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Johnny Donza ’18 Builds Bridges to Africa


An exciting collaboration between Stony Brook University and the BeLocal organization has spawned the BeLocal-bridge project, a student initiative aimed at designing and building a badly needed bridge in Madagascar.

Johnny Donza
Johnny Donza ’18, sitting in a concrete canoe, displays a drawing and photo of the bridge he designed and plans to build this summer in collaboration with BeLocal.

The project’s team leader is Johnny Donza, a senior majoring in Civil Engineering in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Together with his fellow Civil Engineering team members Manuela Corcho, Luke Papazian and Yuxin Xia  – all working under the direction of Prof. Harold Walker – Johnny has devoted much of his time over the past year to an innovative bamboo bridge design, already proposed for use in actual construction this summer in Madagascar.

“For senior design, you could be involved with a project just for credit, or just to pass the class,” he said. “But this project was more than that. They are actually looking to build it.”

This and similar initiatives will be a highlight of the annual URECA Undergraduate Research Celebration on April 25. URECA, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities, provides support to students engaged in faculty-mentored research and/or creative activities in all disciplines.

This year’s URECA event will feature more than a dozen senior design projects that address real engineering needs and challenges for people living in Madagascar. Ranging from rice processing/storage to rat control to briquette manufacturing, these projects have been thoughtfully developed for senior CEAS students from information gathered by recent Stony Brook graduates Acacia Leakey and Leila Esmailzada during a trip to Madagascar last summer. 

Donza’s specialization as a Civil Engineering major is in Structural Engineering and Construction Materials. Prior to his senior year, Johnny was a research assistant for Prof. Sherif Abdelaziz in the Sustainable Geotechnics Laboratory, assisting in studies on the effect of geothermal energy on asphalt in cold temperatures, and on how engineered bacteria-induced enzymes can improve soil properties. Johnny is also currently serving as Captain of the Concrete Canoe Build Competition team which is creating a 20-foot long canoe for an upcoming competition in NJ. In the summers, he has interned at Turner Construction Company in NYC, and at D&B Engineers and Architects in Woodbury, NY.

Following graduation, Johnny hopes to travel to Madagascar this summer to build the bridge; he will then be pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics with a concentration on structures at Columbia University. As a junior, Johnny was selected to participate in the American Society of Civil Engineers Workshop for Student Chapter Leaders (Newark NJ) last January; and has also served as a Peer Mentor for CEAS. Johnny is from Long Island and attended Massapequa High School prior to coming to Stony Brook University. 

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