Glori, a structural engineer: Building Bridges over the Panama Canal

【画像】Name of the Course: Comprehensive Bridge Engineering, 2014
Period: Sep. 9, 2014 to Oct. 25, 2014
Position: Structural Engineer, Panama Canal Authority
Name: Ms. CESPEDES MELENDEZ Gloribel Arlin

Panama Canal, celebrated centennial of its completion on August 15, 2014, has 2 bridges connecting lands, both located in the Pacific side. Now the 3rd bridge construction is progressing in the Atlantic side for the 1st time. The 4th bridge construction is also being considered besides the 2 bridges in the Pacific side. Glori-san, a young engineer will report Panama Canal Bridge Construction Projects and her aspiration for the work, her own background, and her experience in Japan as a JICA participant.

Future plan of building New Bridges

【画像】As a result of the Panama Canal Expansion, the Panama Canal Authority had the responsibility of designing and constructing the Third Bridge over the Canal at the Atlantic Side. The Engineering Division, where I proudly work, was the main responsible for this task. When I started working at the Structural Engineering Unit, five years ago, the feasibility study for the Third Bridge over the Canal had just been awarded and my supervisor。。asked me to participate with him in that contract and all the following contracts that had to do with this bridge.。。This has been a wonderful opportunity for me, due to my great interest in bridges and since this is the second bridge of this type and magnitude in Panama. I was able to collaborate with the elaboration of the solicitation documents for the design, peer review and construction contracts, reviewed the design and more than 1000 drawings of the design contract.

The Third Bridge over the Canal at the Atlantic side is currently in construction by Vinci Grand Projects and it is expected to be completed in July 2016. The construction started in January 2013 and it is a concrete cable stayed bridge with a main span of 530 meters, a vertical clearance of 75 meters and a total length of 4900 meters. When completed, it will share the record of the largest concrete cable stayed bridge with the Skarnsun Bridge in Norway, which also has a main span of 530 meters, but this one has only two lanes in contrast with the Third Bridge over the Canal that has four lanes in total.

The national government asked the Panama Canal Authority to elaborate the solicitation documents for a Feasibility study and preliminary design of a Fourth Bridge over the Canal at the Pacific Side. Again, I had the great opportunity of assisting my supervisor on this task. This contract was awarded to a European consortium and the result of this contract was the preliminary design of a composite cable stayed bridge with a main span of 540 meters, a vertical clearance of 75 meters and a total length of almost 7 kilometers. I participated in the elaboration of the solicitation documents and the review of the 300 drawings of this contract. This preliminary study was submitted to the Secretarィェa del Metro, the entity that would be in charge of the construction of this Fourth Bridge over the Canal and the third subway line. JICA has shown interest in financing these two projects and have elaborated feasibility studies for them.

Telling myself: family, how I became an engineer.

【画像】My family background has influenced me greatly into the engineer I am today. Coming from a Hispanic family, my father and my mother have always had a big influence in my life; they have always been my inspiration and my role models. Watching my father work as an industrial engineer and hearing his stories about how he studied very hard to win a scholarship to study in the United States inspired me to be like him and to follow his steps. The way they have worked so hard to succeed from having few resources to becoming professionals has taught me that we can achieve any goal, as difficult as it may be. I try every day to be a better person, fighting for my goals and focusing on my strengths, putting a lot of effort in everything that I do, being persistent and trying to correct my mistakes and learning from them. I am a very idealistic person: I think that dreams can come true if we really want them. ‘Querer es poder’ (‘wanting is being able to’) is one of my most important mottos, which my mother taught me since I was very young, and I try to apply it to everything.

Since I started my school life, I was always interested in anything that has to do with mathematics and physics. I also liked to explore how things were made, especially things that had to do with constructing and modifying structures. When it was the time to choose a major in college, I knew that engineering would be perfect for me since it included all the courses that I liked in high school such as Calculus, Physics and Chemistry. But what really made me realize and decide to consider the choice of civil engineering was the amazement that buildings and structures produced in me every time I traveled with my family. Structures such as the Pisa Tower, the Sistine Chapel and the Mayan Pyramids captivated me every time I looked at them. Today, I am very happy that I chose civil engineering since I have enjoyed this career since the first day of classes.

I am very passionate about structural engineering and this interest grew after the professor of our Concrete Design class showed us the Viaduc de Millau, one of the tallest cable-stayed bridges in the world, which slings across the valley of the river Tarn in France. After seeing this engineering marvel, I decided that I wanted to be able someday, to be part of a team of bridge engineers that would design a structure like it. At that time I had no idea that years later I would have the incredible opportunity of meeting the engineer that designed this bridge. Luckily, I was able to meet Michel Virlogeux, two years ago since he participated in the design of the Fourth Bridge over the Canal at the Pacific side.

