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Rafiqul Chowdhury, owner and president of Quadrant Engineering, P.C., in New York City, recently established the Quadrant Engineering – Chowdhury Family Future Leaders Endowed Scholarship to help UCF students who share his drive and resolve.

Chowdhury’s time at UCF almost didn’t happen. He was determined to follow his older brothers to the University of Miami. When that didn’t work out, Chowdhury landed at UCF.

He had been encouraged by his family to enter the medical profession, but Chowdhury knew he had a certain level of squeamishness he would not be able to overcome to become a physician.

However, he excelled in math, and enjoyed science and technology. He was initially undecided about a career, but he knew he wanted to leave a legacy that showed his dedication to improving society.

“I wanted to pursue architecture at first because I thought I had this creative side,” Chowdhury says. “I learned quickly that I don’t.”

What he also learned was that becoming a civil engineer would feed his passion for improving lives. Any sort of transportation work, underground utility work, water resource design, infrastructure and other aspects of the field inherently make our lives – and society – better.

As Chowdhury progressed in his education at UCF, he says that Manoj Chopra, PhD, professor and associate dean of undergraduate affairs for the College of Engineering and Computer Science, provided the extra support he needed to achieve his goals.

“You know that feeling when you meet somebody who really sees you and unselfishly wants what’s best for you?” Chowdhury says. “I had a faculty advisor who believed in me and encouraged me more than anyone in academia I’d ever met.”

Even before he got to UCF, Chowdhury was determined to figure out things on his own. When he was rejected by the University of Miami, he kept the notice posted on his wall as motivation. He knew he was smart enough to become an engineer, or whatever else he wanted to be. He would prove that at UCF.

Rafiq at a seminar

“I want UCF students to learn from my experiences,” Chowdhury says. “You could be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t communicate with someone, they will never benefit from your intelligence.”

He stayed “in the room” and learned how to listen to the people there. He actively sought out demanding situations, like joining the Student Government Association, to enhance his vocal skills. Overcoming his initial hesitations about meeting new people, he discovered the value in hearing diverse perspectives and found confidence in expressing his own thoughts.

“It was inspiring to talk to my classmates about difficult engineering concepts,” Chowdhury says. “You could see how passionate they were about engineering, and they made it exciting for me, too.”

Once Chowdhury knew he was on the right track academically, he needed to challenge himself with more extracurricular activities. He began to avail himself of the opportunities that UCF offered to aspiring engineers. The student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers was very active on campus, and Chowdhury was eager to become a part of the organization.

“I knew I would have to learn how to communicate better if I wanted to be impactful in my career. And with UCF’s ASCE group, I had that opportunity.”

Founded in 1852 in New York, ASCE is the oldest engineering organization in this country. Each spring, ASCE holds a student symposium, at a selected college campus. In 2005, Chowdhury, who had just joined as a student member, was tapped to be the director for the upcoming 2008 competition hosted by UCF. The event would include over 1,000 students from the Southeast United States, Puerto Rico and China and included a budget of $100k.

“I accepted the responsibility,” Chowdhury says, “Not knowing that it was going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and truth be told, one of the most rewarding.”

As anyone who has ever planned an event of this capacity knows, there are many details involved to ensure its success. Chowdhury, who had never planned an event of any kind, realized that he would have to quickly get up to speed.

Chowdhury spoke with ASCE professional members on what was needed to put on a successful symposium, he formed a committee, and in the three years of planning the event, became closely connected to the ASCE. In other words, they got to know each other.

The symposium had over ten civil engineering-related events including the popular and nationally recognized steel bridge competition and the concrete canoe competition. These competitions tests student’s skills in 3D modeling, structural analysis, geotechnical design, surveying, construction, and engineering economics.

The symposium lasted over the course of four days with an elegant awards ceremony held at the Walt Disney Contemporary Resort.

“Getting this opportunity to plan this event changed my life,” Chowdhury says. “It was a very large event, and I met so many people with whom I’m still connected.”

Sometimes, Chowdhury says, the effects of the relationships a person makes may not be immediately known.

