Terracon Foundation scholarships empower future engineers

Consulting company supports ASU civil engineering students

September 1, 2023

Engineering is a field that drives innovation and shapes our world. To help ensure the development and training of students who will build and support the communities of tomorrow, it is essential to invest in the education and development of Arizona State University’s future engineers.

The Terracon Foundation, the community investment branch of the employee-owned engineering consulting firm Terracon, is establishing a scholarship to support civil engineering students. Members of the Terracon Foundation, the ASU Foundation and Professor Ram Pendyala standing at the top of a staircase holding a large check. A sign in the background reads "Thank you Terracon!" Members of Terracon, the Arizona State University Foundation and ASU Professor Ram Pendyala celebrate the awarding of the foundation's scholarships to support engineering students pursuing graduate or undergraduate degrees in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

“Terracon is a leading company in the civil and geotechnical engineering domains undertaking complex infrastructure projects that benefit communities nationwide,” says Ram Pendyala, a professor of civil engineering and director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. “The company's commitment to advancing the workforce of the future is exemplified through their generous donation toward student scholarships. We are very grateful for the support and look forward to working together to grow an outstanding pipeline of talent that will serve the industry for years to come.”

Terracon's commitment to engineering education has been demonstrated through its involvement in various ASU organizations and initiatives, including the Friends of Civil and Environmental Engineering, or FOCE2, and the Arizona Pavements/Materials Conference. In addition, the firm recruits ASU students into its workforce, exemplifying its dedication to the Arizona engineering community.

“The true value lies in the unconditional support that Terracon and its employees provide for interns and students who are working on class projects necessary to complete their degree requirements,” says Kamil Kaloush, civil engineering program chair and professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “They participate in our classes as guest lecturers, provide speakers for engineering seminars and support our engineering student organizations' chapters.”

The Terracon Foundation Scholarship provides financial support to engineering students pursuing graduate or undergraduate degrees in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering. While scholarships have always been an essential means of helping students overcome financial barriers to education, industry collaborations with companies like Terracon also create opportunities for students to gain professional experience and industry knowledge.

Terracon Executive Vice President Tim Anderson, who is a 1987 ASU alum, says the scholarships can provide valuable opportunities for students with a company that is one of the largest in the country, with more than 6,000 employees in 175 locations. The company is consistently ranked as a top 25 design firm by Engineering News-Record.

“We're the No. 1 employee-owned firm in geotechnical engineering in the U.S. and do a wide variety of engineering consultations,” Anderson says.

The company’s motivation for creating this scholarship is to increase the number of professionals in the field.

“We want to drive more people into engineering. We want to help increase the number of people in the pipeline not only for our firm but all engineering firms," Anderson says. "ASU is an excellent place for students to learn. It's a great location with great faculty. Just looking at the changes since I graduated, it's pretty impressive.”

Terracon’s scholarship program seeks to attract students who have specific interests in geotechnical and pavement engineering, two crucial disciplines that play a major role in shaping modern infrastructure.

“There is a real demand for geotechnical engineers,” says Brent Borchers, a regional manager at Terracon. “We are constantly looking for people to fill our geotechnical civil engineering roles because we don't have enough. It’s important for us to support quality engineers coming out of these programs at ASU.”

Meet the students

This year, three students with exceptional academic potential in the field of civil engineering are recipients of the Terracon Foundation Scholarship: Samuel Montano, Abby Noël and Aiden Vital.

Vital, a junior at ASU, says the scholarship will allow him to focus on his studies, take part in meaningful research projects and participate in activities that will enrich his learning experience.

“I was born and raised right here in Arizona and am very community-oriented,” Vital says. “So engineering at ASU was an easy choice for me.”

Noël, a sophomore in Barrett, The Honors College, says that the scholarship is an investment in her education, enabling her to focus on her studies and career.

“I look forward to continuing my studies in the fall to follow my pursuit of becoming a civil engineer who makes a difference in their community,” Noël says.

Montano, a student in the honors college, plans to use the scholarship to pursue his bachelor’s degree and graduate summa cum laude, saying the award motivates him to continue his education and take on more activities at ASU.

“I plan to become a professional engineer and eventually become a practice-builder where I lead projects for clients around the Valley,” Montano says.

