Civil engineering junior Tea Vrtlar lived her entire life in the Adriatic coastal city of Split, Croatia until graduating from high school. During her last year, she was recruited by the UT Austin Women’s Rowing Team and was offered a slot on the varsity team. After gaining the support of her family, she took the necessary standard tests and was accepted to the university. “And that is how my Austin adventure begins,” she says.
Through hard work and determination, Tea transferred to CAEE in summer 2011, after entering UT as a Liberal Arts major. Civil engineering seems to be in the cards for her. She was drawn to the major early on and applied to the College of Engineering at the University of Split prior to being recruited by the rowing team. In Croatia, students determine their major before applying for college. She had also learned a great deal about the discipline through her mother, a practicing civil engineer.
“What impresses me about civil engineers is how they enhance the environment we live in," says Tea. “They create solutions that make our everyday lives better, and at the same time these solutions are a monument to the progress of human knowledge. I am interested in environmental and structural engineering. After taking upper division courses, I hope to decide which area to focus on.”
Tea is the first to admit that as a student-athlete, she does not have a lot of free time. Careful management of her time and being selective when choosing extracurricular activities is essential to her success. When not in class, doing homework or attending rowing practice, she enjoys attending UT ASCE meetings and participates in the Women in Engineering Program (WEP). She feels that both programs have a lot to offer in terms of networking opportunities and becoming better acquainted with students who are “ambitious, optimistic, knowledgeable, helpful and friendly.”
She particularly enjoys her involvement with WEP’s Graduates Linked with Undergraduates in Engineering (GLUE) program. It gives undergraduates the opportunity to gain introductory research experience by pairing them with graduate students within the same major. As part of this program, Tea and graduate student Courtney Thomas focused on exploring the mobility of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in different biomes. Tea gained an understanding of the mobility of PAHs and became familiar with the SPME technique using PDMS fibers for monitoring contamination with PAHs in different environments. She also utilized the Walkley-Black Method and the process of titration.
“Through this experience, I learned how theoretical knowledge can be applied in a useful manner,” says Tea. “Moreover, I gained an interest in environmental engineering, which I previously knew little about. I have absolutely loved working in the lab and feel that I am learning something new and valuable every time I am in there.” In fact, as a direct result of her involvement with the GLUE program, she has decided to continue her education at CAEE and will pursue a master’s degree.
“I feel like I have become more independent and confident. Living in Austin and being a student and athlete at UT have completely changed my perspective on the world. I feel like I need to push myself just because I have ‘Texas’ written on my gear – it requires the best of me, anytime, anywhere. My friends, professors, teammates, and the UT Athletics coaches, advisors and staff have given me great support. I really don’t know where I would be without all of them.”
Tea has plenty of great advice for incoming students. “Make sure to create a lot of connections, both within the department and everywhere else you can,” she says. “Meet your professors as they will teach you more than just course material. And become familiar with all of the organizations and opportunities at UT because there is so much that can be learned while you are here.”