This Civil Engineering Student Has Taken His Studies To Washington, D.C., London, Los Angeles, and Beyond
How often do you think about the intricacies of the building you work in – or the road you drive on every day? Civil engineering student Todd Wagner ’26 does the thinking so you don’t have to. As only a second-semester sophomore, Todd has already made great strides to build and protect the infrastructure of our everyday lives, including attending the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Todd’s fascination with how things work started the old-fashioned way: with LEGO bricks. From there, he moved on to model planes – and now he transforms engineering models into reality at Valpo and beyond. Todd’s passion for building has always been there, but so has an honorable mission. “Civil engineering is a service that lends itself directly to the people. When you look at the depth of civil engineering, everything that we design and build is directly affecting people’s daily lives whether they know it or not,” he explains. “It’s their transportation, the building they work in, the house they live in, and even the river they walk alongside at leisure time – it’s all designed by a civil engineer. It’s the study of everything, and I love how it’s a direct service to the people. I love serving people, and doing something greater than myself is probably the best feeling ever.”
After hearing about Valpo’s reputation for turning out successful engineers, Todd’s passion led him here – and far from home. Between attending a massive national conference in Los Angeles for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and studying abroad with a handful of other engineering students in London, Todd hasn’t wasted any time getting his foot in the door. Most recently, Todd accompanied Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Jay Grossman, Ph.D., P.E., and two other students to the nation’s capital for the Transportation Research Board annual meeting – the world’s largest transportation research conference in the world, attracting thousands of professionals from across the globe.
“It was my first time going to a transportation conference – or any conference – just like that. There were 20,000 people there, and a lot of them were industry professionals. I had to be the youngest person in the room,” Todd says. “I went from being a college student to being in the real world. This is what people do for a living.”
The symposium was packed with informational conferences, networking possibilities, and countless learning opportunities. Todd saw United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and the author of one of his transportation textbooks, met some of the people from the Indiana Department of Transportation, and networked with other engineering students from across the country. (It’s safe to say he had lots of new LinkedIn connections afterward!)
“I never knew what hyper-focused field transportation was, like the structures that hold up a train track or the runway of the airport. There are environmental impacts and social impacts and politics…And there’s no one way of doing something. There are always debates on how something should be working,” Todd shares. “The conference was super broad and opened my eyes to a whole new world and the million things that go into it.”
Of course, Todd’s trip to Washington, D.C. wasn’t all work and no play – no matter how fun the work was. After a day of travel and a day of conferences, the group explored all that Washington, D.C. has to offer: the Washington Monument, the District of Columbia War Memorial, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Archives Museum (Todd’s favorite) – where he got to spend a few minutes alone with the U.S. Constitution.
The itinerary was planned by Professor Grossman, who always ensures that students get the most experience out of every trip. “He cares so much. I’m never afraid to ask him a question, whether that’s about class, an internship, or just for advice – and he always has an answer,” Todd praises. Washington, D.C. isn’t the first trip he’s been on with Professor Grossman; Todd also accompanied him to the United Kingdom, where the students spent two weeks studying under engineering firm WSP, as well as worked with him to complete surveys and computer-aided design (CAD) projects around campus. “He’s so willing to go completely out of his way to make sure his students’ experiences are the best they can be. He’s a phenomenal professor and an even better person,” Todd exclaims.
For Todd, getting to attend this massive conference is a reflection of Valpo’s College of Engineering as a whole. No matter how far a student is into their college walk, there are opportunities at every turn. “I’m very fortunate for Valpo’s engineering program. I love it here. There’s so much opportunity, and all you have to do is put in a little effort,” Todd says, “If you want to go research things and really put full effort into your education – not just trying in your classes, but also in the social scenes for networking and meeting new people – you’ll open a door to an entire world of opportunity.”
That’s the advice Todd offers any incoming freshman with their heart set on engineering: “Step out of your shell. Try everything – see what you like and what you don’t like,” Todd encourages. That same mindset has led him to embrace Beacon life as vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, secretary of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), alumni chair for our Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and treasurer of the swim club. He’s also won the Freshman of the Year Engineering Award – a feat to be proud of.
With a taste of CAD, infrastructure, and transportation under his belt, Todd has his sights for the future set on something even more prevalent in global society: water. “The dream job I’ve been thinking a lot about is coastal infrastructure, especially with climate change. Higher sea levels mean more waves are going to be crashing into our structures,” Todd explains. “In the 1950s, engineers could construct a road or building without considering an insane temperature change and extreme weather. Both have put a lot of stress on our infrastructure. Everything we build now is going to be affected so much more.” His dreams are a reflection of Todd’s passion and the selflessness of civil engineering.