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College of Engineering and Computing

  • Civil and Environmental Engineering alum Grace Porter, '18

Alumni Q&A: Grace Porter

Photo: Grace Porter receives the  South Carolina Young Civil Engineer of the Year Award from fellow USC alum Ryan Harvey, '01, president of the ASCE South Carolina Section. 

Earlier this year, College of Engineering and Computing alumna Grace Porter was named the South Carolina Young Civil Engineer of the Year by the South Carolina chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The annual award is bestowed to an ASCE member under age 35 who has demonstrated the most outstanding contribution to the civil engineering profession in South Carolina. Porter graduated in 2018 with a degree in civil engineering and is a transportation design engineer in the Columbia office of AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm.

What does receiving the South Carolina Young Civil Engineer of the Year award mean to you?

I was quite surprised to learn I had received it. Unbeknownst to me, my boss had taken the time to nominate me, and I was actually on the phone with him when I received the email that I had been selected. He experienced my unfiltered joyous reaction, and I am so humbled and extremely honored that my personal investment in the local industry has been recognized in such a public manner. I had to read the award letter three times because I couldn’t believe it. I’m so thankful to have such a supportive boss and mentor. 

You graduated from the University of South Carolina’s Honors College. Why did you decide to attend USC?

I grew up in Columbia and my father works for the university, so I spent a lot of time on campus as a child. It felt like home before I even got here. Each of my siblings attended USC as well. Between the scholarship opportunities and programs offered by the engineering department, as well as the good relationships with staff and faculty that I had already started to grow, it was an easy yes for me.

What professor or mentor had a big impact on your educational path?

Dr. (Nicole) Berge and Dr. (Charles) Pierce in particular were both mentors to me. They said yes to a freshman civil engineer joining their research team. Five students were accepted to the team, and I was the only freshman. This experience jump-started my career as it helped me develop my interests. There was a lot of mystery in research, but it made me realize I wanted a more structured career in industry. It was a blessing to have them say yes, and this experience led to my first internship with a local company.

I was Grace’s mentor while she was in the First-Year Scholars program. During her freshman year, some colleagues and I had a grant funded by the National Science Foundation to provide research experiences for undergraduate students. Grace was selected to participate, and her drive, curiosity, and passion for her studies were big reasons why she was selected and excelled during research experiences.

- Nicole Berge, associate professor, civil and environmental engineering

In what other ways did your college experience prepare you for your professional accomplishments?

USC includes environmental engineering courses in their civil engineering program, and I was thankful to experience both. It gave me a well-rounded college experience. I learned so much from my transportation professor, Dr. Nathan Huynh, and [adjunct professor] Susan Ruinen, who inspired me in the way she balances her career with family. The expertise and wisdom she brought to the classroom were key in my decision to go into transportation, and she is still a mentor to me today.

What do you enjoy most about the transportation area of the civil engineering field? 

In college, transportation was the civil engineering discipline that I grew to love the most. Each of the roadway improvement projects I’ve helped design at AECOM are in this state, and as a native South Carolinian, it has been a blessing to be able to see these local projects as I drive over them every day. It’s an honor to be able to make a positive difference in our state’s infrastructure.

You are deeply rooted in community service. What does service mean to you?

I find so much joy in seeing other people happy. My job is hands-on—I’m improving the infrastructure of our state and can see the results. But most projects take years to complete. Community service is an immediate, hands-on way to make a difference.

What work are you involved in for ASCE and other community groups?

I am vice president of the Midlands chapter of ASCE and represent AECOM on the Central SC Committee of 100, which is a volunteer marketing group that promotes economic growth and development in the Midlands. I attend meetings for the local chapter of Women Transportation Seminar (WTS), which strives to enhance the growth of women in transportation. Once my term on the ASCE board is up, I hope to get more involved with the local WTS chapter. As a younger member of the American Council of Engineering Companies of South Carolina (ACEC SC), an organization that focuses on advocating for the interests of the engineering community, I hope to eventually grow into a leadership role there as well.

What have you done in the role of a mentor?

I enjoy educating students on what they can do with an engineering career. I’ve assisted with the Odyssey of the Mind competition, where young students use their own creativity to solve unique problems, and the Kershaw County School District’s Rosie the Riveter event, which educates students on the accomplishments of women in engineering and introduces them to a variety of disciplines through hands on activities. 

Why is it important to get young students involved in engineering?

It’s important that we educate them on the value that engineers can bring to society. They can use their creative thinking and problem-solving skills to improve so many areas of life. I have mentored senior design teams at USC because as an industry professional, I think it’s important to be involved in the education of future engineers. Getting involved in their Capstone design project is a great way to do that as they work through projects that represent real-world issues that engineering design teams are presently working to address. 

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