Idris Adesina, a senior and civil engineering major, came to UB during the fall 2014 semester, and wanted to find ways to make a difference beyond the classroom. He participated in two university-affiliated organizations and made a lasting relationship with a UB professor, who helped open doors to more rewarding volunteer opportunities.

“I came to UB to develop myself,” Adesina said. Shortly after arriving, he heard about an initiative through the School of Architecture and Planning called the Solar Decathlon. This is a series of ten contests where teams from colleges and universities across the United States design and build solar-powered energy efficient houses. In fall of 2015, Idris started working on UB’s entry, GRoW Home.

“I volunteered with them, did some of the construction and the labor. I just wanted to be active and do something,” Adesina said, “I wanted to feel like part of the community.”

After working with GRoW Home, Adesina explored another UB volunteer opportunity, when he became involved with Floating Classroom. As a member of the team working on Floating Classroom, and with the help of the director of experiential learning programs at UB, Andrew Olewnik, Adesina and others were responsible for designing a classroom that floats on water for the UB childcare center. This task was “cool, but very daunting as well,” according to Adesina.

The project gave Adesina an opportunity to work with drafting software and use different drawing programs for engineers. The team working on the floating classroom had to reach out to the UB childcare center, write grants and proposals. Adesina used this as an opportunity to improve his communication skills.

During the 2015 and 2016 semesters, Adesina met Jerome O’Connor, who teaches courses in bridge engineering at UB and is the executive director of UB’s Institute of Bridge Engineering (IBE). O’Connor helped introduce Adesina to several nonprofit organizations.

The first organization O’Connor introduced Adesina to was Bridging the Gap Africa (BTGA).  BTGA assists communities in rural Kenya build sustainable footbridges across dangerous rivers. Adesina and a friend connected with this group and eventually ending up fundraising on behalf of the organization.

A while later, Adesina met a friend of O’Connor’s and a UB Mentor of the Year Award winner, Larry Mathews, who is an officer with the Association of Bridge Construction and Design, Western New York Chapter (ABCD). ABCD provides education in all facets of the bridge industry. The organization educates all levels of professionals and students, and has a dedication to student outreach.  The organization’s annual Balsa Wood Bridge Contest introduces high school students to bridge construction and design.  Adesina volunteered to help with the contest and continues to assist with this event.

“I volunteer with the Balsa Wood Bridge competition. I go there to help out, carry bridges back and forth, talk to students, and take pictures,” said Adesina.

Adesina’s connection to Mathews led him to another organization, Buffalo Engineering Awareness for Minorities (BEAM). BEAM, founded in 1982 by a consortium of organizations including the UB School of Engineering, supports diversity in STEM fields. “On Saturdays I will go help them. It’s good for them because when I was their age, I didn’t really care about math or science, I just knew that I liked it,” said Adesina.

Adesina attributes his desire to work and volunteer with so many organizations to his personality, “when I take classes, I don’t feel like a human being,” he said, “I feel like a robot just punching numbers into a calculator and it didn’t make me feel like part of the community yet. I think it’s just my personality. I want to be active and do things outside of the classroom.”

He did not restrict himself solely to volunteer opportunities, though. Through hard work and his relationship with O’Connor, Adesina secured his first professional experience with John Picard and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). Picard is the regional bridge maintenance engineer in the western region of NYSDOT. At the DOT, Adesina investigated possible locations for using a ductile concrete designed at UB by Assistant Professor Ravi Ranade.

Adesina worked with Picard to identify bridges that would benefit from this type of material. This internship led Adesina to a summer job with the NYSDOT as a transportation construction inspector (TCI) in 2016.

“It’s been a real pleasure to watch Idris evolve from when I met him as an inquisitive student until now,” said O’Connor, who still offers advice and guidance to Adesina, “he is progressing into a discerning engineer, full of reflective questions that show his professional maturity.”

His decision to become a civil engineer, and later to specialize in bridge engineering is a product of Adesina’s upbringing, he said, “I was born and raised in Africa. When you come to an advanced country, you don’t take things for granted anymore. I know how important bridges and structures are to society, because I have seen the comparison. I wanted to use that knowledge to make better communities. I guess coming from a place like that made me appreciate it more.”

Adesina narrowed his specialization to bridge engineering partly because of O’Connor’s influence and because of a bridge’s basic functions. “I figured if I was going to narrow it down to anything, I’d choose bridges because that’s the most important thing,” he said, “it bridges gaps, it’s one of the most important things to bridge gaps between people.”