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Engineering a Career in Water

The importance of water became etched in Lucas Rivera’s mind as he watched the family’s agricultural fields in Canjilon, New Mexico flourish or fade based on irrigation and rainfall.

Now the NMSU graduate student is committed to a career focused on this precious resource, following in the footsteps of Dr. Conrad Keyes, retired head of NMSU’s Civil Engineering Department. Fittingly, Rivera also is benefitting from the Academy of Civil and Agricultural Engineers Scholarship that Keyes created in 2012.

Rivera, who also received scholarships covering his undergraduate tuition and textbooks, has prospered during his time at NMSU. He’s held leadership roles, including serving as a College of Engineering Ambassador, and received honors such as the 2020 College of Engineering’s Outstanding Graduate.


As a boy Rivera enjoyed building things, so his father, a State of New Mexico environmental scientist, encouraged him to consider a career in engineering. “You have to imagine it first before you can design and build it.”

Aggies Without Limits (AWL) allowed him to apply his knowledge on local and international community service projects. Rivera helped lead AWL teams that built a bridge in Puerto Rico, a water system in Guatemala, a pedestrian bridge in Honduras, and a water system for 25 families in Nicaragua.

“You get to design a real, functioning piece of engineering infrastructure that’s going to serve a purpose for many years and people are going to use it every day. Not many students get to do that,” he says.

Thanks to his stellar academic record and AWL experience, Rivera was accepted into NMSU’s Civil Engineering master’s program. “My original plan was to join the Peace Corps, but I graduated smack-dab during COVID,” he explained. “A master’s was on my to-do list, so I thought, ‘Why not get it now?’”

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Remaining at NMSU was an easy choice. “In my internships, I’ve gone toe-to-toe with Ivy League kids. I’ve never felt outmatched or inferior in my educational level,” he adds. “You get the most bang for your buck at NMSU.”

The Keyes scholarship makes a huge difference. “When you’re a broke college student, you sometimes have to choose between getting textbooks or groceries for the week,” Rivera said. After he graduates in December, Rivera will join the Peace Corps in March 2023 and work on water sanitation projects in Peru. “Water is going to be one of the most prominent issues my generation will face,” he said. “It’s going to take water engineers to solve these problems as the world’s population grows.”