Ari Perez wasn’t your average engineering student — in any sense of the word.
At only 14 years old, Perez started at the Universidad Tecnologica Centroamericana and received his undergraduate degree in civil engineering when he was 20. When Perez came to South Carolina from Honduras in 2007 for the civil engineering master’s program, he had never even met a graduate student.
“It was difficult coming in as an international grad student from a country that doesn't have graduate schooling,” Perez said. “I was the first grad student that I ever met, which was weird.”
In his time at South Carolina, Perez took a unique track, taking both geotechnical engineering and archaeology courses to complement his research. Though he originally planned to become a consultant, he began picking up teaching assistant positions to make extra money to afford the “luxuries in life,” like Taco Tuesday at the Whig.
I love South Carolina so much; I tell people I'm from there. Half my students would think I was born and raised there. Overall, it was such a great experience.
- Ari Perez, Civil and Envrionmental Engineering Graduate
“The more I taught, the more I liked it. After a year and a half or two years, it just kind of molded into my path. I'd like to say that I stumbled into all the things professionally that I love,” Perez said.
Charlie Pierce, Perez’s faculty advisor, also helped to shape Perez’s educational and career paths.
“I got to meet him as a new graduate student and we talked, and it was clear from the moment I met him that he was not what I would consider your conventional engineering student,” Pierce said.
Pierce recognized Perez’s uniqueness and helped him incorporate both archaeology and civil engineering into his research. As the pair worked to develop a research project that combined the “liberal arts side of engineering,” it was clear that Perez’s future would be in the classroom.
“He was very interested in teaching,” Pierce said. “I knew that from our conversations at the onset of his doctoral program, and so we sort of kept in mind as we were working that we wanted to do things that would prepare him for a teaching career.”
Though the college doesn’t have a formal engineering education track, several faculty members take an interest in engineering students that want to teach. Perez’s teaching career was greatly influenced by two faculty members in particular: Pierce and Sarah Gassman. Perez was also a member of the Southeastern Alliance for Graduate Education Professorship, which helped him to gain connections with other education students.
Perez credits Pierce as a big influence on his teaching and recalls the amount of time Pierce would devote to mentoring him.
“Now that I'm a professor, all of my colleagues are just flabbergasted that my advisor would take an hour and a half, two hours out of his day to have lunch with me and just talk about what makes a good teacher,” Perez said.
Now Perez is an associate professor in the civil engineering department at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. At Quinnipiac, he is able to strike a balance between research and teaching so that he can focus on the classroom. In an effort to relate to students, Perez wears a Taylor Swift shirt to every Friday class he teaches.
Even in Connecticut, he carries his unconventional Gamecock spirit and love for South Carolina with him.
“I love South Carolina so much; I tell people I'm from there. Half my students would think I was born and raised there,” Perez said. “Overall, it was such a great experience.”