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Keeping America Moving
Federal and state workers sustain commerce and safety across the nation.
America has the world’s largest GDP, in large part due to its commerce infrastructure, built and maintained by federal and state workers.
Here are some who keep America’s pulse strong and steady, and keep commerce flowing across the country while keeping all of safe.
They share their experiences, why they do what they do, the compelling reasons you should join them in the public sector and their best career advice.
USCG’s Cruz Keeps Aircraft Aloft
Humberto Cruz, chief warrant officer and avionics/sensors systems manager, joined the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) because he wanted to do vital work. “I wanted to conduct search and rescue missions at sea and be part of the action.”
Nowadays it’s Cruz who keeps the rescue and law enforcement teams aloft.
“I manage the logistics and sustainment of aviation avionics, mission sensors and computers to support our aviation field units, which are supporting law enforcement, and search and rescue missions,” he elaborates.
“I work on the aircraft that save lives. It’s an incredible feeling when you see those people coming back safely.”
Cruz didn’t initially foresee the rich rewards of engineering in Washington, DC-based USCG. “You don’t think about that kind of thing initially as an engineer, but with search and rescue, you can see all of the roles engineering plays coming together to save lives every day,” he remarks.
Cruz also treasures the trust tendered to him. “I love the authority that I’m granted to ensure that not only our aircraft are safe, but also primarily our personnel have the resources they need to work in a safe environment.”
Diligence is necessary for everyone’s safety, according to Cruz.
“When two of our aviation maintenance technicians found similar structural fatigue cracks on aircraft, we quickly gathered a team of our primary mechanics, quality assurance and support engineers to formulate a repair plan,” shares Cruz.
“The proposed repair plan was submitted to aircraft manufacture, which approved the plan. We were then able to conduct the repair in-house without the need of assistance of a field team.”
That diligence enables the Coast Guard to answer every call, whatever the weather.
“What always amazes me about the organization is that we’re always there for the call,” Cruz proudly states.
“As a life-saving service, we know that the work and training we’ve endured pays off during hurricanes and national disasters.”
Whereas Cruz once imagined himself aboard helicopters rather than keeping their avionics purring, he enjoys his work and urges students to be open to options.
“Pursue your chosen professional path, but don’t be afraid to venture into another specialty, which can use that engineering mindset,” he advises.
Navigate www.uscg.mil/Join for USCG career paths. Learn more about the USCG at Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Flickr and Twitter.
USACE’s Sterling Strengthens America
Michael Sterling, Ph.D. is the water resource engineering practice lead, Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). It’s a fantastic fit for him since he enjoys complex challenges, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coastal Texas flood map updates.
“As part of its flood mitigation and insurance mission, FEMA collaborated with USACE to update surge data for use in Texas coastal flood maps,” outlines Sterling.
“This monumental effort occurs once in a generation. The post-hurricane Katrina remapping of Louisiana’s coastal parishes served as the template for remapping coastal Texas. The basis of the Louisiana remapping was storm surge estimates modeled using high-density data models run on supercomputers.”
The effort required extensive date collection and validation exercise on a coastline three times longer than Louisiana’s. Throughout that process, Sterling’s role was key.
“Throughout the three years of modeling efforts, I participated in periodic quality assurance reviews, assessing the consistency and reasonableness of historic storm surge data,” elaborates Sterling.
“As a result, FEMA generated technically defensible updated flood maps, USACE received new surge data to assess Texas coastal levee performance and researchers gained better understanding of the hurricane surge dynamics and forerunner surge along the Texas-Louisiana coastal shelf.”
That’s one aspect of his USACE work, the compilation of which earned him the 2015 Black Engineer of the Year award for professional achievement (government category).
Such a lofty accolade isn’t only a good fit for Sterling, who clearly enjoys devising clever solutions, but it’s also a good fit for the Corps, given its reach and impact, for the Corps’ 30,000 employees serve in more than 130 countries.
USACE builds and maintains America’s infrastructure and military facilities, develops technology for America’s warfighters, dredges waterways and provides recreation opportunities, devises storm damage reduction infrastructure, protects and restores the environment, including critical efforts in the Everglades and the Louisiana coast, and cleans sites contaminated with hazardous waste.
The Washington, DC-based Corps’ history is as impressive as its on-going work, according to Sterling.
“For a long time the Corps was the only formally trained group of engineers in the country, so it had a hand in almost everything the government built,” he explains.
“Many iconic landmarks were overseen by USACE, from the Pentagon to the Panama Canal to the Manhattan Project.”
Given the range of the Corps’ challenges and the profusion of expertise it takes to meet those challenges, communication is key.
“There are so many individuals we must communicate with from the very beginning through to implementation and evaluation - and they all want to be communicated with differently!” notes Sterling.
“Our communications vary depending on our role in the project, the stage of the project and with whom we are communicating. Communication is the key to providing technical solutions that effectively address the needs and concerns of various stakeholders.”
The Corps’ coming challenges will require evermore engineers.
