Outstanding Collegiate Member

Isabell Chavez

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

For academic excellence that embraces the pursuit and mastery of technical challenges; and for encouraging others to engage in educational outreach through SWE, on campus, and in her community.

Isabell Theresa Chavez is a young professional beginning her engineering career with ZFA Structural Engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned a B.S. in civil engineering and recently completed an M.S. in civil and environmental engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly).

Chavez has made long strides in the technical side of her civil engineering career. In her two internships with multidiscipline engineering firms KPFF and ZFA Structural Engineers, she applied her classroom learnings first to create complex finite element models for structural steel in buildings and then to detail the steel elements of a large art sculpture. She enhanced her time and project management skills, earning an engineer-in-training certification.

Chavez served as a graduate student advisor for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter at Cal Poly, where she helped answer questions and provided suggestions to the officer board to further the organization’s goals. She is one of three recipients of the 2023 ASCE Los Angeles Young Member Forum Outstanding Graduate Award, a scholarship that allowed her to continue her studies and engage in coursework such as finite element modeling and nonlinear analysis.

Originally from Los Angeles, Chavez is dedicated to providing mentorship, educational outreach, and career development opportunities to others. Inspired in high school by her civil engineering mentors in the ACE (architecture, construction, engineering) Mentor Program of America, she loves teaching and making engineering-centric curricula accessible to students with few opportunities to explore STEM, which drives her to pursue many outreach opportunities at Cal Poly and in the community. She joined and began volunteering with the Society of Women Engineers Cal Poly Collegiate Section subcommittees in 2018 for events such as Building an Engineer Day, which involved coordinating activities for 200 middle school students; and Fourth Grade Days, which reached more than 4,000 elementary school students. She has also served as a SWE Pen Pal coordinator, pairing Cal Poly students with a SWENext student from one of the 14 area high schools.

These roles prepared her to serve as vice president of community service for her ASCE student chapter during the 2019–2020 school year, where she continued to support SWE through interclub events and created the Civil Engineering Workshop Series to make engineering activities accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, Chavez and another civil engineering student worked with Cal Poly faculty advisor Helene Finger, P.E., on a grant to extend the Bob Jones Bike Trail into underserved communities. With their survey efforts, they created a compelling statement to receive grant approval and were recognized by the county board of supervisors and other state officials, receiving the Significant Contribution – Student Team Award.

In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading historical fiction, and spending time with friends and family.