By Juliana Palomino
Raymond-Blythe Professor of Civil Engineering Issam Harik has taught hundreds of students over his 35 years in the University of Kentucky College of Engineering. So when he recommended a student from his lab for a possible story, we listened.
“One of the undergraduate students working with me is Mr. Aaron P. Cole,” wrote Harik. “I respect Aaron very much. He is a wonderful young man with great work ethics. He is honorable and trustworthy.”
Who wouldn’t want that said about them?
A senior, Aaron supports himself financially and works hard to do so. He carries a full load of classes and spends his weekends working at Lowe’s in nearby Georgetown, his hometown. He also finds time to work 10 hours a week as an undergraduate research assistant in Harik’s lab.
“He basically has no free time to get into trouble,” says Harik.
Juggling everything has required patience and practice. Aaron says constant homework and four credit-hour all-day classes made his freshman and sophomore years especially hectic. Nonetheless, he doesn’t think the challenges that accompany an engineering education should discourage anyone.
“If you surround yourself with people who are in the same boat—then it becomes much more manageable.”
Aaron originally wanted to become an architect. However, after a high school teacher mentioned that her architect husband had decided to get another job and joked that Kentucky now had one job opening for an architect, Aaron quickly changed lanes.
“I decided to pursue something that I might actually get a job in,” Aaron says with a laugh.
Ultimately, Aaron chose to focus on structures. Not long after that, he began working as an undergraduate research assistant in Harik’s lab making CatStrong—carbon-fiber reinforced polymers for bridge remediation or, as he refers to it, “super duct tape for bridges.” Aaron hopes his education and experience will enable him to design and build bridges after he graduates.
Harik says Aaron’s grit and his determination to elevate his career prospects are a trademark of many successful UK College of Engineering alumni. “Our department and I have been blessed over the past 125-plus years to have worked with many dedicated, hard-working students like Aaron.”