Photo of awardee

Luis D. Alfaro

Vice President of Engineering, 
Panama Canal Authority
MSCE ’77, PhD CE ’80

In recognition of his many accomplishments in the field of civil and geotechnical engineering, including projects, papers, and conferences on the Panama Canal.

How does the bass guitar relate to foundation engineering? Quite well, says Luis D. Alfaro, Vice President of Engineering, Panama Canal Authority. “I think there may be links between my interest in the bass and in foundation engineering. Both provide essential support to other things.”

While the bass is a hobby, Alfaro has had a distinguished career in his native Panama in various positions tied to the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal expansion is one of the most important and challenging ongoing construction projects for the Panama Canal Authority, the autonomous agency that manages the canal, the leading interoceanic waterway serving world maritime commerce.

Alfaro began his career in engineering as a lead geotechnical engineer for the Panama Canal Commission, and was manager of the Geotechnical Engineering Branch from 1991-97. He was manager of the Engineering Division, Panama Canal Commission, in 1999 (when the waterway was transferred to the Republic of Panama). Since 2007, he has served as the Authority’s Vice President of Engineering.

Significant career milestones include making valued contributions to the Panama Canal’s Landslide Control Program; planning and successfully managing the widening of the canal’s narrowest and most landslide-prone segment, enabling the safe crossing of larger ships; providing technical support for the canal’s expansion program; guiding the effort to properly characterize the seismic risk of the area of the canal; and participating on the committee that prepared and has maintained Panama’s structural code since it was established in 1983.

“I was interested in pursuing a career in geotechnical engineering,” Alfaro explains. “The program and faculty at Purdue appealed to me. My education at Purdue gave me the tools to do the work. The most important lessons my distinguished teachers imparted include appropriate management of uncertainty and risk; the ways to model problems in a practical and realistic manner and how to focus conservatism on the truly critical issues; how to document my experience through lessons learned; and how to recognize the various types of motivations colleagues may have when participating in a technical discussion.”

His graduate studies at Purdue gave Alfaro the ability to successfully address future career issues, including elements of knowledge, judgment, and research tools for a successful career. “There is no doubt that my association with Purdue contributed to my having the opportunity to be trusted with these vital matters.”

Alfaro maintains ties with Purdue as a guest lecturer and through friendships with faculty members.

In 2010, Purdue honored him with the Civil Engineering Alumni Achievement Award. 

Career Highlights

2007-present Vice President of Engineering, Panama Canal Authority
1997-2007 Manager of the Engineering Division, Panama Canal Commission
1991-97 Manager of the Geotechnical Branch, Engineering Division, Panama Canal Commission
1983-97 Civil Engineer, Engineering Division, Panama Canal Commission
1983-present Independent Geotechnical Consultant
1980-83 Structural and Geotechnical Engineer, Lopez Moreno & Associates
1980 PhD CE, Purdue University
1977 MSCE, Purdue University
1976 BSCE, University of Panama