“As the nation’s engineers, USACE is a leader in maintaining the nation’ dams, levees and waterways. Civil engineers will have to rebuild, repair, and upgrade bridges, roads, airports, buildings and structures of all types,” Sterling points out.
“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 11% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.”
Access www.usace.army.mil/Careers for USACE jobs. Learn more about USACE at Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.
Eng Meets Myriad Challenges for WSDOT
Lorena Eng, PE, Northwest region administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), doesn’t have to go far to find a fresh challenge.
“I love the variety of engineering disciplines at WSDOT,” says Eng.
“You can work on the preservation of our aging infrastructure in one of the most congested areas in the country, maximize traffic operations with one of the largest intelligent transportation systems, work on the completion of a two-mile tunnel under downtown Seattle, design the ‘rest of the west’ connection to the world’s longest floating bridge, and work on ferry terminals that serve the nation’s largest ferry system.”
Eng and her colleagues also plan, design and oversee construction and maintenance of railways, airports, bridges, harbors, dams, irrigation projects, power plants, and water and sewerage systems, but there was one challenge that nearly overwhelmed Eng.
“I was naïve to think engineering would be a piece of cake. I wasn’t prepared for college-level math, chemistry and physics. I couldn’t change majors because my grandfather already boasted to the community that his granddaughter was going to be an engineer!” Eng recalls.
“I sought all of the help I could find - from tutoring to working out physics problems with my dad. Any spare moment was spent alone in the engineering library - I had no social life. Getting that degree in civil engineering took me longer than most, but I’m grateful that I stuck it out.”
Eng’s scholastic tenacity lets her now do essential work for her constituents.
“My job makes a difference. Listening to constituents and solving problems in a practical manner is most rewarding,” she shares.
“We take pride in our programs and projects, from routine maintenance of our highways [and] ensuring the safety for drivers to the design of complex freeway interchanges that balance environmental impacts with carrying freight. Our teams here are smart, resourceful and dedicated to serving the public.”
Eng prepared herself for an administrative role at Olympia , WA-based WSDOT by raising her hand.
“I took advantage of working in a variety of disciplines within WSDOT to get a sense of how everything worked together. I volunteered to participate in employee committees and assist in diversity training,” she describes.
“As a trainer, you gain skills in responding to employee questions on your feet in a safe environment. For me, it was a precursor to being in the hot seat at public meetings.”
If you want to work for or with Eng someday, then she has good employment news.
“The outlook is great for civil engineers, especially in the greater Seattle area,” she points out.
“In 2015 the Washington State Legislature passed a $16 billion/16-year transportation funding package. In 2016 Puget Sound voters approved a $53 billion/25-year package that enables Sound Transit to expand the mass transit network to connect 16 cities with light rail, 30 cities with Bus Rapid Transit and ST Express bus service, and 12 cities with commuter rail. And in November 2015 city of Seattle voters approved a $930 million/9-year levy that provides funding to improve safety, maintain streets and bridges, and invest in travel options throughout the city.”
Traverse wsdot.wa.gov/Employment/Default.htm for WSDOT job opportunities. Learn more about WSDOT at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube.
ODOT’s Williams Believes in Mentorship & Communication
Andrew Williams is an administrator in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) office of technical services. He has 35 full-time reports and oversees 45 consultants, but he never loses sight of his purpose beyond the office.
“I’m a public servant,” he states. “I impact the entire population of Ohio by managing 125,000 roadway miles. I help keep Ohioans safe and get them to work. There’s no greater honor than serving.”
Williams’ department manages transportation infrastructure, planning, design, and maintenance of pavement, bridges, smart mobility, etc. for Columbus, OH-based ODOT. “We manage a 115 billion dollar portfolio, from bridges to roads to culverts.”
However, once upon a time, Williams was a newly hired engineer, his first assignment in hand, and he ran into a figurative, but considerable roadblock.
“When I first got here, I was asked to set up a traffic control, but the county official refused to work with me,” he remembers.
“I approached him about his resistance, and he said he did not like black folks. I was tasked to do that job, so it rattled me and there weren’t a whole lot of African-American engineers in the early ’90s who could mentor me.”
So Williams dotted absolutely every “i” and crossed every “t.”
“I made sure I was the most knowledgeable and respected person in my organization, from dress to character to showing up on time to staying late to volunteering,” Williams details.
“That puts the ball in the other person’s court, and over time he came to apologize and treat me like his best friend. His view of African-American folks was negative, and he saw none of that in me.”
Williams carried that attention to detail forward and was rewarded.
“I learned from that, and I worked my tail off, which led to promotions. When I ran across situations like that in the future, I knew what to do, and I decided to become a mentor for other African-American folks at the ODOT,” he notes.
Williams has witnessed deep change in his department through the years. “My department is now one of the more diverse departments in my building,” he points out.
Rather than puff up with pride at his achievements, Williams works with the rightful humility of a public servant.
“The best advice I ever got was to remember that whatever company I worked for, I’m just passing through. The key is to leave it better than you found it,” he shares.
Williams urges student engineers to prepare for a diverse workforce and myriad challenges.
