31 August 2022

Learning, Teaching, Growing

Many people go through life knowing exactly what they want to be when they grow up. For people like me, the path for the future is paved one stage of life at a time. I have always been a problem solver and found confidence in math, but these ambiguous attributes led to a variety of career options.

It was my experience with hurricanes during my middle school and high school years that pushed me into engineering. I discovered something that most Houstonians understand all too well—hurricanes bring rain, and water has to flow somewhere. Although I knew that Houston flooded during hurricanes, I learned that it was a much more regular and severe problem than just that. So when it came time to choose a direction in college, I knew I wanted to make a difference by creating quality projects that did not result in more problems, but led to their solutions.

I was at a career fair looking for an internship, shaking hundreds of hands from dozens of firms, all offering and selling the same service. I knew of EHRA Engineering through my dad’s involvement as Director of the Quillian Center in the Westchase District. I didn’t know much about EHRA at the time, but I grew up working summers in Westchase and valued the relationships the community maintains with its businesses. EHRA was an established, reputable firm in a place of familiarity, but their investment in me from the very beginning is what brought me back for two more internships and my permanent stay as a professional engineer.

It wasn’t until my first internship with EHRA that I truly understood what civil engineers do. I was learning about the fundamentals of design and the responsibilities of an engineer. It was the most thorough three-month job interview I have ever had. I was jumping in, asking questions and taking in everything I could about this company. Within six months of starting full-time, I was an EIT assigned to my first project, Towne Lake.

Civil engineering can consist of designing beautiful buildings, bridges and roadways, airports and railroad tracks, but the most impactful part of what we do is everything you don’t see—utilities, water, storm, sewer, pavement, detention ponds, all of the non-glamorous sides of civil engineering. What separates Land Services is its scale in size and the pure vastness of its beginning. We start with a large blank canvas and transform it into a livable place of connectivity, preservation and community. The communities we build affect real people. It is our job to meet their needs effectively, visually and economically. To be the first footprint of development in an area is a large responsibility as we set the tone for all future projects.

We rely on our specialized disciplines to create a functional development. We design detention ponds and storm sewer systems, but our Hydrology & Hydraulics team ensures that they work. Our Facilities group designs water plants and wastewater treatment plants, and we connect them to our system. We work heavily with individual practice areas depending on the phase of a project. H&H, planning and survey take precedence in early stages, and as the project continues, we communicate daily with Construction Phase Services for updates and to answer questions. Each practice area plays a crucial role in the process, and it is satisfying when all of their pieces come together in the end.

All engineers will tell you that the material you learn in college is not always applicable to the real world. College classes are extremely in depth and technical. You learn about the history of concrete, the chemistry behind steel beams and the math behind everything that we do. All of these details are important and make you a better engineer and problem solver. However, the day-to-day complications in the industry do not correlate to putting pen to paper and solving for “x”. Although you use hundreds of formulas to get there, there is not one formula to build a subdivision. Each community comes with its own set of challenges with real-world problems requiring real-world solutions that will affect people’s lives for hundreds of years to come. There is an added weight and responsibility when people’s lives are involved and your seal is attached to the plans.

Getting a strong education lays the groundwork for a successful career; however, the majority of the skills necessary for a civil engineer must be learned on the job. The learning curve can be steep at first, but it is real-world experience that teaches us, and the success of our projects ultimately depends on our dedication to continuously learn on the job. If there is anything as important as this commitment to learning, it is the commitment to help others learn as well.

As a project manager, it is my duty and privilege to teach and grow my team. It is important to me that they understand they will make mistakes, and they must be able to admit to and learn from them. No one wakes up knowing everything, and this is not exclusive to engineering. Mistakes are a part of growing. The act of making them is an unfortunate guarantee in everyone’s career and imperative to learning. I am still learning from my own. In my career, it is important that I continue to learn from the road bumps that I run into in upcoming projects. It is frustrating to find out about a mistake, but what I learn from those mistakes makes me a better engineer.

It is important to know that an engineer never truly closes out a project. Every development holds a piece of every team member it took to bring it to life. Eventually, construction is completed and the plans are shelved, but the engineer on record will forever be the point of contact for any questions asked or changes needed.

As I grow closer to finalizing the last sections of my first project, Towne Lake, I begin to think about my goals for the future. I began work on Towne Lake in the middle of its design and construction as a young EIT. Since then, I have grown alongside the project into a licensed professional engineer and project manager of the development. Soon, I will have new projects that come with high expectations that I am eager to meet. What I look forward to the most is applying the knowledge I have gained thus far and experiencing managing a project from start to finish. Achieving this will mark the commencement of the next phase of my ever-evolving and exciting career here at EHRA.