Jose Benitez

Hometown

Asuncion, Paraguay

The Story

INVOLVEMENT AT DORDT

The first community I was part of was the international community. We came a week earlier so we had time to get to know each other and find out that we had a lot in common even though we’re from all over the place. I played basketball with Coach Douma, and that was really interesting to me because it was the first place I was the only one from my culture. I think I was the first international student in the basketball program. I realized how my culture is unique in its own way and how I was getting into my own culture. My sophomore year I switched to soccer. I was a lot more familiar to what I saw back home. Then I also joined the Spanish/linguistics community because I started tutoring as a work study.

Outside in the community, the international students also have host parents like the football players, and I still hang out with my host parents every Sunday. They’re going to host my actual parents, who are going to come from Paraguay. They were great during all four years; they came to every single game that I played. It was awesome.

steel bridge competition and senior design

Senior design projects touch on what you learn in the classroom. It’s great—it’s just like any project in the workplace. My main learning from it is that no one knows what they’re doing at the beginning, and that’s OK. People freak out when they realize they don’t know anything, but we’re all in the same spot and just have to Google a couple things to get it started. I got to interact with the professors a lot; I talked to them and asked them questions. When they don’t have the answers, they point you in the right directions. During senior design, there were a lot of moments in which we would present on what we have done, and one of the representatives would say, “Have you thought about this?” And we’d look at each other and say, “No, we don’t know what that is.” But then we start researching and figure it out to come up with an answer. I think doing that several times with steel bridge and senior design made me lose some of the panic that comes with that. You know you’re supposed to be in that position at some point. It’s a valuable thing I think everyone should experience before going into the workplace.

I did steel bridge before I did my steel class. When I did my steel class, I said, “Oh, that makes sense.” I did everything—flectual capacity of the members, and what shape is better for what type of position—all that stuff. Depending on if it’s tension or compression, you need this type of metal. All that stuff was brand new to me because I was a freshman and sophomore. I got a preview with steel bridge because I was too young to have taken those classes. I took a project management class, and that gave me a little overview on how things actually take a lot more time than you think they’ll take and that realistic view of the economics and the time part of projects. I generally was focused more on the people side of my projects.

Now, I’m designing the foundations of a building for senior design, using what I learned in soils and concrete class. We asked Dordt if it was OK to design a building that would replace East Campus. And they said, “Sure, let’s see it.” It’s a concept, so it doesn’t go into much depth architecturally or in the engineering aspect. I’m doing the foundations and parking lot. Three of us did the project management. It’s all over the place, but it’s coming together now. We’re almost done. We have fun with that project. We had a lot of moments where we didn’t know what we were doing and had to ask.

VALUABLE EXPERIENCES AT DORDT

I became part of the Civil Engineering Club my sophomore year. Going to conferences and competitions with that club were probably the most important professionally and academically in my career.

Civil Engineering Club has two competitions: the concrete canoe, so they build a canoe out of concrete and race in it. The senior design was the first time they built the steel bridge, which is a thing now for the club. Those two competitions are the main ones. I was mainly part of steel bridge, so the fall semester we mainly just design in a software called SolidWorks and then we tried to put it together in the spring semester and compete with it wherever it is in the Midwest. We put a lot of hours into it, and it was a group of people who were all interested in it. We had not much in common, so it was a great—I made very good friends from it. I think it’s really important because while I met a lot of engineers at that conference—professional engineers. And that’s actually how I got my first internship. You also get to compare your bridge to other schools like Iowa State. We’re not far from them at all. That’s the only opportunity I had to actually compare myself to other schools because we don’t have any direct competition nearby.

We also have conferences where you can talk with professionals. They bring all the leaders from each school and tell them how to run a chapter and how to study for the FE, how to study for the PE (test for professional licensure), and networking too. I met my now-supervisor there; he was one of the presenters. I talked to him, and I got my internship there, which is in transportation engineering. And then I got my second internship. I went that summer, then Christmas break for two weeks, and then the next summer, and then the following Christmas break. Now I’m going full-time in Denver.

ACADEMICS AT DORDT

I loved Howard Schaap, associate professor of English. We had to write in both classes he taught, but he also focuses on stretching people out of their usual way of thinking. He asks very provocative questions and he makes us think a little further than what we’re used to. I love that. I had a great opportunity to learn to write properly in English. I never learned to write as easily as I did in Spanish, so that was a great experience. I’m a slow writer, but I love to do it. Schaap was the one who introduced it to me. I love how he tries to make people uncomfortable in a good way—always stretching them. And I’d say that’s something we don’t have enough of at Dordt—the community in general tends to stay in a comfortable position rather than asking tough questions, which I think is good for everyone.

And Dr. Walker Cosgrove, associate professor of history – you can tell that guy loves what he’s doing. He knows what he’s doing, too. He’s also a great guy outside of the classroom. He’ll talk to you about life. I did that in the hallway in his office; I’d talk with him and got to know him and his family better. He’s a great guy. I love him.

Lastly, Prof. Vander Werff, an engineering prof, is an excellent professor. When he teaches, you can see that he loves what he’s doing and as he explains it. We all admire him, at least the civil students, because we know he could be in industry making tons of money but he chooses to come to Dordt and teaches us because he feels that that’s God’s calling for him. That’s very admirable. He works super hard. Sometimes we think he should rest more. He responds to emails at like 5 a.m. We purposely don’t email him on the weekends, because we know he’s going to reply. We don’t want to bother him. He’s our mentor for senior design, and he’s been my mentor for classes and stuff too. I’m pretty close with him. He helped me a lot in and outside of the classroom.

HOW DORDT HAS IMPACTED ME

Dordt does a good job of making sure that students know they should have an impact on the community. We’re not going to work at a company that puts profit in front of people. Dordt students, I think—especially engineers—will see that as a red flag rather than an opportunity. I think [the company that I work at] does great about caring for people and that was a major factor for why I chose it.

Dordt is small but people hear about it. It sticks with people’s minds, and that’s important when you’re competing with 10 or 20 other people because they remember you.

WHAT I WOULD TELL PROSPECTIVE STUDENTS

I think everyone should get involved on campus because, throughout our four years at Dordt, it’s one of the main doors to the world beyond college. I think that since we’re geographically and culturally a bit isolated in Sioux Center, so it might be shocking if you spent four years and then you went to a big city to work because the environment is going to be different. I do think people should use the opportunities we have to get out there. I think we’re ready as Dordt students after four years to be part of the world, but I don’t think we’re exposed to it. I think these opportunities are for us to be out there, compare ourselves to others, and have an actual impact on the community.

I’m thankful Dordt has these opportunities to do several activities at once. With engineering and sports, I broke my circle of people I interacted with. With engineering, we spend a lot of time together. And having this group of friends from basketball and soccer and international students was helpful. That variety was really good for me. I’m a big variety guy.