Grad Spotlight: Harriott Fellow Leana Santos

Ph.D. student Leana Santos works in the laboratory.

Ph.D. student Leana Santos works in the laboratory.

Civil Engineering Ph.D. student Leana Santos not only hopes to become a structural engineer and professor, she also dreams of helping underrepresented students reach their potential through mentorship and outreach. 

Ms. Santos, who was named a McNair Scholar as an undergraduate student, has recently been awarded a Harriott Fellowship in support of her pursuit of a doctoral degree in structural engineering. As a Harriott Fellow, Santos is recognized as an outstanding scholar who is committed to both academic achievement and enhancing the diversity of the academic community.

Leana Santos is a first-generation college student for whom adversity has proved to be a catalyst for growth and achievement. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, she saw firsthand how the devastation from natural disasters can impact disadvantaged communities. She hopes to leverage this understanding to make a difference in the world.

"I would love to design and construct safer roads, bridges and buildings...  to prevent future damage and loss of life," she says. "I also want to teach future civil engineers the importance of our work by making the right decisions and applying the proper methods of construction to avoid casualties when facing natural disasters."

Ms. Santos' family moved to the United States so that she and her siblings might have a better quality of life as well as the chance to pursue higher education. As a high school student in Hartford, Connecticut, she found herself having to work much harder than many of her peers in order to succeed. In addition to her regular academic load, she faced the task of learning a new language and culture. 

Once she arrived at UConn, the transition to college was difficult. As a first-generation college student, Ms. Santos realized that getting involved in student organizations would help her adjust to college life. She quickly joined several clubs and associations. Among these are the Dominican Student Association, the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC), the Society of Women in Engineering, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Her drive to achieve academically also led her to seek support and mentorship through the Academic Achievement Center.  

Santos credits her mentors with helping her to cultivate her potential for leadership. After her own experience with the Student Support Services peer mentoring program for first-generation college students, she decided to become a mentor to other students.

"Due to the great impact my mentor had on me," she says, "I became a mentor myself... Establishing strong relationships with my SSS mentees has taught me a lot about myself while developing my leadership skills. I aspire to inspire young students."

Ms. Santos has spent the past year working with one of her mentors to develop the technical skills to become a successful researcher and engineer, conducting experiments in the field of geotechnical engineering. Her research has focused on the adsorption behavior of hexavalent chromium on iron oxides, as well as the chemical stabilization of clay soils to determine the role of water content on strength development. 

The CEE family is thrilled to have Leana join our doctoral program and we are looking forward to see her thrive in the years to come.