Ricardo Poveda Calderon, a Rice doctoral student studying mechanical engineering, died Oct. 24. He was 32.
Poveda was a Fulbright Scholar and an active member in the Latin American Graduate Student Association. His friends recall he always looked for opportunities to serve his fellow students, as he did in his role as resident associate at the Rice Village Townhomes. Poveda earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Escuela Politécnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador, before pursuing his Fulbright scholarship.
“Ricardo was a gifted engineer and a genuinely warm and kind person,” wrote Seiichi Matsuda, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, in a message to the Rice community Monday. “He was unusually generous with his time and energies, from mentoring other students to making sure others felt welcome and included. A lot of people have told me that Ricardo was the first friend they made at Rice.”
Poveda left his home country of Ecuador to join Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering in 2018, entering the lab of Laura Schaefer '95, the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Chair in Engineering and Department Chair of Mechanical Engineering.
“He was amazing in every way,” Schaefer said. “It’s an absolute, devastating shock for all of us.”
After Poveda’s first visit to Rice as a prospective student, Schaefer could tell he would be a vibrant presence at whichever university he decided to attend.
Poveda researched how natural processes can inform engineering breakthroughs in clean energy and sustainability.
“I remember thinking, ‘I hope he chooses my group!’ because he had such a passion for what he wanted to do,” Schaefer said. “He was interested in clean energy and sustainability and climate change. And he wanted to learn more about that and take all those skills back to Ecuador and help out his country and help out the world.”
Poveda’s research focused on fluid flow and heat transfer mechanisms. One of his biggest sources of inspiration was nature, in particular how mangrove trees efficiently transfer water and minerals through their vascular tissue.
Schaefer described Poveda’s humility throughout his academic career; she typically learned about his latest accomplishments and his selfless gestures from excited friends and colleagues of his, never from Poveda himself. “He never said, ‘I did this, I did this,’ but everyone was always very eager to tell me what he had done,” she said.
Thanks to his lighthearted pranks around the lab and his constant encouragement of his colleagues, Schaefer said she and others who worked with Poveda will remember him not only as a driven scholar, but as a giving friend and a reliable source of joy for his fellow students.
She said Poveda helped foster a supportive, caring environment every single day.
“I hope what they remember is how important connections were to Ricardo,” she said of her pupil and friend. “Connecting other people and loving each other. That was so important to him — that people knew how much they were valued.”
The mechanical engineering department will host an outdoor memorial service for Poveda in the Huff House Gardens at 5 p.m. Oct. 28. All members of the Rice community are welcome to attend.
“Students, please remember that counselors in the Wellbeing Office and the Rice Counseling Center are available to assist anyone who may need support,” Matsuda wrote. “You can stop by their offices without an appointment, or you can contact them anytime (day or night) at (713) 348-3311.”