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Posted 7/12/2017

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By Katie West, Memphis District Public Affairs Intern


Stan Lee did not create his first hit comic, “The Fantastic Four,” until he was 38. Vera Wang did not even enter the fashion industry until she was 40. Colonel Sanders didn’t franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 62. There are countless people who are very successful, but did not become successful until later in life. Engineer Sarah Girdner of the Memphis District's Hydraulics and Hydrology Branch is not one of those people.

On May 26, Girdner won the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Young Engineer of the Year award at age 27. She won this prestigious award because of work she is doing, both with the American Society of Civil Engineers and Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

Girdner said she was shocked when she won the Young Engineer of the Year award. Girdner has been a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers since she was in the student chapter at the University of Memphis. ASCE is a group of civil engineers who gather together to come up with ways to give back to their communities. She has helped with ASCE fundraisers and has been instrumental in coming up with ideas for fundraising and social events to encourage student participation.

In addition to being and ASCE member, she is also active in Engineers Without Borders. Girdner began her involvement with EWB in 2010 with the student chapter at Memphis.

After graduation, she joined the professional chapter of EWB. EWB focuses on two missions: first, to help communities in need by providing engineering support and design, and second, to focus on student chapters of EWB and help them grow professionally. “I’m the president of the [professional] chapter and we mostly act in a role that is a support for the student chapter,” Girdner said.

Engineers Without Borders makes the students go through a real engineering process; they write reports and come up with solutions for countries in need. Girdner said she tries to be available for the students whenever they need help.

“…as freshmen you have no idea what an engineering report is… It’s daunting,” Girdner said.

The students at the University of Memphis EWB chapter are working on a greenhouse project for the people Piquinani, Bolivia. The greenhouse will help the people grow enough vegetables to have as a source of income throughout the year. The residents there mostly make their income from selling milk and selling extra produce they grow within the community.

In the winter it is too cold to grow vegetables so they lose this source of income. The greenhouse will help them continue to grow vegetables in the winter. It will also help with nutrition because they will be able to grow a larger variety of vegetables.

Girdner said the professional chapter focuses on helping the students grow to a professional level. The students come up with the plans, and though they are basic, they encourage the students to do the designs themselves.

The challenges that one must go through as a part of EWB are difficult, but the end result is worth it, according to Girdner.

“You get to help this community, you get to travel, and then you get to stack your resume, so why not?” she said.

The work Girdner is doing to move the chapter forward and encourage students to use their minds and their talents to better the lives of others shows the spirit and dedication that is looked for in the recipient of the Young Engineer of the Year award. That dedication can be seen beyond any organization. That dedication is recognized by everyone.