What is the most rewarding part about becoming an engineer and being a role model for future generations?
The best thing about being an engineer is that you get to play with all of society’s toys. And what’s even cooler is that if you get bored with those toys, you can create new ones! That makes promoting engineering as a career easy – everybody wants to play with big toys. It’s gratifying when kids realize that engineering is actually a very fun career; it makes it accessible for them.
How did you progress in your dream to become an engineer while growing up?
As a machinist in the steel industry, my father was able to show me a lot of really neat tool and die equipment and huge production machines on which he worked. How can you see those monstrous clockwork machines up close and not be captivated and inspired? As children, my friends and I were often challenged when we asked for a particular gadget to “make your own.” It then became a challenge to build that gadget from the limited resources we had available. Doing that forced us to be creative and learn to look at things in a different way to repurpose them. That learned skill became incredibly handy in almost every situation through school and college, and then as an engineer.
Why is giving back to local communities important, and how are you currently supporting community outreach or the engineering profession?
As our planet’s population continues to grow, and our natural resources continue to diminish, we need to learn how to do a lot more with a lot less, so the world is going to need more and more engineers to make that happen. When speaking in local schools, it always amazes me how many kids don’t even realize what engineers do. In their environment, they simply haven’t been exposed to engineering as a career—they do not know any engineers. But many of those kids have tremendous potential that would be criminal to leave unrealized. Present and past generations have left future generations some pretty sticky problems to solve. The least we can do is arm them with some tools and inspire a multitude of new engineers.
What can today’s engineers do to pave the way for future engineers who dream big?
Get involved with one of several excellent well established programs that focus on developing engineers. Bechtel has selected three of them: DiscoverE, Junior Achievement, and First Robotics as part of their Signature Stewardship Program family. The nice thing is that the programs are graduated and have different levels of engagement so folks can apply their diverse skill sets in a program that best suits their strengths. The impact you can have on children’s and society’s future dwarfs the time spent.
How has your background made you a better engineer?
Some of the skills I depend upon every day as an engineer were not learned in college engineering classes. For example, working in the food service industry through high school and college taught me how to communicate effectively, harmonize diverse teams, and deal with a spectrum of personalities. Those human lessons learned are some of the most valuable I have received.
What characteristics are most important in fostering creativity and innovation at work?
Perpetual curiosity coupled with disciplined analysis is what generates successful innovation. Continually asking questions like “how does that work”, “why did that happen”, “how can we use that”, “how can we make it better”, “is there a better way to do that”, and “what could go wrong with it” and then answering those questions in a disciplined way, allows the best ideas to be safely leveraged.
What’s the benefit of working on diverse teams in school, internships, or at corporations?
When we do design challenge activities with students, there is no end to the variety of solutions they will create. Every group always comes up with a unique design. It’s fascinating to see how the students’ varied experience naturally creates a super broad continuum of solutions. This is not coerced nor learned, it just automatically happens! As engineers, we sometimes tend to retreat into our familiar terrain of solutions or try to “manufacture” creativity. Recognizing diversity’s role in innovation, encouraging broad participation, and hiring accordingly, allows a universe of creative solutions to naturally grow.