“When I was trying to choose the engineering branch I wanted to graduate in, my father gave a very encouraging advice. He said – ‘if you want to create direct impact with your knowledge, you should take up civil engineering.’ It was he who inspired me to venture into this field,” says 29-year-old Rajan Jha, an Indian engineer living in the US who was recently selected as one of the 10 Best Civil Engineers across the world by American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) – an engineering society that represents more than 150,000 members of the civil engineering profession in 177 countries.
Hailing from the town of Korba in Chhattisgarh, Rajan grew up in a family of engineers. His father is an engineer working in the public sector in India, and both his elder brothers are engineers too.
Since the very beginning, he used to concentrate a lot on studying Science and Math. “My dad was very particular that I do well in these subject…you know how it is in India!” he smiles. Moreover, he was also interested in all kinds of hydraulic projects in the country. As a kid, he used to visit several dams with his father, and was amazed by their structures.
After giving his engineering entrance exams, he finally chose to study Civil Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in Chandigarh. “The best thing about this stream is that you are given the option to study many things within civil engineering and later you can opt for numerous career options like you can become a transportation engineer, a soil engineer, etc. By the time I graduated, I was sure that I wanted to become a water resource engineer,” he says.
After graduating, Rajan worked with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited for two years on hydro and thermal power plant projects. In 2011, he got a call from Virginia Tech University where a professor offered him a Graduate Research Assistantship. “I was able to develop my technical and research skills a lot more while working with him for two years. I got a chance to write research articles, journals and manuscripts. I also got a call from World Water Congress saying that they liked my research thesis paper and wanted to honour me with the best graduate research award,” remembers Rajan. The World Water Congress is organized by International Water Resources Association every three years in various locations around the world to provide a meeting place for experts to share experiences and present new research results and developments in the field of water sciences.
After graduating in 2013, Rajan started working with an organization based in Richmond. He was also a member of ASCE.
“I wanted to help students who were trying to make choices about the kind of engineering they want to study. And that is when I started being more actively involved. I was organizing events, providing technical knowhow to developing country projects, etc. And last year, one of my seniors suggested that I should apply for the New faces of Civil Engineering awards,” he says. Every year, ASCE selects 10 best civil engineers (under the age of 30) from all across the globe and recognizes them for their profession, achievements and community work. Three of these ten names are then passed on to the organization named DiscoverE that receives names from different professional societies like ASCE.
Among the different projects that he is working on, one involves a community based project in which he is constructing a groundwater well in a school in Zambia, which has to close every summer because of the lack of adequate sources of water. “While everyone starts thinking that engineering is about earning money, eventually it is all about the impact,” he concludes.