Jackrabbit Alum Engineers an Ambitious Dream

“Looking back now, attending SDSU was one of the best decisions I ever made."



Jackrabbits, and the difference they make, are everywhere. With our new Alumni Spotlight series, we'll be sharing stories of recent alumni - what they've been up to since graduation and how their SDSU experience shaped who they are today.

Next up: Luis Duque

There’s a common adage at SDSU: “You cannot be what you cannot see.”

It stands to reason that Luis Duque became what he could see – and growing up, he saw his father serving as the architect of countless building projects, developing incredible feats of engineering from the ground up. Luis was inspired by what he saw, and he dreamed of creating his own someday.

Fast forward to South Dakota State University.

Luis moved from Colombia to the United States in 2012, diving headfirst into his love of math and science. During his time as a Jackrabbit, Luis kept a busy schedule of extracurriculars and volunteered on a project in Bolivia to help improve access to clean water.

Following graduation, philanthropy allowed for a fully-funded research project that paid for Luis’ degree and fueled the opportunity to perform research inspecting bridges using a drone – quite literally opening his eyes to approaching innovative angles to his work.

Nowadays, if you’re interested in contacting Luis, you might just have to get in line. Working remotely as a bridge engineer, his schedule is packed with a self-produced podcast, a weekly newsletter, an online blog, and consulting services for career advice, resume proofing, and practice interviews. His podcast, Engineering Our Future, invites guests from all over the world to weigh in on engineering, professional development, and personal productivity.

In the Foundation’s eyes, Luis happens to be an expert on all three categories. His journey from Colombia to a career in South Dakota has been propelled by determination, a commitment to excellence, and an ever-present curiosity in not just engineering, but in people’s ability to construct bold futures and enact personal growth.

Luis is well on his way to supporting others’ bold futures and personal growth, having recently established the Duque Family Scholarship, along with his wife, Callie.

The funding is geared toward engineering students much like himself, chasing ambitious dreams.

We caught up with Luis to learn more about his many interests, both personal and professional, and how SDSU steered his trajectory to where he is today.

What drew you to pursue a career in your profession?

From a very young age, I was fascinated by the world of construction and design. As I approached the end of high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this field, but I was torn between architecture and engineering. As much as I loved the idea of creating beautiful buildings and spaces, I knew that my artistic skills were not up to par. On the other hand, my proficiency in math and science made engineering a natural fit for me. I began to explore the world of structural engineering and was immediately drawn to the challenge of designing buildings that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Fast forward to today, and I am proud to say that I am a structural engineer. While the road to get here was not always easy, I am grateful for the guidance of my father and the education that prepared me for this fulfilling career.

Tell us what a typical workday looks like for you.

I work as a bridge engineer at Foothills Bridge. The day-to-day really changes quite a bit, depending on the season of work we are in. We primarily work in the construction industry, helping clients with their temporary works needs. We have performed some major bridge removals throughout the US, and that is what we are most known for.

How did your education at SDSU prepare you for your career?

When I graduated, I thought I would have a hard time finding a job. I was worried about how I would fare as an international student and as a graduate of a relatively small engineering school. However, to my surprise, I was able to secure a job in a field that I was passionate about.

I am constantly praised for my technical and non-technical skills developed through my education and extracurricular activities. My job allowed me to work with a diverse group of people, which exposed me to different perspectives and allowed me to grow both professionally and personally.

Looking back on my experience, I realize how valuable my education was, not just in terms of the knowledge I gained but also the skills and experiences that prepared me for the workforce.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

My job involves solving problems, and the nature of the problems that I tackle varies from day to day. Some days, I may come across small and straightforward issues that can be resolved in a matter of minutes, while other days, I may work on more complex and intricate problems that require a lot of teamwork and collaboration.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the challenge and find it very fulfilling to work with a team to come up with innovative solutions to the problems we face.

How did SDSU influence your life’s journey, both personally and professionally?

The education I received was top-notch, and it has set me apart from others in my field. But it wasn't just the classes that made my time at SDSU so special. It was the people that I met along the way.

From my professors to my classmates and everyone in between, I was surrounded by individuals who were passionate about their chosen fields and eager to learn and grow. They challenged me to think critically and pushed me to be the best version of myself.

I am grateful for the guidance and support that I received from everyone at SDSU, and I know that I would not be where I am today without them.

Can you describe a standout memory or experience both from your career and from your years as a Jackrabbit?

One memory that particularly stands out from SDSU is volunteering with Engineers Without Borders and the trips to Bolivia. During that time, I not only had the opportunity to meet a lot of great friends, but I also met my wife, Callie. The experience of working in a foreign country and helping implement sustainable projects was truly rewarding and something I will always cherish.

One of the highlights of my career was being named one of the ten new faces in civil engineering by ASCE in 2020. This recognition was a testament to my hard work and dedication to the engineering profession.

I believe that my experiences have helped shape me into the person and professional that I am today. Through my time at SDSU and my career in engineering, I have gained valuable skills and knowledge that I continue to apply in my personal and professional life. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and look forward to continuing to positively impact the world of engineering.

Watching his father engineer extraordinary projects as a child, Luis set his sights on his own extraordinary future.

As most architects or engineers will agree, to build something successful requires a solid foundation. SDSU provided a foundation of collaboration, innovation, and possibility for Luis, along with the chance to draft his own blueprint of what his career might hold.

In his path to become a structural engineer, he hurtled countless roadblocks: a foreign country, a different culture, a competitive workforce – yet he remained unfazed, intent on a lifelong dream.

“Looking back now, more than 10 years later,” said Luis, “I can honestly say that attending SDSU was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

That decision, and the graduate who made it, represents a key tenet of State: If Jackrabbits can see a goal, they can be it – just watch.