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In the Spotlight - Joseph Kocaj, '18
Fall 2017 Josephphoto

Meet Joseph Kocaj, an explorer, innovator, and passionate student. We are grateful he shared his experience, advice, and projects with us and we wish him an amazing upcoming senior year!  

What made you interested in Civil Engineering and what has it been like to be a student in CIV at SBU? What classes have you liked the best?

When I played the Sims as a kid, I found myself designing houses more than playing with my sims. In addition, I always loved Legos, so obviously I had a passion for design. Later on in high school I took a liking to physics and calculus which, combined with design, lead me to believe civil engineering would be a career in which I would thrive.

Being a student in Civil Engineering has been an utter joy. My classmates and professors are talented, supportive, and energetic. Often we feel like one large family. I am learning skills which will follow me well after college and have found that when I work hard opportunities continuously come to me.

All of the Civil Engineering classes have been fantastic. I am learning a great amount about the various fields under the umbrella of Civil Engineering and feel that I am gaining a well-rounded education. To be specific, Dr. Giles’s classes (Structural Engineering and Steel and Reinforced Concrete Design) have been two of the toughest, but most rewarding and fun classes that I have taken. An assignment that I particularly enjoyed is an extra credit project to emphasize the importance of creativity in engineering. Pasquale Giaquinto and I wrote the song “Finding The Moment” for this. Dr. Giles brings a lively and enthusiastic energy to the classroom which brings the fun out in learning.

What interested you about going to Africa to study engineering and what did you learn from the experience?  

My passion for adventure and community service led me to use my skills as an engineering student to work with developing communities.  Stony Brook has been an excellent place to allow this passion to grow and evolve. After founding CentriSeed and talking to experienced professionals, I began to understand that simply building a bridge or digging a well would not be enough to aid developing communities. Their culture, resources, and environment must be taken into consideration. Many projects aiming to help developing communities fail because the solutions often do not integrate with the people well.

The Global Innovation study abroad program is a program that involves staying at the famous Turkana Basin Institute and learning about innovating in the desert of Ileret, a hard environment to work with. To work with developing communities, I needed to gain experience as soon as possible because helping on a large scale requires a lot of practice and learning. When I heard about a chance to study and interact with people living a completely different life than me, I decided I needed to take this opportunity.

Going to Kenya taught me that there is a difference between an easy and simple solution. An easy solution does not have a lot of thought behind it and is not necessarily bad, however throughout the study abroad experience there were no evident “easy solutions” for improving living conditions in Ileret. A simple solution can require a lot of thought, but implementation of the idea does not require high levels of resources and knowledge. Simple solutions were encouraged while working in Ileret because a complicated project would be extremely hard to integrate into the local culture.

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years ?  

In five years I will have just about earned my professional engineering license. This means I will have passed my F.E. exam and will be working at an engineering firm under a licensed professional. I  will still be running and playing instruments such as guitar and piano. On weekends and holidays I see myself hiking and spending time adventuring in the outdoors while also finding time for the occasional videogames, TV shows, and movies.

Tell us about the club that you've started on campus! How have your projects been going? roth pond

I cofounded CentriSeed Innovations with Julian Kingston and Brent Freestone at the start of Fall 2015, my sophomore year. The organization focuses on improving communities locally and abroad through sustainable means while keeping in mind their culture and environment. This organization was founded on the basis of having projects come from students, rather than from heads of the organization. Structuring a group which allows students to grow as innovators while still helping communities has been difficult but extremely rewarding. Julian, Brent, and I have put our hearts into growing CentriSeed and we know that the younger students taking over the organization will fuel its bright future.

CentriSeed’s projects have been building over the past two years. Recently, we have completed our “Bicycle Generator” and “Roth Pond Restoration” project. Now that we have a  bit of experience as an organization, CentriSeed will begin  searching for larger projects. Two components of achieving this are gaining funds and acquiring professional guidance.

What advice can you give students who have just started in Civil Engineering or plan to apply to the program?

It is your responsibility to learn. It can be easy to make excuses but not learning only hurts yourself. People learn in different ways, therefore find your rhythm and rock with it. Whether you learn from diving into books or experiencing hands on make sure it gets done. Most importantly, there are many people to learn from at Stony Brook. Be sure to interact with your fellow Seawolves as much as possible. While looking for internships don’t feel limited to design. Explore surveying, construction, and anything else that may seem relevant to your interest. Finally, h ave fun! College goes by quicker than you’d think. Enjoy every second of it!

Previous Student Spotlights
Sarah Monastero, Spring 2018
Pasquale Giaquinto, Winter 2017
Joseph Kocaj, Fall 2017
Katheryn Capone, Spring 2017
Alexander Corpolongo, Fall 2016
Zephrine Gabriel and Thomas Kennedy, Spring 2016
Nicole Yoo, Fall 2015
Morgan DiCarlo, Spring 2015


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