Diaz Recognized as New Face of Civil Engineering

Guillermo Diaz-Fanas, a geotechnical engineer in WSP USA’s New York City office, has been recognized as a 2018 New Face of Civil Engineering by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Diaz-Fanas was among 10 outstanding young professionals identified by ASCE as rising talents in the next generation of civil engineering leaders.

“This is quite an honor, and I am happy and honored to represent WSP with this award,” said Diaz-Fanas, who works on transportation, infrastructure and building projects around the world as a member of the firm’s Geotechnical and Tunneling Technical Excellence Center, with a focus on projects that require the expertise of multi-hazard risk studies and seismic resilience.

Early Influence

As a boy growing up in the Dominican Republic, Diaz-Fanas’s path was influenced by two natural disasters that left an indelible impression on him.

In 1998, at the age of 9, he experienced the fury and the aftermath of Hurricane George. Five years later he experienced the powerful Puerto Plata earthquake.

“The fear and despair that my little brother and I felt being home alone during the earthquake will be forever imprinted on my heart,” Diaz-Fanas said. “The morning after, I learned about the damage in my school and the collapse of a friend’s school. That day, the education of over 8,000 kids was interrupted. I remember being puzzled, wondering what would’ve happened if the earthquake had occurred during school hours.”

He also started to wonder if there was something he could do about it. “It was a seed that grew into my decision to become a civil engineer.”

Staying true to his word, Diaz-Fanas earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) in his hometown of Santiago, Dominican Republic. In 2012, he continued his education in the U.S. as a Fulbright Fellow, and received his master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Illinois, where he conducted research on structural health monitoring for railroad bridges. He also attended summer graduate programs at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea and at the Institute of Engineering Mechanics in China.

©WSP USA

Guillermo Diaz-Fanas performs a geotechnical on-site inspection at a New York City project.

Seismic Resilience

Since joining WSP in May 2016, Diaz-Fanas has captured the attention of his colleagues, and was recently selected as a WSP Research & Innovation Fellow for his proposal, Seismic Performance Evaluation Platform for Reinforced and Unreinforced Masonry Essential Facilities. The annual Fellowship Program is designed to foster and accelerate the development and application of innovation by providing seed funding and mentoring.

“The goal of my Fellowship is to develop innovative, yet attainable, solutions and resiliency guidelines to protect masonry facilities – a demand stemming from our modern society that expects these facilities to be operable after an earthquake,” he said. “Exploring this engineering frontier will make WSP more competitive in this market and further enhance our technical leadership in this field.”

The study establishes a methodology for seismic evaluation of potential vulnerabilities, offering possible retrofit solutions for sliding levels of hazard exposure and performance expectations. He is collaborating with WSP internal experts, the New York City Office of Emergency Management, and researchers at the University at Buffalo to simulate and analyze real case studies where his proposed methodology can be tested.

“A scenario of moderate shaking taking place in the Northeast will serve as a pilot,” Diaz-Fanas said. “It will combine on-site inspections of actual essential facilities with technical input from University of Buffalo researchers based on past experiments in their state-of-the-art shaking table facilities of masonry building models. This is a real-life opportunity to develop and verify a methodology that can be applicable to other areas of North America, Latin America and the rest of the world,” he said.

“I envision that this study will raise the interest and awareness of New York City agencies and stakeholders so the same effort can be expanded on a city-wide level and used as a model for other densely populated urban centers with similar vulnerabilities.”

Cutting-Edge Engineering

One of the reasons Diaz-Fanas joined WSP was his appreciation of the firm’s commitment to technical excellence and innovation.

“I strongly feel that to grow further, I need to continue being challenged by getting involved in multidisciplinary efforts, which is often the case with my projects,” Diaz-Fanas said. “WSP allows me to work in an environment that encourages the use of solid technical knowledge and experience, but also fosters cutting-edge engineering approaches and ideas such as performance- and resilience-based design approaches that require input from various disciplines of a diverse team.”

He credits much of his growth as a geotechnical engineer to the guidance of his mentor, Sissy Nikolaou, principal multi-hazards and geotechnical engineer for WSP.

“I have learned a lot from Sissy, and found in her a role model that inspires me to strive for the best,” he said. “WSP promotes its employees across all levels and disciplines because our leaders understand that to deliver future-ready solutions and the best quality product, every member of our team is essential and needs mentorship to feel professionally fulfilled.”

His WSP projects include geotechnical studies for the Second Avenue Subway, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Second Track Phase II, Sunnyside Overbuild and Kosciusko Bridge in New York City; seismic studies for the Torre Cuarzo, Torre Be Grand Reforma, Roma 54 and Polyforum buildings in Mexico City; and participation on WSP's SPEED Global Initiative, which offers a decision-making platform for clients based on risk assessment and life cycle asset management options.

"The goal of SPEED is to drive a system or community to bounce forward to a better future after extreme events, instead of going back to where they were before the event," he said.

©2017 APPLIED TECHNOLOGY COUNCIL

After the September 2017 earthquake struck Mexico City, Guillermo Diaz-Fanas worked off site as part of a team that performed structural, geotechnical and seismological observations of buildings in the impacted areas. 

Volunteerism and Advocacy

Diaz-Fanas has served as off-site U.S. recorder for the Applied Technology Council mission to investigate building damage following the Puebla-Morelos earthquake that struck Mexico City in September of 2017. He has also been a volunteer for technical committees for the American Society of Civil Engineers and other organizations, and in earthquake reconnaissance and recovery efforts throughout the Americas.

“I coordinate and co-organize professional events about extreme natural hazards where I get great satisfaction in observing the audience change their perceptions about these phenomena before and after they attend,” he said. “It is gratifying to know that I may have contributed to delivering engineering outreach and inform communities that can in turn result to better anticipation and reaction to low-probability, high-impact events.”

Diaz-Fanas is also active in groups that promote diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in civil engineering.

“I find it rewarding to promote engineering as a career choice for young people, especially women, Latinos and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “I know that engineering is not always a career that members of under-represented minorities choose, but I want to change that. I want to support others in finding the professional fulfillment in engineering that I have found.”


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