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Approaching Graduation…fabricating the bridge to success

March 29, 2012

 

Chris Rabalais, a senior civil engineering major, holds two power drills. Rabalais will graduate in the spring of 2012 with his bachelor’s degree.–Photo by Jessica Van Alstyne

GRACE MOORE
Staff Reporter

 

This is the second in a four part series on different students approaching graduation in May. Each student has a unique journey through college, and this series highlights four individuals are approaching the end of their journey.

 

He sits in the workshop on a pile of metal, twiddling his oil-stained thumbs. A power drill dangles from the right pocket of his denim jeans while his steel-toed boots tap lightly on the concrete floor. He eyes the steel bridge before him, as it will satisfy the final gap to graduation.

 

Chris Rabalais, a senior civil engineering major, will graduate in May, and said this is something he has yearned for since childhood.

 

“I am underestimated,” he said.

 

Rabalais made a 33 on the ACT exam as a junior in high school, was awarded a full scholarship to Tech based solely upon academic achievements and will finish his degree in four years.

 

“There are definitely people who are smarter than me,” he said, “but I think I’m in the upper-third.”

 

Rabalais said his determination and dedication provide the fuel for his success, though engineering is a particularly taxing degree.

 

“If it’s something I believe in — I’ll fight for it,” he said.

 

His passion for engineering stems from his basic curiosity toward the inner-workings of objects, and he said he is a stickler for detail.

 

Though passionate and dedicated, Rabalais said he has still regretted his choice in major from time to time.

 

“When you’ve been working on the same problem for four hours and you still can’t figure out what’s going on, you begin to doubt yourself and it gets frustrating,” he said.

 

Rabalais has competed in the American Society of Civil Engineers Student Steel Bridge Competition for the past three years and will be competing for a fourth and final time this spring as teamcaptain.

 

He said the competition rules were introduced in August and soon after he began making calculations and designing his bridge. The designing stages took approximately 70 hours to complete. The bridge’s fabrication began in January, and Rabalais said he has worked on it upwards of 20 hours per week since.

 

“I’m going to sound like a complete nerd,” he said, “but I like doing construction work.”

 

In fact, Rabalais said, it is his favorite hobby.

 

For a time, he said he wanted to get an architecture degree but quickly realized he lacked the artistic abilities to do so. He said he came to this realization as a high school freshman and without hesitation began developing the path toward a future career in engineering.

 

“If I’m not constructing stuff,” he said, “I eat, sleep, breathe and watch football.”

 

He recalls growing up in an LSU household, but upon entering Tech, became a Bulldog at heart.

 

“My colors have been changed,” Rabalais said.

 

In the past four years enrolled at Tech, he has been involved with ASCE and the Association of Catholic Tech Students.

 

He said he initially got involved with ACTS because of its enticing fliers for free food, but he stuck around because it has always been a good experience.

 

“There’s a whole bunch of Catholics here in a town full of Baptists,” he said. “It kind of feels like home.”

 

Rabalais is from Vicksburg, Miss, where he works for the United States Army Corps of Engineers in the Engineer Research and Development Center. This June will mark his sixth year with the corps, which plans to fund his education beyond graduation.

 

“I have been given the opportunity to go to graduate school through my job,” he said, “and once I finish that, I plan to pursue my doctorate and ultimately work for them as a Ph.D. employee.”

 

Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin have both accepted Rabalais into their engineering graduate programs. He said Tech has been a launching pad for him to the next part of his life. He said he believes his future is filled with opportunity though it remains unknown.

 

“It’s kind of scary to be leaving,” he said. “We hear all the time that Tech is a family — it very much is. I feel like I’m leaving part of my family behind come May 19.”

 

From the beginning, Rabalais said his plan was to obtain a degree in engineering and in just over seven weeks he will have achieved his goal.

 

“Find something you enjoy and stick to it,” he said. “It may be underwater basket weaving, but you won’t get anywhere doing something you hate.”

 

Email comments to gmm008@latech.edu.

 

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2 Responses to Approaching Graduation…fabricating the bridge to success

  1. Suzanne Altaan Reply

    March 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    I can vouch for Chris–he is a great person and hard worker. We are proud of you and all of your accomplishments. We will welcome you to Texas with open arms. I am sure you will make your mark at UT or A&M as you have done at LA Tech.

    The Altaan Family

  2. W. f. Marcuson III Reply

    April 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I have known the Rabalais’ since his Father & Mother came to Vicksburg before Chris was born.
    I am proud of Chris and his accomplishments. He is correct about his vison for his future. I believe the future is extremely bright for the well educated, hard working young person with ethical values. That said, lack of education and lazy are a bad combination. I wish Chris the very best in the future at either school in Texas.

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