Affiliates of the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics swept in the Southern Arizona Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2018 awards. Associate Professor of Practice Dean Papajohn, Professor Emeritus Mohammad “Mo” Ehsani and alumnus Austin Urton will all be honored at the organization’s banquet on Tuesday, Feb. 20.
Post-Secondary Educator of the Year
Dean Papajohn, associate professor of practice in the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, was named Southern Arizona Post-Secondary Educator of the Year.
Past UA recipients of the award include chemical and environmental engineering professor Bob Arnold (2017), James Baygents, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering and associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering (2015), and civil engineering professors Achintya Haldar (2011) and Mark Hickman (2009).
Papajohn, who worked for the Pima County Department of Transportation for a decade, first came to the UA as an adjunct professor in 2012 to develop the construction engineering management emphasis, but has been teaching for most of his adult life.
“Teaching was like my hobby before,” he said. “Some people golf, and I guess I would teach classes.”
Pursuing his “hobby” full time has proved successful for Papajohn, as is evident in how much he enjoys it, his new award and his 4.7 out of 5-star rating on ratemyprofessor.com
As one student wrote on the website, “Dean Papajohn is one of the best teacher/mentors that I have ever had the privilege of studying under. He REALLY CARES about his students (and the department)!”
Papajohn enjoys bringing in industry guest speakers and taking his students to visit construction sites, so they can learn about the range of jobs available in construction and develop industry connections early.
“That’s really not possible for me to do alone,” Papajohn said. “I rely on the partnerships that we have with industry and alumni to support us.”
As a UA professor, he makes a concerted effort to pay that support forward.
“I felt like it was a privilege to be able to come here on campus to teach, and it’s a privilege to be able to invest in our students,” he said. “A lot of people get discouraged about the future and what the next generation is like, and I’m even more encouraged when I get to interact with students. I see how smart they are, how committed they are, and I have a lot of hope for the future.”
Engineer of the Year
Mohammad, “Mo” Ehsani, founding president and CEO of QuakeWrap and UA professor emeritus, was named Southern Arizona Engineer of the Year.
Ehsani’s career made the opposite switch from Papajohn’s: from academia to industry. After working a professor in the department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics for nearly 30 years, Ehsani left UA to focus on QuakeWrap, a company he started in 1994. The company’s fiber reinforced polymer, or FRP, products are used for everything from repairing and reinforcing structures to making pipe construction and water transport more efficient.
“He has always demonstrated a kind and generous spirit, and I know others in our field
have also been touched by his generosity,” wrote one of Ehsani’s recommenders. “He is a pioneer in our civil engineering field and continues to give back to his community.”
Ehsani insisted he’s no different than most engineers -- especially “people-serving” civil engineers -- in that he wants to use his profession to make the world a better place. His passion for his work, however, is hard to beat.
“I’m blessed by having a lot of people around me who are so much smarter than I am,” he said. “It’s just wonderful. Sometimes I feel like I should be paying someone to do this work, not be paid to do it.”
Young Engineer of the Year
Ehsani was nominated for his award by Austin Urton, a structural engineer at QuakeWrap and a UA alumnus (BS 2011, ME 2013). Urton himself was named Young Engineer of the Year, and was especially honored to be recognized alongside his boss.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be nominated, so when I found out, it made the whole thing a little more special.”
He grew up in southern Arizona and has been involved in ASCE since college. Today, he serves as president of the Younger Member Forum for the Southern Arizona Branch of ASCE. In fact, because nominations for the award were submitted to them, he and everyone on the forum had to have others stand in for their votes to ensure fairness.
Urton is active in the community, where he volunteers at the Tucson Botanical Gardens’ Luminaria Nights event. He has helped plan events for Ben’s Bells, been Chef for a Day at the Ronald McDonald House, and is a junior board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tucson.
“Even during our university days, it was obvious that Austin was passionate about engineering, presenting his best work and volunteering,” wrote his nominators. “Austin’s devotion to his engineering career is second to none.”