A Passion for Students
“I love structural engineering, and I love my students. I want them to witness and experience the joy that I experience, not only in the thing – the bridge, the tower – but also in the possibility of what it means: to me, to them, to a world that needs their talent.”
Mark Valenzuela, PhD
Associate Vice President, Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness
A Focus on the Students’ Undergraduate Education
Valenzuela chose to pursue a career at a university that prioritizes undergraduate students over research. For more than 20 years, he taught inside and outside the classroom, earning an incredible reputation as one of UE’s top professors. Now, as associate vice president for assessment and institutional effectiveness, he works for students at a higher level. “I look at what makes UE special and figure out how to make it even better.”
While his greatest passion may always be in the classroom, Valenzuela is excited about the new direction his career has taken: “Rather than working with students on an individual basis, I’m able to work on behalf of the entire student population – ensuring the University of Evansville gives students the transformational education we promise and that they deserve.”
Undergraduate to Graduate School
Mark Valenzuela is an associate professor of mechanical and civil engineering at the University of Evansville and is a registered professional engineer in the State of Indiana. After receiving his undergraduate from Vanderbilt University and his PhD and MS in structural engineering from Cornell University, he started his teaching career as a visiting professor at his graduate school alma mater in the school of civil and environmental engineering.
Liberal Arts is Important in Engineering
Valenzuela explains, “Most of my free electives at Vanderbilt were taken in philosophy because I was trying to minor in it as an undergrad. And at Cornell the structural engineering faculty was remarkable in their interests outside of their engineering expertise. Over the years I have maintained a love of music, art, philosophy, history, and religion. At UE I saw the potential to continue those pursuits and to collaborate with faculty and students outside of engineering and computer science.” He notes that the remarkable range and quality of academic programs combined with the small campus community allows for interaction with students and faculty from all areas of study.
Engineering Students Have an Opportunity to Study Abroad
Each fall, the College of Engineering and Computer Science ensures that an engineering or physics professor from UE teaches at Harlaxton in order to offer courses that will keep students on track to graduate in four years. Valenzuela has taught two semesters at Harlaxton College. He remarks, “So instead of a national average of 4 percent of engineering students studying abroad, at UE 25 percent of our engineering and computer science students do it. In fact, now it’s guaranteed!”
Passion for Changemaking
Valenzuela still finds his way to the classroom, but in a slightly different way. During his first semester as an administrator, he helped lead a ChangeLab course with a recent graduate, guiding students as they figure out how to build tiny homes for homeless people.
“I’m really more of a coach for these students as they navigate the challenges this course brings,” he explained. “They have a great idea to begin with, but they have to figure out how to bring this idea to market. How will they get funding, where will they get other resources to make this come to life?”
ChangeLab is just one way in which Valenzuela exemplifies changemaking at UE. Recently, he broke an unusual world record during ChangeFest at UE: The world’s tallest stack of tortillas.
He not only broke the existing record of 68 centimeters, but went on to set a new record of 75 centimeters before his tower fell. This was his second attempt. In the first attempt, his tower toppled just short of the world record.
“People have been asking me, 'what does it feel like to hold a world record?'" said Valenzuela. "It feels great, especially after the failed attempt last year. But really it all just started out as a way to bring attention to a Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Guatemala that happened in May 2018. And now we're off to Mexico in May 2019. If we get as good a group of students going in May as we had in Guatemala, then I would really feel a sense of accomplishment!”
Remarkable Students Work on the Concrete Canoe
“Over my 19 years of teaching at UE, I’ve met some truly remarkable students who have gone on to do great and good things. The students I got to know best were the ones who worked with me on the concrete canoe project. And I was always amazed by their drive, their hard work, their creativity, and their willingness to go the extra mile. They didn’t do it for a class or for a grade. They didn’t do it for the résumé (although it helps). They didn’t do it to get on my good side. They did it because they found something they love that combines their talents as engineering problem solvers with a project that always presents new challenges.”