Alex Moreno

Class of 2023

Alex Moreno SEAS’23: Real-World Experiences Make a Lasting Impact

For graduating senior Alex Moreno, recipient of a 2023 Campbell Award, the people, the places and the impactful volunteer opportunities have made his time at Columbia Engineering unforgettable.

May 1 2023

Here’s something you can’t do just anywhere: Build a 26-foot bridge. That’s what senior Alex Moreno was helping to construct in his first year at Columbia Engineering. He and his Steel Bridge teammates were competing in the National Steel Bridge Competition and the work was happening in Columbia Engineering’s Carleton Strength of Materials Laboratory (one of the largest labs located on the Morningside campus, it was named for a famed alum who helped build the New York subway system).

“It was phenomenal,” says Moreno. “Here I was, a freshman with no experience, and I got to learn from upperclassmen and graduate students about steel fabrication, at this place where so much cool research is going on.”

Moreno joins a select group of 2023 graduating students across Columbia University who are recipients of the annual Campbell Award. Established by the University’s Board of Trustees and the Columbia Alumni Association, the award is presented to a graduating student at each School who shows exceptional leadership and Columbia spirit as exemplified by the late Bill Campbell ’62CC, ’64TC, University Trustee Chair Emeritus and CAA cofounder.

Moreno, a civil engineering major, says his membership in various clubs has been invaluable, and not just for hands-on experience. "I've been able to interact with lots of different kinds of civil engineers," he says, "and that's shown me how many paths are available within the field." In addition to the Steel Bridge Team, he's involved with Engineers Without Borders-Morocco, Structural Engineers Association of America and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

After graduation, Moreno will be shipping off to Portland, OR, to work for the heavy civil construction contractor, Stacy and Witbeck. As a field engineer on TriMet's A Better Red project, Moreno will be heading up the station construction of the light rail capacity expansion project. We spoke with Moreno about his passion for engineering and advice he might have for incoming students.

Just curious: Do you have a favorite bridge?

I do! The Tappan Zee [officially the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge], between Tarrytown and Nyack, NY. I’ve always liked cable-stayed bridges and that one happens to be a twin.

Do you come from a family of engineers?

Not at all. My interest came out of the blue. Classic engineering story: I loved playing with Legos. But the passion started in high school, with a CAD course. I thought, Oh, architecture! That’s what I’ll do. But I quickly realized it wasn’t for me. Eventually I put a name to what I did want to do, and Columbia has only reinforced that interest.

So you’d prefer working on a public system to, say, constructing an iconic apartment building?

Absolutely. One of the things I love about civil engineering is its ability to impact millions of people every day. Since my first year here, I’ve seen myself working to create larger, more equitable and effective mass transportation networks. The environment is another passion of mine and more sustainable mass transportation is key to moving towards a greener world overall. There’s a lot we need to do to bring our passenger rail up to par.

What do you enjoy most about civil engineering?

One of the things I like about civil engineering is that it demands teamwork. Every project requires working with many people; being combative or competitive only leads to delays. If there’s a quality the students in civil engineering share, it’s a commitment to collaboration.

What’s been some of the key highlights of your time at Columbia Engineering?

Definitely Engineers Without Borders. I got involved the moment I stepped on campus. There are three EWB chapters at Columbia—Ghana, Uganda and Morocco—and after attending some general meetings, I chose Morocco because the other two chapters were moving towards the closing phases of their projects; most of the construction had been done. For the Morocco chapter, we’re building sustainable water storage units for two villages: Izguoren and Ilguiloda. In both places, people have to walk an hour to a river to fetch water. The task often falls to children, impacting their ability to go to school and get an education, or to women, who might otherwise work. The tank we’re building will have a storage capacity of 100,000 liters of water and a filtering system that will make it clean enough to drink.

I got very lucky because I joined the EWB-Morocco’s structure team, and its team leader was a General Studies student who had worked in construction for quite a while. He really knew his stuff and I learned so much. 

What Columbia memory will stay with you? 

The people I’ve met here. I found myself a part of many different friend groups, from my freshman year roommates to Engineers Without Borders, the civil engineering department to the Ski and Snowboard team. Whether I was hanging out in the Wallach 6 lounge, solving tough problems for a water system in Morocco, or snowboarding at Mammoth, I really think of the groups who made those experiences meaningful. I've met so many incredible people from so many walks of life who have made my whole experience what it has been.

Any advice to share with students just starting out? 

Get involved! My clubs are what really made my time here. I got very involved in a few things that I was really passionate about, which allowed me to meet plenty of new people, cement my interests, and learn an incredible amount about my field. Classes can only teach you so much, and I know that my extracurriculars gave me the real world context I needed to head out into the "real world" with confidence as a new engineer.

Student Spotlight

One of the things I love about civil engineering is its ability to impact millions of people every day. Right now I see myself working to create larger, more equitable and effective mass transportation networks. That’s key to moving towards a greener world overall.

Alex Moreno
Class of 2023