When he was a junior, Chowdhury wanted to work as a Walt Disney Imagineer. He met a UCF alumnus who had a connection with ASCE and worked at Imagineering. Chowdhury applied and started the lengthy interview process.

“As you can imagine, even if you’re just going for an interview, there are many waivers and nondisclosure forms that you have to sign,” Chowdhury says. “But finally, I made it to the hiring manager, and we had a great conversation. I was confident about my prospects.”

Then, Chowdhury got the dreaded, “I don’t think it’s going to work out.” He was crushed, but not deterred. He stayed in contact with the interviewer, who was also a practitioner advisor for UCF-ASCE, and a year later, that same individual offered the internship.

The job offer wasn’t just about Chowdhury’s advanced communication skills, of course. He engaged in more engineering-related coursework, proved his leadership abilities through his management of the 2008 conference and was elected president of UCF’s ASCE student chapter in 2009.

Unfortunately, during his tenure at UCF, Chowdhury encountered personal family issues that ignited a newfound determination within him. As he neared the completion of his undergraduate degree in civil engineering, he undertook extra employment to finance his education, all while remaining a full-time student. At one juncture, he balanced academic responsibilities with an undergraduate research position, employment as a valet attendant at Florida Hospital, and DjJ’ing at night. Fortunately, fueled by his ambition, he ultimately attained the degree he had tirelessly pursued.

“It was one of the worst times in recent history to look for a job. I must have applied to hundreds of places,” Chowdhury recalls. “Like any engineer, I had a spreadsheet and the spreadsheet told me who I applied to and when I applied. Did they respond? Did I reply again? I was very organized, but for the longest time, I didn’t get a single callback.”

At the same time, he was also working on research at UCF’s stormwater lab with some other engineering students.

“Our research was on determining the efficacy of pervious pavements, an innovative approach to paving roads,” Chowdhury says.

In addition to pervious pavements, his research included the use of polyacrylamide which is a gel-like substance that cleans water before it is discharged into rivers and lakes through the process of coagulation, Chowdhury explains. These bodies of water frequently collect dirt and debris from adjacent construction sites. Nevertheless, regulatory agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection enforce strict ordinances to prevent such occurrences, rightly refusing to permit them.

As Chowdhury and his research partners were nearing the end of their project, they received word from their Faculty Advisor that the Florida Department of Transportation was interested in their work. Chowdhury and a few others received an offer to continue their research, and to complete their master’s degree.

“Behind the scenes, I believe Dr. Chopra played a role,” Chowdhury reflects. “I began honing leadership skills through various campus activities, though my grades weren’t stellar. It’s disheartening to apply to numerous job postings and receive no response. He had faith in me in a period of time when I lacked it in myself.”

Chowdhury completed his master’s degree coursework, continued his research, defended his thesis, and went right back to the job hunt.

“I’ve always wanted to work in New York City,” Chowdhury says. “I got to the point where I was only applying to jobs in the New York metropolitan area since Florida evidently wasn’t working out. It doesn’t hurt that New York City is also a prime location for massive heavy infrastructure projects.”

When Chowdhury graduated with his master’s degree, Chopra also had a hand in his career, although Chowdhury says he would probably deny this.

Every year, the night before graduation, UCF’s Engineering Department hosts the Order of the Engineer ceremony. The ceremony is a ritual observed by engineering professionals in the United States and some other countries. It is intended to instill a sense of pride and responsibility in the engineering profession and to promote ethical engineering practices.

The night before the ceremony, Chopra asked Chowdhury if he would serve as one of the ceremony’s speakers and present the rings to all the graduating recipients.

“I didn’t really want to do it,” Chowdhury says. “I had my family coming in, and there were plenty of other people who could have done it.”

But something told Chowdhury that he needed to officiate at the ceremony.

“I didn’t find out until later that my classmate’s father owns a very prominent general contracting company in Long Island, New York,” Chowdhury says.

