On March 23, the ASCE Student Chapter at the University of North Florida (UNF), pictured above, welcomed over 560 students and more than 100 volunteers to Jacksonville for the 2023 ASCE Southeast Symposium. While Apex has been involved with ASCE and the Symposium in the past, this year’s event was particularly special as it was hosted in our hometown.
“It was great to see a school the size of UNF, with an ASCE student chapter less than half the average size of other participating schools, take on the challenge of hosting such a big event,” says Davor Bozic, a UNF alumnus and Jr. Project Manager for Apex. “The theme – Rooted in Community – was well chosen. There is so much industry support here in Jacksonville and I think having so many companies get involved was one of the great successes of the weekend.”
Alex Farfan, UNF senior and ASCE Student Chapter President, says he was excited to take on the challenge of hosting the Symposium, with planning efforts starting as early as last summer. “It was great to see everyone approach this challenge, not as a daunting task, but as a huge opportunity,” says Alex. “As our chapter rebuilds after COVID, it was a huge selling point for freshmen and sophomores to get involved and a good way to show our chapter is growing strong.”
Hanna Pann is also in her senior year at UNF as well as a spring intern at Apex. “UNF is small,” she says, “so us taking this on was surprising.” But she says that the hard work of UNF’s ASCE Student Chapter paid off. “It felt good to see everything come together and to hear students from other schools commenting on how beautiful our school is and how nice they thought everyone was.”
“The students really made this happen. They put in the work,” says Davor. “That was the best part – seeing all of their hard work come to fruition.”
This was Hanna’s second year participating in the Symposium and she served as lead for UNF’s Geo-Wall team, which took second place in that competition. Pictured here with her teammates (bottom left), Hanna says participating in an event like this feels like a great accomplishment, especially when you consider so many students are balancing the effort it takes with a full school workload and other commitments like an internship.
Alex says the Symposium was also a great way to highlight the nurturing environment Jacksonville’s professional engineering community has created for students at UNF. “I believe civil engineers can grow a lot in Jacksonville,” he explains. “In other places, my understanding is that students don’t get to have the kinds of experiences we have – like jobsite visits – until after they graduate. At UNF, we have amazing options to grow our professional and personal skills with internship and mentorship opportunities as early as sophomore and junior year.”
To continue their ongoing support of UNF’s ASCE Student Chapter, Apex was a “Teal Sponsor” for the Symposium and the sole sponsor of this year’s Timber-Strong Design Build Competition. A partnership between ASCE, the American Wood Council (AWC), APA – Engineered Wood Association (APA), and Simpson Strong-Tie (SST), this pilot competition challenges student teams to design and build an artistically creative 2-story wood light-framed building that is sustainable, aesthetically pleasing and structurally durable.
“We were especially excited to be involved in this competition again this year because of how well it aligns with what Apex does as a company,” says Davor. “We even got the privilege of providing four judges for the competition.”
In addition to Davor, Thomas Dukes and Jacob Drost are also UNF alumni who served as judges. “We got to see a lot of neat things and met a lot of cool people,” says Thomas. “Many times, young engineers know a lot about math and physics but not so much about structural drawings, spec-ing connections, what it’s like to build in the field, etc. This event gives them experience with all those things. It’s a really good exercise.”
Jacob agrees: “It was cool to watch the teams interact and problem-solve.”
Carlos Rojas was the fourth judge from Apex. A 2022 University of Florida graduate, he says he found the event helpful for his own professional development as a new engineer. “It was pretty interesting to be able to see all the things we spec on plans every day happening on a jobsite,” he explains. “It was also a very useful learning experience to network with others in the industry, like talking to reps from Simpson about connectors and software.”
The Symposium welcomed students from 17 schools across Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Seven schools submitted designs for the Timber-Strong Design Build Competition, and six teams built structures on site. Apex’s Davor Bozic had the privilege of presenting awards to the winners. First place went to FAMU-FSU, second place went to University of Florida, and third place went to University of Central Florida.
While the Symposium is designed to challenge students to put their academic concepts to the ultimate test, the event also provides students with an opportunity to network and make connections with others in the industry. To that end, Summer Simmons and Dalton Dixon represented Apex at our booth in the Student Union, where they were available to talk to students about what their futures might hold.
Another UNF alumna, Summer says it was great to see the company’s investment in students paying off. “Students recognize Apex and are learning that we can be a resource for them to get answers to industry questions they don’t necessarily get in school, like how to approach a job interview or the best way to format their resumes,” she explains. “It’s rewarding to see former Apex interns like myself telling their classmates they need to check us out because they had such positive experiences.”
In general, the group agrees that every opportunity the team has to meet with students is valuable, from speaking at a small ASCE Student Chapter meeting to sponsoring a huge event like the Symposium. “Every time we put our name out there we are communicating our company culture,” says Carlos. “We are becoming familiar faces.”
“These events effectively help us build better relationships with engineering students, as well as faculty, advisors, and volunteers,” agrees Davor. “I’m still getting emails from students who appreciate Apex’s support. We are excited about the future of our involvement with students, both here in Jacksonville and throughout our region.”