Dr. Z’s Corner

Dr. Z

Ahmet Zeytinci, P.E., Ph.D., Fellow-NSPE, Fellow-ASCE is an award-winning professor, structural engineer, author and mentor living in Washington, D.C. Since joining academia, "Dr. Z", as he is known by his students and colleagues, has distinguished himself on campus and beyond. He is passionate about engineering, gifted in teaching, and is a true champion for professional licensure. Dr. Z. has extraordinarily high standards; has produced award-winning designs; is prolific in professional service; and infects others with these same values. He is the recipient of numerous local, regional and national awards, including recent national awards from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Since 2014, he has been regularly writing monthly articles for “Dr.Z’s Corner “ and offering hundreds of engineering problems, for free, every month for students, engineers and engineering educators worldwide. Dr. Z. also offers pro-bono Saturday classes for students and engineers; his free classes are open to all in the greater Washington metro area and cost nothing, nada, zilch! Starbucks coffee is always a must have for Dr. Z.

A New Record: Columbia University Gives Five Scholarships to One University in the Washington Metro Area


When I remember the 1994 Tom Hanks movie Forrest Gump, I always smile. In the movie Tom Hanks said “My mom always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I think this is very true in academia as well. I’ve been in academia for more than 40 years and have worked as a project engineer, researcher and professor in Europe and Japan before moving to Washington, DC. Throughout my career, I’ve consider myself to be a very fortunate college professor since I have been honored by numerous local, regional and national awards from various engineering organizations and universities, including my own institution.

(Photo: Scholarship Winners from Columbia University: All of them are Civil Engineering students from UDC. Standing from left: Kwame Baah and Dr. Z. Seated from left: Patricia Wolfbauer, Suraj Narain and Brahim Sidi M’Hamed. Not shown: Andrew Asiimwe)

While these honors and accolades are meaningful, nothing gives me more joy than seeing my students achieve significant milestones in their preparation and careers. And today, I’ve decided to write about some of our students; who they are, what they do and why they are so unique?

Is it possible to inspire, motivate, and transform a sanitary worker from Washington, DC to ultimately become a structural engineer designing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner? Hard to believe, but this was a true story. As many of our readers know, I have been offering pro-bono Saturday classes at UDC that are open to all engineering students and practicing engineers from the DC metro area who may be preparing for their FE and PE exams. These highly-intensive, informal sessions, some call “Boot Camp,” present a two-way opportunity to learn from the students about their professional goals, dreams, aspirations and sometimes even their daily struggles and challenges and help them academically and prepare them to be successful and productive engineers and citizens. Editor’s note: find all of Dr Z’s practice problem sets, including this month’s, here.

About two years ago an engineering student from my Saturday class told me, “Dr Z, I would not hesitate to tell you that when I’m not at school, I work at a small restaurant on Georgia Avenue. I’m working there as a dishwasher and making minimum wages. It may sound strange to tell others what I do for living, but I am proud. I work very hard to help my family. My father is not working and my mother is sick; therefore I have to work to help them. Washing dishes helps me to go to school, get my education, and take care of my family.” And another said that to support myself and pay my tuition, I have to deliver pizza until 4 a.m. Every day I sleep for a few hours and then come to school and study. For us, these are amazing stories of dedication, values, priorities, and grit.

And the great news is, two months ago we were thrilled to learn that five UDC students, four of them Civil Engineering Students, all from Dr. Z’s Saturday classes, have received full scholarships, including tuition and housing, to pursue their graduate studies at Columbia University. This great honor is a testament not only to their extraordinary academic and co-curricular achievements but also to the quality of the engineering education that students receive at the University of the District of Columbia. By the way, the student working at a restaurant and the otehr delivering pizza until early in the morning were of course among those that received prestigious scholarships from Columbia University.

That reminded me my brief remarks during a national award ceremony back in July 2015 in Seattle. At the podium, speaking to educators and engineers from all over the country and also executives from Microsoft and Boeing:

“UDC is a small university in the nation’s capital. This prestigious award is truly a testament that while we often take a different approach, when it comes to inspiring, motivating and most importantly, educating students – our future engineers – The University of the District of Columbia is unquestionably one of the best in the nation. While our program may be small, it is mighty! It is a transformative opportunity to change lives, broaden the field, and help engineering students achieve their dreams.”

Until next time,

Ahmet Zeytinci, P.E.
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