About my work:

The Panama Canal is a 77.1 kilometer ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and was officially opened on August 15th, 1914 by the United States of America. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. It takes around 8 hours to traverse the canal and 35 ships cross the canal every day. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 meters above sea level.

To work at the Panama Canal, it´s not only a privilege as a civil engineer but also as a Panamanian. The Panama Canal is celebrating its 100th anniversary and we have proudly managed it for the last 14 years since it was managed by the United States until December 31st, 1999. Currently, the Panama Canal is expanding and it is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction. The 5 billion dollar project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through the construction of a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity. As a structural engineer at the Panama Canal, I have the responsibility of designing and inspecting the structures of the Panama Canal including gates, towers, spillways, dredging equipment, cranes, berths, among others.

Working condition, being a female engineer

It has been a great opportunity to be one of the 170 female engineers that work in the Panama Canal Expansion. We make 28% of the total work force in the Panama Canal but this percentage is increasing every day. The current Vice President of the Engineering Department at the Panama Canal is a female engineer, she is an inspiration of all the female engineers in the department, and I hope I can become like her one day.
Around 30% of the engineering student population in Panama is composed by women, but this percentage is increasing. Panamanian women look for careers that can challenge them professionally and that can give them economic stability, and engineering is one of them. Most of the female engineers study industrial or civil engineering, but there are also some that study other disciplines of engineering such as mechanical, electrical and telecommunications engineering.

Findings in Japan in daily life: about personal visits, etc.

During this training program, I have had the great opportunity of learning a little bit of Japanese language, which has been so helpful and I have also learned a lot of Japanese Culture thanks to our trips to Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima and Tokyo and to the classes given by JICA. I will never forget our trip to Hiroshima. The visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum broke my heart and all the stories about the people that lost their loved ones made me understand so much about the Japanese people. I always like to try new food and here in Japan I have tried so many dishes such as okonomiyaki, takoyaki, yakitori, and kaiten sushi that have been delicious and very different to what I am used to eating in Panama.
It amazes me how kind and humble the Japanese people is. They are always smiling, willing to help you and treat you in the best way possible. In every city that we have visited, we have found someone that always helps us to find our way. Some of them even walked many meters to accompany us to where we had to go even though they had to go to the opposite side. I always try talking to them using the Japanese words that I have learned and they are always surprised and congratulate me for talking in Japanese. In our site visits to construction projects, we have been so surprised of the quality of work that there is, everything is perfect and impeccable. I can describe Japanese people as kind, courteous, humble, organized, clean and very honest people.

Message to the readers:

【画像】I have always believed that we can accomplish anything that we want in our lives, we just have to be persistent and fight for our goals. Dreams can come true if we work hard to get them. I encourage everyone to study abroad because it is an experience that will enrich you not only academically but in every aspect of your life. Nowadays there are many opportunities and scholarships, to study abroad, and you should not miss this opportunities. Education is what makes us better human beings and what helps us to have better careers and better lives. Japan is a great country with so many things to offer and there are so many things that we can learn from them. I want to thank JICA for this great opportunity that has changed my life in so many ways.

Editor’s Note:

Late in 1980, while Japan was in bubble economy, a University student that joined a voyage around Caribbean Ocean told me “In Panama Canal, our ship was lifted in the locks to go through a big lake and then go down.” There was no internet existing, and I tried to visualize the scene of how it’s like using all my imagination. I was so thrilled to know the situation hearing his story. Nowadays, we can overlook anywhere in the world by google map etc. but It is really a rare occasion to hear the actual situation from someone who is really working in the site.

The other day, I came to know that an Engineer from the Panama Canal Authority is joining the Comprehensive Bridge Engineering Course, and I thought it is the chance to hear from a person who is from the very site. I asked her about the recent progress of the Canal and discovered that this is the commemorating year celebrating its centennial. We both agreed that it will be a great opportunity to introduce “Panama Canal”, and she prepared a draft for the article managing her busy schedule. Her message for the reader is encouraging young people to study abroad. Glori-san, herself had an experience studying abroad while she was in both undergraduate and graduate school education. Now she is studying in Japan and I’m sure she learned a lot of knowledge and expertise, her step forward will surely contribute to the development of the Panama Canal.

ARITA Miyuki
Training Management Division