Florida State University

FSU senior Michael Perez is captain of the Concrete Canoe Team.

He and his College of Engineering teammates will compete in the seemingly impossible concrete-canoe-building event during the 2012 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Southeastern Student Conference, which Florida State will host. As secretary of the ASCE-Florida Engineering Society student chapter at FSU, Perez is helping to organize the conference.

That Perez is both the captain of a team that aims to build an award-winning canoe — out of concrete — and a leader of the campus club that is coordinating the major conference at which it will compete comes as no surprise to those across campus and beyond who've watched him tackle other weighty academic and leadership challenges.

Meanwhile, the multitasking engineer-in-training has been engaged in undergraduate research for his honors thesis. Supported by a "NanoCORE" (Nanotechnology Concepts, Opportunities, Research and Education) fellowship from the College of Engineering, Perez is investigating the impacts of nanomaterials in clothing — the nanosilver particles in socks that manufacturers add to kill smelly bacteria, for example — on the "good bacteria" essential to wastewater treatment processes.

It's not a typical topic for civil engineering students, but his FSU research adviser, Associate Professor Amy Chan Hilton, was instrumental in helping Perez to identify a unique, highly relevant research opportunity and the funding that could make it possible.

"I chose this topic because, while science and industry are quickly advancing in nanomaterial use, understanding and regulations of the environmental impacts that nanomaterials may pose are not advancing nearly as rapidly," Perez said.

Perez arrived at FSU with a commitment to environmental protection born of his passion for the great outdoors. His environmental engineering courses have nurtured those interests, which were further honed through a coastal engineering internship with the Florida Park Service.

As an intern, Perez displayed a strong, enthusiastic work ethic that convinced the park service to create a paid, part-time position for him. His interning achievements convinced FSU administrators to make Perez their sole nominee for the National Academic Internship Award.

Perez is the current president of Tau Beta Pi — the national engineering honor society — and a member of the Civil Engineering Honor Society's founding committee.

Those leadership positions and others have earned Perez a slot on the College of Engineering's Student Executive Committee. His research experience landed him a "Research Ambassador" role on FSU's Student Council for Undergraduate Research and Creativity. His grades have kept him on the Dean's or President's List for four years. Together, all those achievements have generated invitations to numerous honor societies.

Somehow, Perez also carved out the time to serve as a "craftsman apprentice" in FSU's Master Craftsman Studios. There, he assisted artists and craftsman with woodwork, concrete and steel projects and gained exposure to the inner business workings — design processes, estimates, installations, invoices — of a professional art studio.

Time management may have been the most important skill Perez learned at FSU.

"Ultimately, my goal is to establish my own engineering firm, where I will be able to work in multiple roles on multiple projects," he said.

It all began in Miami. Growing up there, Perez was captivated and intrigued by his hometown's enormous skyscrapers.

"I would find myself staring at construction sites for hours, amazed at how so many workers were elaborately coordinated in putting together a colossal structure," he said. "Civil engineering was an ideal fit for me, and the engineering program at Florida State has been, too."

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