During the reception, the student’s father approached Chowdhury, complimented him on his speech, and indicated that he had a “little” company in New York and invited him up for an interview, should he be interested.

“I don’t think I showed any emotion,” Chowdhury says, “But my heart, it was almost jumping out of my chest.”

As they were talking, the man’s son, who received a ring that night as he was graduating with his undergraduate degree, approached the two of them, and told his father to give Rafiq a chance.

Days after graduation, Chowdhury was on his way to NYC. He spent some time in the Big Apple after the interview, just walking around like a tourist. Then he got a call. “ In true New York fashion, the man asked me, ‘Cut the [expletive]. Do you want the job or not?’”

That business owner and many other individuals became mentors to him during the beginning of his career. Chowdhury worked for the company for about eight years, he says, and then began thinking about what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

“I always knew that eventually I would start my own company,” Chowdhury says. As he grew in his own career, he realized that one of his greatest areas of fulfillment was bringing out the best in people, something he learned, in part, from the people at UCF who had brought out the best in him. In May of 2019, Quadrant Engineering, P.C. was born.

One factor that greatly influenced Chowdhury’s decision was the reputation he had cultivated within the ASCE group in New York City. He recognized that joining this group in New York would offer a familiar environment given his active involvement in Florida.

While in New York, he networked with fellow young engineers and spearheaded the establishment of the Younger Member Committee of ASCE on Long Island. This marked the initial milestone, and over the following years, he progressively ascended within the organization. In June of 2023, just 12 years after moving, he reached a pinnacle moment when he was appointed as the President of the Metropolitan Section of ASCE in New York City, overseeing a membership exceeding 5,000 individuals. Not only did this significantly enhance his leadership acumen, but it also facilitated invaluable connections that would support his entrepreneurial pursuits.

As Chowdhury was building his business, he also remembered his commitment to giving back to the community. It’s something that he learned from his mother.

“I wanted to embed in my company’s DNA from the very beginning about our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, but also to our credo of volunteerism and philanthropy.”

In addition to forming his company as a professional corporation, he also established the Construct a Dream Initiative (CADi), which is the philanthropic arm of Quadrant.

“It’s not just me,” Chowdhury says. “Our team volunteers with Citymeals on Wheels, hosted a mentorship program for high school students and funded many local organizations. One of the biggest things our team has done and one I’m most proud of was a back-to-school drive when we gave out 80 book bags filled with school supplies in 90 minutes.”

Also as part of the back-to-school drive, Quadrant Engineering partnered with a local barber shop to give out free haircuts to students so that they would feel even more confident going into the school year.

As Chowdhury’s business has grown, so has his own family. He and his wife, Kamini Ramdeen-Chowdhury, now have an almost 2-year-old daughter Madison.

“I don’t know if my daughter is going to end up being an engineer,” Chowdhury says. “I’m certainly not going to force her into it, but I would like her to come down to UCF and meet the students who receive our scholarship every year. This way, she will see the concept of giving back and its importance. We can make it our own little annual family trip.”

Chowdhury remembers his mother giving back to her community through her local mosque, where she often volunteered to cook and share meals. When his parents would travel to his father’s childhood village in Bangladesh, they brought suitcases of toys and gifts for the poorest of the poor. He didn’t realize it then, but these charitable acts certainly made an impression on him.

“We are all part of something bigger,” Chowdhury reflects, his voice carrying the weight of his journey. “The legacy we leave isn’t just about our individual achievements, but the impact we make on others. Right now, what fills me with the most pride is the scholarship we’ve established. I vividly recall my days as a struggling student at UCF, balancing work and studies, and the transformative effect scholarships and grants had on me. They lightened my burden and fueled my goals. Now, I’m privileged to pay it forward, to be the beacon of hope for students facing similar challenges. It’s a reminder that our actions, no matter how small they may seem, have the power to shape futures and ignite possibilities.”

With these words, Chowdhury encapsulates not just his personal journey, but a universal truth—that the greatest measure of success lies not in what we achieve for ourselves, but in how we uplift others along the way. “That’s how legacies are made.”