SOLIDWORKS EDU Spotlight: Rafael Avila Striving to Learn More

For over 10 years, SOLIDWORKS has supported the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Student Steel Bridge Competition.   Through competitions, we meet talented students. Rafael (Rafa) Avila is one of those students that I am fortunate to interview..

Marie: Rafa tell us about your background. Where did you grow up?

Rafa: My parents immigrated from Mexico to Dalton, GA, USA.  I am part of a large Mexican-American Community. I went to a public school where nearly all of us qualified for the free-and-reduced-lunch program. I didn’t have many enrichment opportunities growing up that money can bring: But I made the most of the ones that were there such as FIRST Robotics which was all paid for by our sponsors.

Marie: Tell us more about FIRST Robotics and the people that influenced your decision to become an engineer.


Rafa: I was part of FRC Team 5900 – Fighting Mongooses in Dalton.  My childhood friend Ronnie (RJ) Walker introduced me to the team.  Brian Cooksey and  Marten Hutchinson were my FIRST mentors.

Marie: How were you introduced to SOLIDWORKS?  Through class, a teacher? A mentor?

Rafa: I was introduced to SOLIDWORKS at Southeast Whitfield County High School in my Engineering Class.  My engineering teacher, Mr. Ben Oliver, altered the course to focus more on 3D modeling with the goal getting students certified in SOLIDWORKS.  I achieved SOLIDWORKS Certifications: CSWA (Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate) and CSWP (Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional) in high school.

After I graduating high school, I was able to obtain a paid internship at Brown Industries. I drafted the fabrication drawings for commercial product displays using SOLIDWORKS.

Marie: Where did you go to college and what did you study?

Rafa: I first started out at Dalton State College, majoring in physics and pre-engineering for 2 years I was able to continue working at Brown Industries.  I then transferred to Georgia Tech majoring in Mechanical engineering. Marten Hutchinson, my FIRST mentor,  is a mechanical engineer and a Georgia Tech alum.  Georgia Tech is one of the top engineering schools and I received in-state tuition.

Marie: Explain change in your undergraduate program to why you switched to Structural Engineering for your Master’s focus.

Rafa: I enjoyed the critical thinking and design side of engineering and Statics.  I had an internship as an ME but job-shadowed civil engineers in the same company.  I was immediately more interest in the work the civil engineers did.  It was large scale with immediate feedback.  I changed my undergraduate major to Civil Engineering.  After graduation, I was accepted into Georgia Tech’s  Structural Engineering and Mechanics and Materials (SEMM) Master’s program.

Marie: Tell us about the Student Steel Bridge competition.

Rafa: For two years, I was a member of Georgia Tech’s team (GT ASCE)  for the Student Steel Bridge Competition, which challenges student teams to develop a scale-model steel bridge. I used SOLIDWORKS to design bridge connections, milled on a CNC machine.

This annual competition is organized by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Teams must determine how to fabricate their bridge and then plan for an efficient assembly under timed construction at the competition. Bridges are then load tested and weighed. Students are also judged on bridge aesthetics.

Marie: Last year, you were awarded the AISC Steven J. Fenves Scholarship from the AISC Education Foundation, named after Dr. Steven J. Fenves, a pioneer in Load and Resistance Factor Design, and AISC 50-year volunteer.   Rafa, you have achieved so much.  What do you want to do next?

Rafa: In the next few weeks, I want to obtain my Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Certification. I would like to work in the structural engineering consulting in the Atlanta Area and design buildings. Become a seasoned engineer that is always learning.

Note: Rafa did achieve his Fundamentals of Engineering Certification.

Marie: Anything else you want to tell our SOLIDWORKS and 3DEXPERIENCE Student communities.

Rafa: My parents are immigrants from Mexico, and they are working class. With hard work and perseverance, and after applying for many scholarships, I was able to graduate as salutatorian of my high school and Sigma Cum Laude at Georgia Tech, with no student debt from my undergraduate education.  I hope someone out there can read this, relate to my background, and take inspiration from my story.


Thank you Rafael for sharing your journey with the SOLIDWORKS community. We wish you the best as you continue at Georgia Tech and become a seasoned engineer that is always learning.  You are a inspiration for our students..


Design well.  Marie


Marie Planchard

Marie Planchard

Senior Director, Early Engagement, 3DEXPERIENCE Works at Dassault Systemes
Marie Planchard is an education and engineering advocate. As Senior Director of Education & Early Engagement, SOLIDWORKS, she is responsible for global development of content and social outreach for the 3DEXPERIENCE Works products across all levels of learning including educational institutions, Fab Labs, and entrepreneurship.
Marie Planchard