Published: Sept. 5, 2018
Jorge Luis Barrera Cruz

Name: Jorge Luis Barrera Cruz
Hometown: Guayaquil, Ecuador
Major: Aerospace PhD Student
Advisor: Kurt Maute

I grew up in a small, quiet beach town on Ecuador’s southern coast. Good weather and amazing food made Salinas a top touristic destination but, unfortunately, not a hub for engineering wonders.

As a kid, without access to internet or even a computer, I never thought I would end up spending my days and nights working on computational design optimization next to the mountains.

I was always drawn to math and physics, but it was not until I started college in my home country that I became aware of the many avenues one can take to apply these subjects.

Building an Ecuadorian Future

Before finishing my undergraduate program, I witnessed the level of modernization of engineering companies in the developed world during an internship in Spain. That exposure made me realize what can be done with an efficient usage of computational tools in the industry.

Following my graduation, I traveled throughout Ecuador to perform technical inspections in various companies. Unfortunately, design software was used only for technical drawing, which wasted resources in suboptimal designs.

As a young engineer attracted to this area, I found that frustrating. Yet, I could understand the reason behind it: a lack of specialists in the field. This motivated me to set the goal to master my computational skills and later transmit that knowledge to new generations in my country.

I am determined to return to Ecuador to help set a strong foundation of progress that integrates academic research with worldly issues. To achieve this, I need a PhD from a world-class university.

Finding CU Boulder

I first completed a Master’s degree to compensate for the lack of exposure to research during my undergraduate degree and improve my communication skills in English.  My current advisor at CU Boulder, Dr. Kurt Maute, visited Ohio State when I was a master’s student there. He gave a memorable seminar on topology optimization and I was pleasantly surprised to hear how the skills I had recently learned could be useful in real engineering applications.

After the seminar, I had the opportunity to talk with him and he made it clear that if I could work for his group, I would specialize in design optimization while having the opportunity to work on multi-disciplinary projects using state-of-the-art computational tools.

During a visit to CU Boulder, I met with faculty members of the Center for Aerospace Structures), which I am part of now, and learned the projects they work on require close collaboration between research groups and explore solving engineering problems from different angles.

Having exposure to such projects and graduate courses that actually contribute to my research are two major points I did not see in other schools, at least not at the same level.

I am now finishing my third year as a PhD student under Dr. Maute’s supervision. I am working on developing a computational design optimization framework for soft, active materials. The multi-disciplinary nature of my research combines continuum mechanics, numerical methods and computer science.

As a Hispanic engineering graduate student, I understand the importance of living in a welcoming community. Here at CU, I have found a fair, thriving and harmonious society that includes minorities effectively.

A stimulating academic environment is not the only thing I love about CU. As a city, Boulder has a fresh and informal but challenging atmosphere. If you need a break, there are plenty of options any time of the year. A bad day in the lab can be overcome by a short hike in the mountains, and that is priceless for me.