Coming Full Circle

elisa livingston portrait

“Originally, I’m from Colombia, and I immigrated with my mom to the U.S. when I was eight,” says Elisa Livingston, E’14, civil engineering. Livingston’s mother worked multiple jobs so that Elisa could have the best educational opportunities. “My mom, she sacrificed so much.” Northeastern offered the career-focused engineering programs that Livingston was looking for—especially with its co-op.

Initially, Livingston wanted to pursue a career in construction, but after her first two co-ops she reconsidered. For her third co-op, she worked in the structural engineering department at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger. “This last co-op cemented the fact that this is what I wanted to do and also made me realize that I needed to go to grad school if I wanted to pursue that discipline,” she says.

Fortunately, Livingston had built a substantial CV at Northeastern. “A lot of things just aligned. I started doing undergrad research. I started to publish. I started to present papers in different conferences and really build up my resume.”

She also grew in other ways. In 2013, Livingston and a dozen other students flew to Cameroon in Africa for forty days for a Dialogue of Civilizations, led by Richard Harris, assistant dean of Academic Scholarship, Mentoring and Outreach, and director of NUPRIME. “The Cameroon Dialogue was probably my favorite experience at Northeastern,” Livingston says. Northeastern students collaborated with local students in the town of Bali to propose solutions to common problems faced by residents.

Livingston’s workgroup sought to reduce food waste in Bali. In this town, farmers gather to sell their produce in the marketplace once a week. Many of the farmers grow the same crops, so there is often a higher supply than demand of the crops. As a result, the products that don’t sell that day must be discarded. Livingston and her group proposed that plantain farmers convert some of their crops into plantain chips, “a product that is more sustainable, lasts longer, and diversifies the market,” she explains. Livingston believes that this project reshaped her approach to engineering.

“The collaborative aspect of working with students with other backgrounds helps me to this day. As a structural engineer, I’m constantly working with different teams, different architects,” Livingston says. “I was really learning how to collaborate efficiently, how to take other people’s ideas and implement them into a bigger idea; and attacking problems, synthesizing them in ways that you can see them from different viewpoints and break them down into different pieces; learning how to communicate with people from different backgrounds and maybe who aren’t fluent in English; being thankful for the day-to-day things that we have access to. Not everyone has access to education or running water or electricity or food.”

With Northeastern’s student clubs, Livingston also developed leadership skills—serving as a board member of the Northeastern chapters of both the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). “I think what helped me stand out [for graduate school] was the additional experience that I had with undergrad research, co-op, and being active in these organizations,” Livingston reflects.

Livingston went on to earn her Master of Science in Structural Engineering at University of California Berkeley in 2015. She has had a successful career as a project consultant in structural engineering for the past five-plus years at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger—where she had her third co-op years ago.

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering