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SDSU named nation’s top civil engineering student chapter for third straight year

2023 officers for ASCE
Officers for the SDSU chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gather at the April 23 Engineering Banquet with department head Nadim Wehbe. Pictured, back row, from left, are Wehbe, Ryan Borris, recruitment chair; Cody Christensen, corresponding secretary; Alex Foley, Joint Engineering Council representative; and Anthony Peters, president.
Front row, Rana Hegg, sophomore representative; Brett Hatch, vice president; Siri Vagle, community outreach; Claire Mooney, freshman representative; Elizabeth Weber, recording secretary; and Natalie Poppens, treasurer.

For the third year in a row, the award for the best student chapter of civil engineering students went to South Dakota State University.

The Robert Ridgway Student Chapter Award is presented by the American Society of Civil Engineers to the top chapter nationwide. On April 18, adviser Zach Gutzmer learned that the SDSU chapter was tops among 416 student chapters nationwide and 26 foreign countries. Before its 2022-2024 streak, SDSU also won the award in 1999 and 2004.

SDSU becomes the first chapter to three-peat since Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo won the award in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In the 58-year history of the award, only three schools have won three consecutive titles.

In addition to the plaque, the Ridgway Award comes with a $5,000 cash award.

The current award is based on activities and accomplishments in calendar year 2023. Submissions were due Feb. 1

Anthony Peters, a senior who served as president during 2023, said winning the Ridgway Award has become an unspoken goal for the chapter. The drive to win again is especially felt by the officers, he said. “Each year you’re elected into a bigger role. I wanted to reach the same level of success the people before me did.”

Peters, of Madison, served as corresponding secretary in 2022. The current president is Elizabeth Weber, of Mitchell.


Community service a major criteria

Brett Hatch, 2023 vice president, said part of what helps set SDSU apart from its peers is the number of outreach activities undertaken by the chapter and its diligence to document them. 

Among the activities are working at a Habitat for Humanity building site each semester, organizing a blood drive each semester, helping with the admission department’s high school junior and senior day recruiting events as well as volunteering for community service events such as food drives and supporting road races.

It is the duty of the vice president to complete the forms for the Ridgway Award, which entails keeping good records throughout the year.

“We’ve found a system that works, and it is kind of habit at this point. It’s not as much work to put it together,” said Hatch, of Waukee, Iowa. Event organizers are responsible for submitting reports and updating a spreadsheet, she said. That includes everything from the twice-monthly business meetings to its fall fundraising golf tournament.


Consistency, dedication equals success

Another criteria is membership. With 70 members, the American Society of Civil Engineers is the largest engineering organization on campus, and it averages 53 members at its meetings.

Gutzmer, a 2006 SDSU grad and now a lecturer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has served as adviser since 2011. He said numerous reasons can be cited for the chapter’s continual success, not the least of which is the tradition laid by past advisers Rich Reid (2005-2010) and Chuck Tiltrum (1982-2005) and a group of students committed to excellence.

He added, “We have had many dedicated student officers that have served several consecutive terms. Very few students across the nation can say they were part of the top ASCE officer team once in their collegiate career, but several SDSU students have the distinction of being part of the top group for multiple years.  

“Their ability to keep the leadership momentum has been critical to the chapter’s success. The initial goal was winning one Ridgway, but twice and now thrice, is pretty nice."


Gutzmer draws praise from students

Peters and Hatch also had high praise for their adviser.

Hatch said, “Gutzmer is a lot of the reason this chapter is so successful. We have people who have been here for three years, but it’s only in your sophomore or junior year that you’re really involved and by the second semester of your senior year your term is over.  Zach provides a consistency some other chapters lack.”

Peters said, “The Ridgway success definitely benefits from the things Gutzmer has done and cultivated, such as weekly officer meetings to create a standard and keep us on task.”

The task of hanging the next Ridgway plaque will go to the 2024 officer corps. A presentation is expected in the fall during a visit by national association president Marsia Geldert-Murphey, who is a 1992 SDSU graduate.

  The 2023 officers were Anthony Peters, president, Madison; Brett Hatch, vice president, Waukee, Iowa; Natalie Poppens, treasurer, Sioux Falls; Cody Christensen, corresponding secretary, Harlan, Iowa; Elizabeth Weber, recording secretary, Mitchell; Ryan Borris, recruitment chair, Miltona, Minnesota; Siri Vagle, community outreach, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota; Alex Foley, Joint Engineering Council, Sioux Falls; Rana Hegg, sophomore representative, Webster; and Claire Mooney, freshman representative, Yankton.