College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Where there’s a heart, there’s a way: Cyclone construction engineer Bukola Oni’s journey to supporting inland waterways and the world

Bukola Oni

Bukola Oni‘s engineering journey has spanned the world. She earned a bachelor’s in civil engineering in Nigeria and a master’s degree in sustainable construction in China, before enrolling in Iowa State’s construction engineering Ph.D. program.

Finding her way to Iowa State, inland waterways

When a friend told Oni that Iowa State has strong graduate school programs focused on solving complex, cross-disciplinary engineering challenges, it sounded like a perfect fit.

“My research interests are not just focused on construction. I’m working on water transportation currently, specifically in-land waterways. It’s an intersection between bringing construction engineering processes like maintenance into how the water transportation system works and trying to find how industrial engineering principles can apply to it,” said Oni.

Bukola Oni with some research diagrams on computers.

At the center of Oni’s heart is structural and environmental sustainability. Her models shape decisions on how to use limited funds to maintain water transportation systems. For example, she collaborated with the US Army Corps of Engineers to assess the lock structures that guide transportation along the Illinois Waterway system.

“The level of research collaboration and support I’ve experienced at Iowa State has been mind-blowing because I feel like everybody just wants to support you. They want to see you succeed, which motivates you to do better. Iowa State is student-centered, and that’s amazing. That’s rare.”

Finding her way with campus communities

“My advisor, Katherine Madson, has stepped out of a position as my advisor to being a friend. She still acts like my advisor, but she’s just been so understanding and awesome.”

“In Nigeria, where I am from, family is everything. I certainly miss my family and the community culture back home. But, here, it’s been amazing. I’ve met good people that treat me like family.”

At Iowa State, Oni has built community in many different organizations, including Alternative Breaks, the National Society of Black Engineers, Engineers Without Borders, Associated General Contractors of America, the CCEE Graduate Student Council, and most notably, GradSWE – Iowa State’s graduate section of the Society of Women Engineers.

Bukola Oni standing in front of a whiteboard with written calculations.

In GradSWE, Oni took on leadership roles as undergrad SWE coordinator, vice president, and now president, helping organize programs at the Go Further conference and DMACC Boone STEM Festival. She even placed second with her research in a SWE competition in February.

“GradSWE has been amazing. It gives you opportunities for professional growth and academic growth, leadership-wise and career-wise,” Oni said.

Finding her way with a Cyclone education

As for the future, Oni wants to engineer a helping impact wherever she goes.

“I just like to explore things and create new paths in a new way. I hope to be a change agent wherever I find myself,” said Oni.

“I’ll try my best possible to always contribute to that change, no matter if it’s in construction engineering, because I know there’s some amazing opportunities out there like the ones I’ve had at Iowa State.”