When she began her studies at NMSU, Theresa Aragon, civil engineering major, never imagined that she would one day receive a $40,000 annual grant from the National Science Foundation to support her research.
The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program is a prestigious fellowship awarded to students who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in the fields of science and engineering. GRFP provides three years of support to students.
Aragon will receive a $30,000 annual stipend, while another $10,500 is allocated for tuition and fees. This will allow her to focus her time and energy on her research. She is currently investigating the behavior of multi-story coupled walls using un-bonded post-tensioned precast concrete coupling beams under lateral loads.
"It has to do with the size and behavior of a structure and it's a lot of modeling on a computer," she explained. "Whenever [there is] an earthquake, buildings obviously move back and forth."
Aragon is working on using concrete materials that will help reposition the building to its original state. This research is an expansion of work done by her adviser, Brad Weldon, civil engineering assistant professor.
In his dissertation, Weldon conducted investigations for single-floor level structures, which demonstrated that the system offered many advantages for seismic regions.
Aragon's research focuses on multi-story walls. This research will aid in the advancement of seismic design tools and procedures for multistory concrete coupled wall structures under seismic loading.
The two are working together to expand their research with computer modeling of the coupled wall system, which will enable them to investigate how different design parameters affect the behavior.
This type of structural system is more applicable in high-risk areas such as the California region, but Aragon said it could be implemented anywhere.
"In New Mexico, we don't really think about earthquakes, but it's really important for civil engineering students to understand, because they're probably not just going to be working [here]," she added.
Before their work can be applied to real structures, Aragon said more results are needed.
"In order to get the best design, we would change different parameters. After we do that, we would expand it and include other elements that we didn't useâ€¦and use a different type of wall, other than concrete."
A recent NMSU civil engineering graduate now pursuing her master's, Aragon initially planned to study aerospace engineering.
After taking one of Weldon's courses, Aragon said she became infatuated with how structures are built, and decided to switch her major from aerospace to civil engineering.
"At that time, Theresa received funding through the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation to work as an undergraduate research assistant," said Weldon. "She continued to work for me the rest of her undergraduate career. She has really taken over the research project investigating seismic behavior of an innovative coupled wall system, and made it her own."
As an undergraduate assisting Weldon in his work, Aragon faced a few challenges.
"Some of the theoretical background required for parts of this research were not addressed in my undergraduate curriculum," she said. "So I had to do a thorough literature review, along with receiving a lot of assistance from Dr. Weldon."
"The challenges and triumphs that come with performing research excite me. I look forward to continuing on this project for my thesis," she said.
This summer, Weldon will attend the International Conference on Earthquake Engineering in China, at which he will present their research.
"A colleague of Dr. Weldon's from the University of Notre Dame - where Dr. Weldon received his Ph.D. - will be assisting us in our research efforts," said Aragon, adding that she, too, hopes to pursue her Ph.D.
In fall 2011, Aragon was chosen by the College of Engineering as Outstanding Senior. She is also a member of Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honor Society and the American Society of Civil Engineers.