However, the election was dominating the news, my classrooms and my home life. As I became more invested in the election, I realized that I wanted to study the political process. 

I did not realize I wanted to study organizational leadership until I was in OGL 240, which was an Intro to Project Management course. During this course, we worked together as a class to sponsor an event for foster families. We learned the basics of project management and used what we learned to plan out our event. I found that I really enjoyed the project management process and decided to explore what else the organizational leadership degree program had.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its affordability and closeness to home. I was able to have the full college experience without having to worry too much about my finances.  However, I stayed with ASU because of the wonderful people I have met along the way.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. (Cristen) Mann taught me the importance of being active within the ASU and Lake Havasu community. Through her classes and mentorship, I was able to be active in projects that helped both communities. Specifically, our Swing Into Spring and database project allowed me to take pride in helping others! 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice is to try to be as active as you can on campus. Being active on campus helps you professionally, personally, and builds a sense of community with your fellow Sun Devils! 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends, or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus was the balcony of the student center at night. It was a very peaceful place to study for exams, or just for looking up at the stars. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After I graduate, I will be moving back to California to begin searching for a new adventure! 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would like to use this money to expedite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to underdeveloped countries. At the current rate of vaccine distribution, some countries would not be able to vaccinate their populations for several years. This funding and the cooperation of the global economy should improve the availability of vaccines for these countries.

Community Outreach Specialist, Lake Havasu City Programs

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Rising in stature

May 19, 2021

ASU engineering prof's latest award bolsters his status as pioneering underground construction expert

Now more than two and half decades into his career, Samuel Ariaratnam has seen only a few of those years go by without an award or other notable recognition for his achievements as a construction engineering educator and innovator.

But the latest honor is special, he says, because “it’s a really tough one to win” for someone in his position — meaning a college professor.

Ariaratnam was recently named this year’s winner of the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, Stephen D. Bechtel Pipeline Engineering Award, making him only the sixth academic to receive the accolade in the 50 years it has been presented.

“I’m especially honored because some of those who have won this are very famous people who have developed design equations that have advanced the field or have done some amazing projects,” said Ariaratnam, a professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

Ariaratnam is among the leading experts in the development of trenchless construction methods and technologies used in underground construction. He is particularly prominent in the area of horizontal directional drilling, which enables subterranean building and installation to be done with minimal disturbance to the surface.

For years, he has been working with contractors, public agencies and construction manufacturers on how to best engineer ways to do underground installation of oil, gas and electrical lines, water infrastructure and other public utility systems without eroding fragile landscapes, digging up or shutting down roadways or disrupting busy urban core areas.

“Sam is a pioneering researcher and a leading influential voice on noninvasive, sustainable and cost-effective methods for advancing underground infrastructure development,” said Professor Ram Pendyala, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the six Fulton Schools, in which Ariaratnam chairs the construction engineering program.

Pendyala says Ariaratnam’s contributions to the field have been “enormously impactful” and deserving of “the worldwide recognition he has earned as an outstanding scholar, educator, mentor and leader in the construction profession.”

ASU engineering professor Samual Ariaratnam at construction site

As chair of the construction engineering program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, Professor Samuel Ariaratnam’s professional goals include educating the next generation of underground construction engineering experts. Photo courtesy of Samuel Ariaratnam

Extensive range of contributions to his field

That assessment of his accomplishments is backed up by Ariaratnam’s long list of impressive titles and positions, including being a member of the National Academy of Construction, or NAC, a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering, a past chairman of the International Society for Trenchless Technology, or ISTT, and the 2012 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year.

Ariaratnam is also a past chairman of both the ASCE Pipelines Division and a recipient of the ASCE John O. Bickel Award, Arthur M. Wellington Prize and Pipeline Division Award of Excellence. He was elected as an ASCE Fellow in 2015.

He received the prestigious ISTT Gold Medal in 2019 and was recently elected as a fellow of the ISTT.

He is a registered professional engineer in Arizona and Ontario, Canada. He is also vice director of the China-U.S. Joint Center for Trenchless Research and Development and a distinguished professor at the China University of Geosciences.

Ariaratnam holds several additional positions at ASU — where he has been for the past 20 years —including the Beavers-Ames Chair in Heavy Construction and a senior sustainability scientist in the university’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

Ariaratnam has co-authored eight books on trenchless construction, most notably “Horizontal Directional Drilling: Good Practices Guidelines,” with colleague David Bennett, a consulting engineer. First published in 2001, it has since been updated in three subsequent editions — and translated into Mandarin, Portuguese and French.

The book continues to be cited frequently, Ariaratnam says, and has been used as a guide for legislation in several states that sets standards for underground construction.

Expanding underground construction challenges

Ariaratnam was nominated for the ASCE award by George Edward "Edd" Gibson, a Fulton Schools professor and Sunstate Chair of Construction Management and Engineering.

“Sam is especially deserving of this award. His research and service activities have had profound impacts on pipeline construction around the world,” said Gibson, who is also an NAC member and a distinguished member of ASCE.

Ariaratnam foresees a growing need for even more innovation in the field and for skilled construction professionals to implement advances in trenchless construction and horizontal directional drilling.

The underground construction methods and techniques that have been developed to date may be sufficiently versatile for the moment, but they will need to be even more so, Ariaratnam says.

“Look at how much and in how many ways we are relying more heavily on things like the fiber optic networks that transmit information for our phones and televisions and the internet. We are going to need upgrades for them as demand grows,” Ariaratnam said. “We will need to adapt and advance drilling and construction methods to ensure these networks are secure and functioning at high efficiency.”

Ariaratnam is looking forward to contributing to those necessary improvements in the design, construction and operation of new kinds of underground infrastructure systems, including fiber optic networks.

Just as importantly, Ariaratnam says he also wants to bring knowledge of discoveries resulting from new research that is enabling those advances into the education of students in the Fulton Schools construction engineering program.

Among his foremost aspirations, he says, is to help provide the world with the next generation of construction engineers equipped with the skills to expand the boundaries of today’s underground construction and drilling capabilities.

Ariaratnam will deliver the Bechtel Lecture at the 2021 ASCE Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute Pipelines Conference on Aug. 5, to be held virtually.

Top photo: Professor Samuel Ariaratnam has earned an international reputation for his construction engineering expertise. He is pictured at a construction project site in China, where a pipe-jacking machine is in use. It’s one of the high-tech tools of the trade in the underground construction and drilling field. Ariaratnam recently won an award from the American Society of Civil Engineers for his achievements in pipeline construction engineering. Photo courtesy of Samuel Ariaratnam

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering