Stevens Graduating Senior Globally Recognized by ASCE as 20 "New Faces of Civil Engineering"
Yanqing Liang '22 overcomes obstacles, experiences cooperative education and builds support systems and mentorship for current and future students
During the two days of Stevens' 2022 Commencement ceremonies in May, inspiring stories abound.
And one of the most inspiring is that of graduating senior Yanqing Liang '22, who has attracted national — and even global — attention as a promising young civil engineer. In early 2022 Liang was recognized by American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as one of its 20 "New Faces of Civil Engineering" in the entire world, the first time a Stevens student has ever received the prestigious annual honor.
"Sometimes I don't know how I managed to overcome everything and keep focused," she recalls. "But Stevens was the best place for my college education, and I'm really grateful for my experiences here."
Overcoming challenges, pursuing experiential education
Liang's family emigrated from China to New Jersey when she was 4 years old.
Tragedy struck, however, during her second-grade year of elementary school when she lost her father suddenly to cancer. Soon her mother also developed cancer. With treatment, she was able to recover for a time; sadly, however, Liang lost her mother to cancer during her first year of junior high school.
With two younger sisters to care for, she turned her focus to school studies and extracurricular activities.
"I probably overloaded myself a little, as a coping mechanism," says Liang now.
Liang was recently recognized by ASCE as one of 10 university students in the world as a 'New Face of Civil Engineering.'
But that hard work also paid dividends: she graduated at the top of her class, valedictorian of her New Jersey high school.
Gifted in STEM, and with a world of college options before her, Liang settled upon Stevens for its strong engineering programs, guaranteed return on investment and convenient location one hour by public transit from her hometown.
"I knew I would want to get home often, so this was sort of the best of both worlds," she recalls. "The ROI was also so important to me personally. You want to get value for the tuition you are paying for."
Early in her Stevens career, Liang began to focus on civil engineering as a "helping" field where she could apply her engineering studies to everyday problems. Toward that end, she decided to pursue a five-year program rich in cooperative education and a summer work-study opportunity (including a project with the city of Hoboken as a sustainability intern).
One of those co-op stints was a position at the Newark, New Jersey engineering firm Michael Baker International as a water-resources intern — and that position turned out to be a perfect fit.
"I enjoyed it so much that I returned a semester later," says Liang, who would eventually take on a part-time position with the company and receive a full-time job post-graduation offer that she has already accepted.
Local community outreach — and global recognition
As she moved through her Stevens years, Liang became increasingly involved in campus life, including participation in student clubs and the Castle Point Anime Convention's managing organization.
"I also joined the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), moving up eventually to the role of vice president," she explains. "Later I decided I wanted to do something broader, to help more students and develop further mentorship for my peers and for younger students looking for guidance."
So Liang teamed up with Stevens civil engineering professor Leslie Brunell, P.E. to help revive the university's student chapter of the ASCE, which was then in jeopardy of losing its charter. Liang served as vice president and then president of the chapter, building current membership back to more than 50 members on campus.
Under her leadership, the chapter now operates a busy program of panels, STEM competitions and other mentorship activities on campus, including participating in new-student orientations.
Liang also initiated new community outreach initiatives by the Stevens chapter members such as the creation and delivery of holiday cards for children in local hospitals and the assembling and donation of toiletry kits to a local teen shelter.
"She has an incredible work ethic; she's conscientious and reliable; she never wants to take more than her share of credit. And she's very forthright," says Brunell. "Just a spectacular student, and ASCE obviously agreed — they selected her as one of just ten college students in the entire world to spotlight. We're really going to miss her when she graduates and begins her professional career."
Now, as Commencement nears, she is completing her graduate certificate in water resources engineering as well as her senior design project.
"Our six-member team has proposed a stormwater design for a new residential and retail property being built in uptown Hoboken," she explains. "The design we developed includes stormwater overflow mitigation measures such as a rooftop garden, bioretention planters and underground storage areas that drain, store and route the stormwater.
"This is somewhat different from what I will be working on professionally once I graduate, so it has been interesting and educational to work on this project. I'm learning a lot."
Mentorship and memories
After graduation, Liang will begin working full-time for Michael Baker International and continue operating a blossoming craft business making and selling whimsical earrings, charms and other jewelry through the Etsy storefront platform.
She also plans to develop new mentorship and scholarships programs and opportunities for New Jersey high school girls interested in STEM educations, as well.
"I think it is comforting for younger students, particularly girls, to see someone like them already here as a kind of role model," says Liang. "College isn't always easy. We need friends, mentors, a community around us."
She vows to return to campus when possible.
"Getting to know Stevens, spending time with students and professors here, has been the best part," says Liang, summing her years on Castle Point. "I will definitely miss it, but I am sure I'll be back."