Julieta Moradei was 16 when she enrolled at Northeastern, having grown up in Montreal where high school concludes after grade 11. But when her family moved to the U.S., she skipped Quebec’s two-year pre-university program, Cegep, and, with a high school diploma already in hand, went directly to college. Moradei, a graduating senior in the College of Engineering, has made the most of her Northeastern experience—which includes five co-ops between Disney and Simpson Gumpertz and Heger, conducting research with Jerry Hajjar, professor and chair of the civil engineering department, and developing lifelong relationships with mentors and friends.
Moradei, E’16, was accepted to six graduate programs, and after graduation she will begin a doctoral program in structural engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. She envisions a career that bridges the worlds of engineering and architecture. Here, she discusses some of the most impactful experiences at Northeastern and what lies ahead after graduation.
You were born in Buenos Aires and lived in Montreal from elementary school through high school. Did you feel as though you were bringing a global perspective to campus when you arrived at Northeastern, and has that perspective grown as an undergraduate?
Since Northeastern is so international, it was so much easier for me to meet people from all over the world. I was able to assimilate with both international and American students. I feel like when you’re from a certain area, particularly with international students, you tend to group up with people who are from your same area. But I was able to make friends with people from South America and the U.S. We all hung out together.
And from meeting people from all over the world at Northeastern, I learned so much about different places and how their values and cultures are different. That’s so important when living in an international city like Boston.
You recalled in your “Coolest Co-op” competition video that when you were 16, you went to Disney World and wondered how all the rides are built. Later, you got the opportunity to work there on co-op. What was that co-op like, and what did you take away from that experience?
The reason I went to Disney was that in my first class in engineering at Northeastern, “Engineering Design,” my professor was showing us what kind of co-ops engineers could do. One of the images she showed was a mechanical engineer who was working at Disney after she had graduated from Northeastern. After class, I asked how to get in contact with her. I emailed her, and she sent me back a long email about how amazing her job was. I never realized that engineers worked there, and the creativity that goes behind every detail. I visited Disney that summer, after my freshman year, and I remember loving it and knowing I wanted to take part behind creating the magic.
My first co-op at Disney came during my third year, and it was in project management. I worked with a team of engineers, architects, and designers. My largest project focused on fall protection recertification. Fall protection points are a type of anchorage system allowing you to securely attach yourself to a lifeline or lanyard. At Disney specifically, you’re strapped into a harness to do maintenance on a rollercoaster, to access rooftops, things like that. This might seem like a simple concept, but the project was the largest I have done up to that point: we had to recertify all the fall protection points throughout the parks and resorts. There were more than 400 points to inspect, and we had seven weeks to do this. The last point to inspect was the top of the Epcot Ball. This was toward the end of my co-op, and the team I collaborated with throughout the seven weeks told me I had enough experience that I could go up there. That was a crazy opportunity to have on co-op. I was up there at 4 in the morning for two hours with all the inspectors and safety team. It was a surreal experience, and it reminded me how much work I put into this co-op. It felt very rewarding.
You’ve volunteered more than 200 hours with preschool children through Jumpstart. What drew you to this volunteer work, and what has it meant to you?
I’ve always known I wanted to work with kids. I have a little brother who is 10 years younger than me, and I loved babysitting in high school. I knew when I came to Northeastern I wanted a volunteer experience working with kids, and I found Jumpstart. I thought it would be great to help teach kids to read and write. I help my brother a lot at home with that, because my parents are both Spanish, so I thought it would be great to do that for other children.
The reason I loved it so much is that I met an amazing group of friends. I was working with a group of four other girls, and we’re still best friends. But working with these young kids also kept me grounded. Freshman year was tough because I was younger, and classes were very hard and I was stressed out a lot. But doing this 12 hours a week kept me grounded, and it kept me relaxed knowing I was helping these children. This also drew me to teaching. I became a tutor for freshman engineering students from my second year through senior year.
You recently received the Thornton Tomasetti Foundation National Scholarship to pursue graduate studies in building engineering, design, and technology. What’s next for you after graduation?
I applied to a few graduate schools to study structural engineering, and I’ll be going to the University of California, Berkeley starting in September. I’m enrolled in the PhD program for five years in structural engineering. I also plan to take classes in architecture and pursue research that is a hybrid of structural engineering and architectural design. Also, this summer I’ll be doing an internship at Arup in Boston in the company’s structural engineering group. I’m looking forward to it: it us an amazing company that merges engineering with architecture, and do the most beautiful designs. Besides work and school, I plan to travel as much as I can! I will be going to Spain at the end of May, and saying goodbye to Boston by road-tripping from the East to West coast in August.
What did you learn about yourself while at Northeastern?
This might sound cheesy, but I learned that anything is possible. When I came to Northeastern, I was 16, and I thought I was going to fail every class I took because I was missing all these classes that everyone else took in high school. But I just worked very hard freshman year and earned a good GPA, and that led me to work really hard to get my first co-op at Simpson Gumpertz and Heger. I realized at that first co-op that if you ask for things and put your mind to it, people are willing to help you. At SGH, I developed the most impactful relationships that set my professional career, and I learned the importance of having mentors. It truly taught me that your success is never just yours, but it is really the team of people who helped you along the way. If it were not for my family and mentors, I would not be where I am today.
Now it’s a lot easier for me to realize that if you genuinely put your mind to something, you’ll get there. Maybe not on the first pass, but you’ll find a way. And I think that’s what Northeastern taught me. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself to go for what I really love, and if you dream big, you can get it.
What memory stands out from your Northeastern experience?
A big one for me was my Convocation speech in September, and the feeling afterwards. My mom, my dad, and my brother were there in the crowd. They were watching intently and it was the proudest I’ve ever seen them. I started at Northeastern being so scared that I wasn’t going to do well. I remember watching the Convocation speech from my freshman year, and the student speaker talked about working at the White House. I remember thinking that she had accomplished so much and that I could never be that person.
For me, it was a nice closing chapter of my Northeastern experience when I gave that speech. I felt like I made it, I did it. I gave all the freshmen class my biggest advice about what I learned on my journey. While writing that speech, I had to thoroughly reflect on the past five years, and I realized in that moment what an amazing five years Northeastern gave me. From 16 to 21, I grew up, developed my passions and met the most incredible people.