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SDSU civil engineering students named nation’s best chapter

ASCE Halloween food drive
Members of the American Society of Civil Engineering chapter at South Dakota State University pose by some of the 408 pounds of food collected on Halloween 2021 for the Brookings Food Pantry. Such community service work helped the group to be named the top ASCE chapter in the nation. Pictured, standing, from left, Cody Christensen, Stasia Norris, Spencer Gilk and Natalie Poppens. Kneeling, from left, Erik Thompson, Rachel Zook, AJ Peters and Peyton Bern.

For the third time in its history, the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter at South Dakota State University has been named the top chapter in the nation.

There are 407 student chapter in the American Society of Civil Engineering, which is the nation’s oldest engineering society.

“The Ridgway is the pinnacle of ASCE awards. I am extremely proud of our students. They earned it and are well deserving of this achievement. This group of students has left their mark on SDSU history by adding another 'feather to the cap' of the ASCE student chapter,” said Zach Gutzmer, who has served as club adviser since 2011.

Gutzmer, who earned his bachelor’s degree at State in 2006, was a student member the last time SDSU won the Robert Ridgway Student Chapter Award for having the nation’s single most outstanding chapter. That was in 2004. SDSU also won the award in 1999.

The award is based on the accumulation of club activities during the calendar year. It includes documenting such things as community service and volunteer work, student membership and participation in club meetings and activities, and engineering outreach.

Current president Rachel Zook said, “My jaw dropped,” when she learned from Gutzmer the chapter won the Ridgway Award. The club frequently has been named the top chapter in Region 7, which covers 23 schools stretching from Colorado to Missouri and South Dakota to Kansas, including the last two years.

Rajesh Kavasseri, interim dean in Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering, said, “This is fantastic and speaks to the club’s dedication and commitment to excellence.”

Zook, a senior civil and environmental engineering major from Omaha, Nebraska, said, “We had really involved officers and students. Coming off the COVID year, students were wanting to get back to being active.”

ASCE officers serve calendar-year, rather than academic-year, terms. So in 2021, Spencer Gilk, of Redwood Falls, Minnesota, was president with Zook as vice president.

Other officers were Natalie Poppens, treasurer; Erik Thompson, corresponding secretary;  Izzat Halim, recording secretary; Peyton Bern, community service chair; Jacob Will, recruitment chair; Paris Marcy, Joint Engineering Council representative; Anthony Peters, safety officer; Noah Buseman, sophomore representative; and Paul Christensen, freshman representative.

As vice president, Zook was responsible for preparing and submitting the club’s annual report. She took her duties seriously, taking notes and photographs at club activities as well as editing and compiling reports from other officers. She also compiled a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation detailing with how the club’s goals were met.

One activity added in 2021 was a wood bridge building contest for middle school and high school students, who use balsa to create a 17-inch long by 4-inch high and 4-inch wide bridge. They were mailed in and then judged aesthetically and loaded to the point of failure. There were 10 two-person entries in 2021 and 27 in 2022, Gutzmer said.

“It is an opportunity to instill civil engineering at middle schools and high schools,” Zook said.

Other activities in 2021 include resuming the October alumni golf tournament, which attracted 14 students and 15 alumni, and continuing its November food collection drive from Brookings residents, which resulted in a donation of 408 pounds to the Brookings Food Pantry. The club also helps with Habitat for Humanity and Junior and Senior Day hosted by SDSU Admissions as well as directing traffic during the Hobo Day 5K.

With about 85 members, it is the largest engineering chapter on campus and one of the largest in any college.

Because the school year ended before the award notice was received, a national officer from the American Society of Civil Engineering will make the award presentation at a fall meeting.