21 December 2022

Leave it better than you found it

As the eldest of seven kids in a first-generation Mexican American family, responsibility and initiative are two characteristics that were instilled in me from an early age. It is an aspect of my life that I am truly proud of.

I believe these traits have led me to such influential mentors in my life. The biggest of which was my first Art mentor, Lee Littlefield. I was a student in Mr. Littlefield’s middle school art class when he noticed my artistic talent and took me under his wing as an apprentice. I worked on many projects under his instruction where he taught me immensely about technique, but at the core of everything, he showed me how to tap into the creative side within myself and how to transfer that imagination into day-to-day life.

In a first-generation family, pursuing the Arts as opposed to a traditional career in Math or Science can often be frowned upon. I thought to myself, “I have this talent but what will this do for my life, my career?” I then set art aside as a hobby, something to do in my free time. Months later, Mr. Littlefield prompted the class with projects to exercise and test the limits of our imagination. Towards the end of the semester, he asked a few students to stay behind after class and fro¬m his wallet, he gave the students their “allocated earnings.” To our confusion, he further explained that our completed projects had been displayed in a local art gallery and SOLD! He remarked, “You all earned this. I know some don’t see a path investing your time and talents in art, but this is my way of showing you there’s always a path for you regardless of what you do.” These words have resonated with me in every career step I have made.

Mr. Littlefield helped me place value in the creative side of problem solving. I ultimately decided to go into a field of study that lined up with my core values as a person—pursuing renewable energy and renewable resource conservation. I graduated with a Bachelors in Bioenvironmental Science from Texas A&M University. My experience in this major was truly eye opening. Given the broad range of science disciplines and the interconnectivity between environmental laws and any given field, transitioning into the Civil field was pretty fluid.

In 2015, my sophomore year, a classmate of mine recommended I apply for a summer internship at the Engineering firm of which she was working. By this time, I had taken a few GIS classes, mostly focused on laboratory work, but decided to apply to see if this industry would be a good fit for me. During the summer internship I oversaw all the replats and rezoning maps for the company as a test to get familiar with the Civil 3D Software. Right away, I was hooked with the software. All the linework drawing took me back to art class and it was a refreshing mix of work and fun.

When school started, I continued to work and soon started seeing how interconnected the Environmental and Civil fields were. It all clicked together when I worked on my first site project for a small convenience store in a tract of land located in a floodway. The first step of the project was sizing the site plan using the least amount of land to build the project. Next, was rezoning the rest of the tract as a “Natural Area Zone” to minimize the footprint we had around the tract of land we were disturbing. For me, working on this project solidified how the environment laws are written and the impact they have on the world on a day-to-day basis. Throughout the remainder of the year, I found clearer understanding of the material I was studying by working on more and more civil projects.

Within the first full year of working in this industry, I found a lot of personal fulfillments, which is probably why I have now been in Site Development for nearly seven years. When tackling any new site project, there are always new obstacles. It is never the same project and each one requires a certain level of critical thinking and creativity to get it built. That is what I enjoy most about my day-to-day job. I enjoy being challenged and feel it is the best way to keep my mind sharp and engaged.  
There are several aspects of my job that lean into my core values and draw me into my work. My creative side enjoys the linework of CAD—from the simplicity of what lines represent on a map and breaking an object down to its base linework, to the very complex 3D models created using this software. I get my creative fix on the daily. My environmentalist side enjoys working on parks and trails, natural stable channel design, storm water quality structures and detention pond design, a daily exercise of the environmental requirements I once had to memorize. I demonstrate my work ethic through the process of building a plan set, cutting sheets to show the different logistical aspects of getting a site project built and ensuring that there is a clear and defined plan of action.

I take pride in my work, regardless of how I can help on any given project. This comes from a simple lesson I heard camping as a kid, “Leave it better than you found it”. At face value, leave a person, place or situation better off than when you found it. Applying that message to other aspects in my life has helped me tremendously. When it comes to working as a team player, if a project has touched my hands, I want it to show. The many facets of this field keep me challenged and fulfilled, and for this I am truly grateful to be part of the Site Development Department here at EHRA Engineering.