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Rice Community Mourns Loss of Ricardo Poveda Calderon

Photo courtesy Leitao Chen

By Keegan Leibrock     11/2/21 11:41pm

Ricardo Poveda Calderon, a Rice graduate student studying in the mechanical engineering department, passed away Oct. 24 at the age of 32.

Poveda was a Fullbright scholar and an active member of the Rice graduate student community. He was involved in the Latin American Graduate Student Association, Graduate Student Association and numerous intramural graduate club sport programs.

Originally from Ecuador, Poveda earned both a B.S. and an M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Escuela Politécnica Nacional before moving to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

Seiichi Matsuda, the dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies, said that Poveda contributed greatly to the Rice community.

“Ricardo was a sterling individual. He was an excellent engineer who had developed important insights in mechanical engineering,” Matsuda said. “Through both his leadership and his commitment to building communities, Ricardo was centrally important to a number of student groups … He was a friend to many and did a great deal of good.“

Among his peers, Poveda was known as a mentor who would devote his own time to helping others succeed within the graduate program, according to Matsuda.

“He was unusually generous with his time and energies, from mentoring other students to making sure others felt welcome and included,” Matsuda wrote in an email to the Rice community. “A lot of people have told me that Ricardo was the first friend they made at Rice.”

Laura Schaefer, the chair of Rice’s graduate Mechanical Engineering department and head of Poveda’s lab, said that Poveda would be remembered as someone who worked to form connections within the Rice community.

“He was like an ambassador for the [mechanical engineering] department …  he was a part of the Mech Graduate Student Association, Latin American Graduate Student Association,” Schaefer said. “He was on both the graduate soccer and football teams. He fit into all of those roles so well and he made connections for people where they wouldn’t have found those connections before.”

Schaefer said that she would describe Poveda as open, calming and warm.

“I think that he also had this sort-of sly sense of humor, in a good way,” Schaefer said. “He would make jokes, and you couldn’t tell if he was making a joke. Then his mouth would kind of twitch just a little. I think people remember him that way.”

Schaefer said that, within the lab, there are many fond memories of Poveda. In one instance, Shcaefer said she recalled Poveda giving a long and highly detailed research presentation on the basis for features in ducks’ bills.

“We had this meeting a week ago and he had all these slides and details about how duck bills are actually fractals for the way the ducks breathe and drink water,” Schaefer said. “He was so excited about it … he showed such a depth and enthusiasm [about his research] in a very laid-back way.”

According to Schaefer, part of Poveda’s research was focused on heat transfer and water purification systems. Poveda hoped to bring his knowledge from this research back to Ecuador to help the surrounding communities.

“I first met [Ricardo] on a Fullbright student visit in March of 2018. I was super impressed by him, he had a lot of passion and a lot of energy. He was really excited about doing research and he wanted to make the world a better place,” Schaefer said. “He was talking about going back to Ecuador, doing research on [these mechanisms] and helping his country and the world.”

A memorial service was hosted for Poveda on Oct. 28.

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