Where are you now working? Please describe your job.
I am now the Executive Director of the CEE spin-off non-profit, Greenroads International, which I founded with Associate Professor Steve Muench in 2010. We have more than 100 projects registered for Certification in 11 states and eight countries worth more than $20 billion. We have volunteer opportunities and sometimes I hire interns, by the way.
How did your UW CEE degree prepare you for your career?
I built my own job from scratch, which is more or less my personality style, and similarly in graduate school you can build your own program to suit. For me, it was all about learning by doing, focusing on doing the research and teaching others (as I am doing now), and making mistakes and learning from them. The research focus also helped me build credibility as a professional through publications and presentations for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences, and the teaching experience was one of a kind.
What area of the field are you particularly interested in?
I am interested in breaking down silos between government agency departments and the heavy civil construction sector by having engaging conversations about sustainability: what that means and how to do it. I want my fellow engineers to realize their influence in communities and to use their powers to make good choices about the environment and people.
Why did you choose UW CEE over other schools?
When I was considering graduate school, I was only looking at two places – the Bay Area and Seattle, where I had many friends from undergrad at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
How did you first become interested in engineering?
When I was about 10, Hurricane Bob hit our house and I found my dad in the basement trying to sop up water that was coming out of a hole in the wall with rags and a bucket. It was like a little waterfall; dad was definitely losing the battle. I went upstairs to the pantry, came back downstairs and stuck one of those flexible drinking straws in the hole. “There.” It just poured into the bucket by itself. Dad told me I was clever, and that instance stuck in my mind ever since. My dad was a rocket scientist, and I had outsmarted him. At the time, I had no idea it was related to engineering. Twenty years later, I got my Ph.D. at UW.
What was the program like?
I had worked before coming back to graduate school, and the difference between the daily grind and grad school was an enormous amount of freedom. It was definitely not like a regular job in engineering and it was not the same as undergrad. The graduate program required a lot of experimenting to identify a theme and synthesize information in a meaningful way.
What did you enjoy most about the program?
I enjoyed being a teaching assistant for the timber design class, which was my first graduate working experience. I also found teaching the sustainability class to be eye opening and fulfilling, even though it was incredibly hard and demanding.
If you were involved in research while completing the program, what did you work on?
I worked on the Greenroads Rating System research and development effort for the five years I was in the construction engineering program. This included several related activities including work with the Federal Highway Administration, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, and industry partners and professionals from around the world.
Any advice for prospective students who are considering UW CEE?
- Show up to class and do the reading. Your teachers see when you are gone and know when you haven’t read the homework.
- Always give proper attribution when you write or present ideas that are not your own.
- Set aside 15 minutes to go to office hours and meet each of your teachers: they are some of the most fascinating people you will ever meet, and if you have time, ask them what they did for their research and what they are interested in currently. Especially, if you are searching for what’s new and interesting in engineering and technology, or what problems there are to solve and dig deeper for research or independent study.
- Thumb rules for presentations: no more than six bullets, no more than six words per bullet, use as many big pictures as you can.
- Read the book “A Whole New Mind” by Dan Pink.
- Take classes in the arts and humanities, you won’t regret them in the professional world.