“The world we live in is so diverse. I tell my interns to be well-rounded. You have to have the ability to communicate, both written and oral, if you want to have an impact and have upper mobility,” he advises.
“Communication establishes relationships, and relationships give you upper mobility. Get involved with any kind of community service associated with your university, fraternity or sorority. Seek opportunities to stand in front of people, like speech classes.”
Log onto www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/HR/Personnel/Pages/default.aspx for ODOT opportunities. Learn more about ODOT at Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube.
Majboor Excels in Many Roles at FDOT
Belqis Majboor, PE, ME, CPM, district design quality assurance and pavement design engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), has worked for the department more than 21 years, managing as many as 28 employees, in various roles.
So what’s kept Majboor with the Tallahassee, FL-based FDOT for more than a score of years?
“I love making a difference in providing a quality transportation system for the traveling public and preparing young engineers to move up in the organization,” she answers.
“FDOT feels like a family, and management is open-minded. Plus, working for the state has benefits, like holidays, retirement, flexible working hours, and excellent mentoring and safety programs.”
Want to work at FDOT? “Volunteer with engineering firms to learn about their work practices and management styles. Go through the FDOT online information and publications, as well as the recorded training videos,” Majboor recommends.
“Prior to graduating, take the fundamentals of engineering exam, and practice and take the professional engineer (PE) exam as soon as you’re eligible to take it, even if it’s in another state. FDOT has an excellent PE trainee program.”
Then you can to follow the footsteps of Majboor, who’s also obtained her PE certification along the way. She’s also earned her CPM and ME certifications. But to get to where she is now and earn those certifications, she learned to persevere.
“I had a few challenging classes, but I asked for support from my teachers and studied with classmates. I was determined: quitting was not an option,” Majboor reveals.
“Sometimes we must take fewer classes to gain momentum. We need to be humble and ask questions. There’s nothing wrong with being a beggar of knowledge.”
If you’re hired by FDOT, then you’ll find plenty of help in climbing the rungs, according to Majboor, who refers back to FDOT’s training.
“FDOT’s training program is the best in the world for career advancement and personal growth, benefiting employees in their lives at home and at work,” she contends.
And Majboor’s life has lent her a sagacity that can serve all engineers.
“Having lived in Afghanistan during my childhood has made me appreciate all of the opportunities available here in the U.S. for a successful career, but we need to balance our career goals with personal and family goals by dedicating time and effort to achieve overall success in our lives,” she states.
“Remember that we work to live and not live to work, but we might love our work so much that work does not seem like work anymore!”
Find FDOT jobs at fdot.gov/agencyresources/employment.shtm. Learn more about FDOT at Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
Infrastructure Intrigues PennDOT’s Mutunga
Philip M. Mutunga, PE, civil engineer, transportation for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), has always been drawn to the “how” of infrastructure.
“I’ve always been amazed with how infrastructure is built, and that fascination drew me to civil engineering,” he says. “Building something that benefits people is deeply satisfying.”
Mutunga also likes his diverse colleagues and career options. “I value PennDOT’s commitment to hiring a diverse workforce and the many opportunities for experiences in different disciplines,” he notes.
“I started in traffic signal design, and now I’m broadening my experience by working on PennDOT’s maintenance side.”
Mutunga further appreciates the job security in the civil sector. “America’s infrastructure is reaching its design life, and civil engineers are in high demand to help design, construct and help maintain new infrastructure,” he observes.
One of approximately 12,400 employees at Harrisburg, PA-based PennDOT, Mutunga assists district maintenance personnel with environmental management issues, and obtains waterway permits and environmental clearances for bridge maintenance-related projects. He also ensures that PennDOT’s maintenance facilities are in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
Mutunga enjoys protecting the green hills and sparkling rivers of Pennsylvania in his PennDOT role.
“I admire PennDOT’s resolve to protect the environment, and I’m glad my job allows me to contribute to that goal,” he adds.
The feeling of admiration, respect and trust is mutual, as PennDOT entrusts Mutunga to perform under pressure.
“When I worked in PennDOT’s traffic signals section, my supervisor assigned me and my colleague to review a traffic impact study for the construction of a Shell ethylene cracker plant,” he remembers.
“We had to determine how the new plant would impact traffic flow. We had a very short turn-around time, and it was assigned on top of our daily job responsibilities. We temporarily put aside other projects and dedicated our attention to this one. By collaborating daily and working late, we were able to finish the review.”
Mutunga clearly rose to the occasion. But how should engineering students prepare for such upcoming on-the-job performance pressure?
“Get as many internships as you can in many different disciplines of engineering, even if you’re not sure you’ll like a particular field,” Mutunga answers. “That hands-on experience might introduce you to something you really enjoy.”
If PennDOT hires you, then you’ll work in a collaborative culture, indicates Mutunga.
“Even though PennDOT is a huge organization with employees of varying professional backgrounds, people respect and value each other, and work together to serve the citizens of Pennsylvania,” he concludes.
Peruse penndot.gov/about-us/Pages/Employment.aspx for PennDOT possibilities. Learn more about PennDOT at Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
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