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A career 'helping both people and the Earth'

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Paul Roots

Paul Roots earned a degree in jazz studies, then decided against a career as a professional musician. AmeriCorps service doing flood clean-up in Iowa led him to civil engineering. “It really hit home how much trust we put in engineers,” he says.

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

Paul Roots, a percussionist marching to the beat of a different drum who switched careers to engineering, was named a 2011 Udall Scholar.

Roots, a junior in civil engineering and the Honors College, won the $5,000 scholarship from the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation for his commitment to the environment, leadership potential and academic achievement.

His first career path took him to North Central College, where he earned a B.A. summa cum laude in jazz studies.

But he decided against a music career and enlisted for a year in AmeriCorps, where he helped the Mississippi River community of Oakville, Iowa, recover from a devastating flood in 2008.

“We were there to help clean up and prepare the levees for reconstruction,” he said.

“It really hit home how much trust we put in engineers, with regard to both our safety and livelihood.”

Inspired by the experience, Roots enrolled in UIC’s civil engineering program. He works with Professor Krishna Reddy as an undergraduate research assistant in the geotechnical and geoenvironmental engineering lab.

Secretary of the UIC student chapter of Engineers without Borders, he completed an internship last summer at Waste Management.

“He’s an independent thinker who understands a given problem well before developing an approach to solving it,” said Reddy, who guided Roots in research projects on soil testing for civil infrastructure projects, geothermal systems for heating and cooling, and reactive filtering to clean urban storm water near beaches.

“He is inquisitive and understands the task at hand,” said Reddy, calling his work more typical of that performed by graduate students.

Roots has decided to pursue a career in environmental engineering.

“A career that enables me to help both people and the Earth will bring me great satisfaction,” he said.

Before he begins his engineering career, Roots said he will consider serving a stint in the Peace Corps, then perhaps a master’s degree in environmental engineering after entering the job market.

Although Roots maintains a perfect 4.00 grade point average, he still finds time for music. He plays drums in Stephen Paul Smoker’s group Ripe Fruit. Their 7-inch EP will be released today with a show at the Double Door music club in Wicker Park.


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