Ibukun Gabriel Awolusi: First-generation student-turned-professor uses personal experience to mentor others

January 5, 2023
Ibukun Gabriel Awolusi: First-generation student-turned-professor uses personal experience to mentor others

Despite coming from different backgrounds, many first-generation college students share a similar story of what it’s like to be the first in their families to pursue higher education. Ibukun Gabriel Awolusi, a first-generation and international student himself, has a firsthand understanding of the unique pressures that can come with being the first in one’s family to go to college.

"As a first-gen student, you’ll often be challenged. I learned at a very young age to accept and set challenges as platforms for me to advance, learn, and ultimately use those valuable experiences to help and support others going through a similar situation,” Awolusi said. “I would say it’s a privilege to have come from a humble background, and I consider that very motivating.”

Awolusi is an assistant professor in the School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Construction Management in the Bill and Margie Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design. He also serves as the division leader of construction science and management within the school.

With more than 45% of UTSA’s student population identifying as first-gen, Awolusi saw the perfect opportunity to guide students with a path comparable to his own by volunteering as a faculty mentor with UTSA’s First-Gen STEM Scholars Program. The scholarship program promotes first-generation undergraduate student success by providing personal and academic support in the form of peer and faculty mentoring, as well as access to career counselors to ensure persistence to graduation. The program is one of several resources offered by UTSA that are customized to the needs of first-generation and transfer students.

“We constantly engage with our mentees, meet with them at least once a month, and participate actively in events organized throughout the semester, such as serving as panelists at signature events,” Awolusi said. “It’s nice to meet with students and have the opportunity to mentor and interact with them in a more informal and individualized atmosphere.”

Having a strong support system throughout his educational and professional career thus far, Awolusi now pays it forward by helping his own students and other faculty members whenever he can. In addition to being a First-Gen STEM Scholars mentor, Awolusi is also a faculty advisor for the UTSA student chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, the online teaching faculty champion for his department, and assists his fellow professors as a member of the faculty peer mentoring program

“I have always had many people who have challenged me, motivated me, and let me know that I was capable of succeeding,” Awolusi said. “I’ve been blessed with a very supportive family and great mentors, and it is simply natural for me to mentor and share information with others and be a blessing to them.”

Along with teaching and mentoring, Awolusi also actively conducts research in various areas of construction science, management, and civil engineering, with special interests in safety management, innovation and technology, sustainable infrastructure and materials, construction education, and workforce development. Due to the hands-on nature of his discipline, he often weaves his research into his lesson plans to provide a more enriching experience for his students. Furthermore, Awolusi mentors undergraduate and graduate students who conduct cutting-edge research under his advisement at UTSA.

Awolusi regularly introduces innovative teaching methods including experienced-based learning, practical case studies, and guest lectures from industry experts. He also takes his students on trips outside of the classroom and into the field—such as to construction sites—to show them the tangible side of the material they learn in class and expose them to industry best practices. Due in part to his implementation of these teaching approaches and dedication to his students, Awolusi received the Outstanding Teaching Award in 2020 and the Excellence in Teaching Award for his college in 2022.

“I enjoy teaching and love motivating students to want to learn,” he said. “My students see the passion with which I teach and often find it easy to respond with similar enthusiasm, so I try to bring that to each class.”

Awolusi has had an aptitude for math and physics since he was in grade school, which prompted him to pursue construction and civil engineering. He received his bachelor’s degree with first-class honors in building and his master’s degree with distinction in construction management from the University of Lagos in Nigeria. Awolusi then moved to the United States to pursue advanced studies and research at The University of Alabama (UA), where he earned a second master’s degree in civil engineering and a doctoral degree in civil engineering in 2017. He joined UTSA as a tenure-track faculty member the following year. 

Despite the challenges that came with crossing continents to pursue advanced degrees at UA, Awolusi was able to find a strong community and encouraging mentors.

“Being open to learning new things and reaching out to people if I needed help made all of these transitions less difficult,” Awolusi said. “I hope my students can have the same mindset in knowing that they have me and others on campus here to guide them and ensure that they have the information and resources they need to be successful in college and ultimately their careers.”

Awolusi teaches the following courses:

  • CSM 2113: Construction Materials and Methods
  • CSM 2143: Construction Materials and Testing
  • CSM 4623: Construction Safety II
  • CSM 5413: Advanced Topics in Construction Systems
  • CSM 5433: Construction Safety Planning and Management

 Are you a faculty member at UTSA who was also a first-generation college student? Visit the First Generation & Transfer Student Programs website or contact the office directly at fgtsp@utsa.edu to discover opportunities to support our first-gen Roadrunners.

Read more Faculty Features about other interesting and accomplished faculty at UTSA.