Beyond scholarships, the company encourages its employees to request grants to support organizations focused on education as well as the built and natural environments. To date, the Terracon Foundation has awarded nearly $4 million in grants to community organizations, universities, dependents of employees and disaster relief efforts.

Bobbi Ramirez

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU professor receives innovation award to accelerate research on healthy online relationships

September 1, 2023

At what age should adolescents be on social media platforms?

Parents have grappled with this question for years, worrying about the impact these platforms may be having on their children’s emotional well-being.  Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Joris Van Ouytsel. Assistant Professor Joris Van Ouytsel received the 2023 Hugh Downs School Faculty Innovation Award. Download Full Image

The concern is genuine, according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who recently warned that social media presents a “profound risk” for the mental health of adolescents and teens. 

Murthy says 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms, and that this health risk needs to be addressed “immediately.”

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Joris Van Ouytsel, who studies digital interpersonal communication at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, says banning children 13 and under from social media might not be realistic for some parents and is also difficult to enforce.

“Social media has its risks to adolescents, to be sure, but it also provides them with opportunities to develop their sense of self,” he says.

Van Ouytsel adds that “surprisingly little research has been dedicated to developing evidence-based educational initiatives that can teach them to cope with the challenges that digital media create.”

To that end, he has focused his research on ways we can foster positive digital interactions and opportunities while keeping individuals safe from online harm, abuse and violence, especially vulnerable populations.

As the recipient of the 2023 Hugh Downs School Faculty Innovation Award, he is currently investigating innovative ways to educate young people on healthy online relationships.

He will receive $4,500 a year for two years. He plans to conduct a needs assessment among teenagers, educators and experts in adolescent development and media literacy — including psychologists, pediatricians, sociologists and teachers  to create an educational resource for safer online communication.   

The award was established in 2020 in memory of Hugh Downs by his son, Hugh “H.R.” Downs; his daughter, Deirdre Downs; and his grandson, Cameron Black. Hugh Downs, for whom the ASU School of Human Communication was named, was best known as an Emmy Award-winning American broadcaster, author, host and founding voice in modern American media. He died on July 1, 2020, at the age of 99.

“Professor Van Ouytsel is well known for his pioneering research on the influence of digital media on relationship experiences,” said Sarah Tracy, professor and director of the Hugh Downs School.  

“In addition to publishing in numerous academic journals, he is associate editor of the highly regarded journal Personal Relationships. His work has also been featured in popular press outlets such as Newsweek, The Economist and The Atlantic. His research on relational communication and technology is pivotal for understanding how technology changes friendships and romantic relationships."

One area in which Van Ouytsel continues to work is digital forms of control within romantic relationships. “Technological gadgets, such as smartphones, make it increasingly easier to abuse, control, stalk and harass your loved ones,” he said. “Young teens don’t always understand the severity of these behaviors. They sometimes think that their extremely controlling behavior is OK.”

In a study that was published last year, Van Ouytsel also examined the pressures that teenagers experience within their friendships.

Many teenagers experience digital stress because they are permanently online, which often is accompanied by the perceived pressure to immediately respond to messages.

Van Ouytsel says, “When teenagers don’t respond to messages promptly, they can get in trouble with their friends. They try to avoid conflict by reacting quickly, especially within their close friendships. Many of our study participants called this ‘digital stress.’ Other causes of digital pressure are the ‘blue ticks’ and the ‘seen’ function on social media, which indicate whether a message has been read. Some participants would go as far as what they called ‘stalking’ their friends by repeatedly sending question marks or new messages in the hope of getting a response.”

Van Ouytsel recommends parents have an ongoing conversation with their children, rather than trying to restrict their media use.  

“You can use a news report about technology as a way to start a conversation with your teenager,” he said. “After that, you can ask casually whether it has happened to their friends, for example. These discussions can focus on creating healthy expectations around media use within relationships and teaching young people practical skills on how to keep themselves safe online."

“And emphasize that your child can always come to you when something happens,” he adds. “Don't scare them by threatening that you will take their smartphones away or that you’ll limit their internet use, because then they will remain silent and (that) will make them particularly vulnerable to potential extortion. And by using your own life experience, you can already teach them valuable lessons.”

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication