Sunday, September 8, 2013

Civil Engineer: Success Stories

Engineering legacy: Civil engineering’s first black graduate

     Clarence Mabin, a 1961 graduate of civil engineering from the University of Missouri, recently semi-retired from his position as president of Custom Engineering, Inc., a mechanical and electrical engineering firm with annual revenue of $1.5 to $2 million. After a rewarding career, the octogenarian is enjoying leisure time with his family. He said he is especially getting a kick out of his two small great-grandchildren who love to play basketball.

     Mabin’s happy end-of-career story is not unlike that of many successful MU engineering alumni, but as an early African-American student in engineering and the first black graduate in civil engineering, the story of his path to success isn’t quite as typical.

     “If the railroad passenger business would have held up, I probably never would have gone to school,” Mabin said. “Like my father, I was a dining car waiter and I didn’t have much of a desire to do anything else. Back then, working as a waiter on the railroad or a job at the Post Office were about the best two best jobs an African-American man could get.”

     After graduating from high school in 1949, Mabin worked for the Burlington Railroad as a waiter in a private dining car. The railroad’s chief engineer noticed the young man’s keen interest in building plans that three bridge inspectors were examining in the dining car and asked him if he’d ever considered training to become an engineer.

     Mabin had never dreamed of anything like an engineering career, but the casual remark sparked his curiosity, and two things happened to push him toward engineering. First, schools were integrated in 1954. Then, one of Mabin’s friends who worked as a construction engineer at Lincoln University told Mabin he could get him a job as a draftsman with the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) if he went to junior college.

     Mabin enrolled in Missouri Western State College — now MWSU — in St. Joseph, Mo., where he did very well. When he went to work for NDOT, his boss asked him why he didn’t just go ahead and get an engineering degree.

     “I had a lot of ambition,” said Mabin, adding that he initially made plans to attend the University of Nebraska. But when he went to his meeting with the college’s dean, he had second thoughts.

     “He offered me no encouragement, and when he found that I’d have to work, he said I’d never make it,” Mabin said.

     So in 1958, the ambitious young man enrolled in civil engineering at the University of Missouri.

     By then, Mabin and his wife, Forestine, had three children. Forestine was operating a successful beauty salon in St. Joseph, so she stayed behind. Mabin had no car, but tried to get a ride back at least a couple times a month.

     “My high school homeroom teacher from Dalton High School [a black high school that served students from a wide area] had been a teacher in Columbia early in her career,” said Mabin. “All of our teachers had a great concern about us, and she knew a fellow who lived there. She wrote to him about my [financial] difficulties and he invited me to stay with him. That man, Dorsey Russell, was like a father to me.”

     Mabin remembers three MU Engineering faculty members who went out of their way to help him: Karl Evans, William Sangster and Mark Harris.

     “Dr. Harris caught me on my way out of class one day and told me that if I had any difficulties to come and see him and he’d help me out,” Mabin said. “But I didn’t experience any difficulties. It was a pleasant experience. My main goal was to get to class and get it done.”

     As a student, he worked at the Tiger Hotel and also for an architect in Columbia. He spent summers in a variety of jobs in St. Joe — including work as a waiter — and worked one summer with MoDOT.

     When Mabin graduated in 1961, he took a job as a member of of NDOT’s bridge design team. He went on to work for the O.K. Electric Co., Inc., and eventually moved into the steel tubular products business for Valmont Industries — a company that designed highway lighting, traffic, signing and transmission structure — and then Ameron Pole Products.

     Along the way, Mabin became a nationally-recognized expert in the design of pole structures for street, outdoor lighting, traffic lights and highway signage. Even in retirement, he serves as a consultant, reviewing plans for design companies who need an engineering stamp of approval on their plans.

     In 1993, Mabin purchased Custom Engineering and turned the faltering company into an award-winning, minority-owned success story.

     Mabin said his life experiences have motivated him to point more blacks toward the field of engineering, just as others influenced him.

     “It wasn’t always easy,” he said, “but it’s been a good ride.”

From Manchester to Vancouver: a Consulting Engineer Rises to the Top
Career Story by Chris Newcomb, P.Eng.

     Let me start by saying that when I was an engineering student, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how much fun I would have as a consulting engineer, the places it's taken me, the people I've met, and the things I've been able to accomplish that I'm so proud of.

     Today I'm President of McElhanney Consulting Services, a consulting engineering firm of about 400 people based in Vancouver. I'm also a Past-Chair of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies (ACEC).

     "Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how much fun I would have as a consulting engineer, the places it's taken me, the people I've met, and the things I've been able to accomplish that I'm so proud of."

     I studied civil engineering at the University of Manchester, in England. My first taste of consulting engineering was as a summer student in 1968, when I worked as an inspector on a highway construction project in the south of France. I had the good fortune that my mother was French, and she'd made a few phone calls to get me the job. So my first advice for you is don't knock the job your Mom gets for you – it might be the best job you ever get. Fourty years later, I still go back to look at that highway when I visit France, and I'm proud of what I did, even though I played such a small part in it.

     On that job I learned that you can make a difference. It was the first commercial project in the world to use reinforced-earth retaining structures, invented by a Frenchman, Henri Vidal. I used my student text book to do some slope stability analysis, and suggested that, at a particular location, instead of a single 10 metre high wall we build two 5 metre high walls with a terrace in between and my idea was accepted.So my second piece of advice to you is: don't be afraid to question the status quo, and to suggest changes. Even if your ideas are off the mark, people will notice that you have a questioning and creative attitude.

     I also learned on that project in France that as a consulting engineer, your skills are transferable to different countries. So as soon as I graduated I headed over to Canada, where I spent the summer exploring North America, then found a job with a consulting engineering firm in Vancouver, met the woman who became my lifelong partner, and I've been based in Vancouver ever since.

     "Don't be afraid to question the status quo, and to suggest changes. Even if your ideas are off the mark, people will notice that you have a questioning and creative attitude."

     I was the bottom person on the totem pole, and in those days, before computers, before even electronic calculators, I had to do a lot of the menial tasks. But I found that no matter how menial the work, there was always a way to improve on how it was done, by creating a template or a short-cut or a graph. My third piece of advice: no matter how menial the task, find the better way to do it. Remember, the Greek root word for engineer is the same as for ingenuity, and engineers are by nature ingenious.My first job was with Associated Engineering, a western Canadian civil engineering consulting firm. I spent 5 years there and got a great all round introduction to consulting, learning how to design sewers, water mains, roads, earthworks and drainage. I went out on construction sites all over British Columbia, and learned how to do construction survey layout and inspection, and solve construction problems. Through this I learned another lesson: if you want to be a great designer, you need to understand how things get laid out and built, which means spending time on the construction sites.

     In 1973,  I bought my first electronic calculator. It cost $110, which was about a week's pay after tax. I thought I was in heaven. Just imagine, in the space of my career we've gone from doing calculations with slide rules and logarithmic tables, to using powerful laptop computers and Blackberries. It boggles my mind to imagine what tools you'll all be using by the end of your careers!

     "Living and working in a different culture is an amazing experience, and it stays with you forever."

     In my job at Associated Engineering I met a variety of interesting people – other consulting engineers, architects, clients, construction contractors, and materials suppliers, and my social life grew up around these people. I learned to design large diameter water mains, and one of the manufacturers for this kind of pipe in those days was Canron. I became friendly with the people at Canron, so when they won a project to build a 60 km, 1200 mm diameter pipeline in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I volunteered to go. They needed an engineer with a variety of design expertise, and my experience as a consulting engineer was a perfect fit. I spent the next 3 years in East Africa, and the next 2 years after that on a similar project in Ecuador, South America.

     Living and working in a different culture is an amazing experience, and it stays with you forever. During my work abroad, I learned to speak Spanish and some Swahili and I learned a lot about different cultures.  I also became more self-sufficient as an engineer, because there was no one else to turn to for advice, and these were the days before internet, and even telephones were almost non-existent. And I spent my spare time visiting the game parks of East Africa, exploring the Inca ruins of the Andean Mountains, and sailing and snorkeling in tropical waters in both places. Another piece of advice:, when opportunities come along, take them. You'll have to make certain sacrifices but the rewards are immeasurable, and you'll come back with experiences that will set you apart from your peers.

     Following my work abroad, in 1981, I returned to Vancouver, and since then I've worked for McElhanney Consulting Services. I started as a Project Manager, moved on to Branch Manager, then Vice President, and eventually in 1997 I became President.

     As a Project Manager I became involved in large land development projects. These are exciting, not because the engineering is particularly challenging, but because the land developer is investing tens of millions of dollars, and the consulting engineer is an important part of the team that helps that investment to yield a return for the client.

     After a few years working in land development, British Columbia entered a highway construction boom, and my company became one of the leading highway design firms, so I had the good fortune to become involved in benchmark projects such as the Coquihalla Highway, the Vancouver Island Highway, the Annacis Highway, the Trans Canada Highway High Occupancy Vehicle project, and the Sea to Sky Highway connecting Vancouver to Whistler for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

     As I took on increasing levels of responsibility at McElhanney I gradually became aware of serious shortcomings in my skill set. Consulting Engineering, like most other careers, is mostly about dealing with people, so I started learning to develop my people skills such as courses on human behaviour in organizations, public speaking, project management and leadership. The following are some suggestions for developing your soft-skills, which will ultimately lead you to becoming a successful Consulting Engineer:
  1. Read "Winning Friends and Influencing People" by Dale Carnegie if you read nothing else in your entire life. When he wrote the book seventy-five years ago he said "I wrote the book because I noticed that 15 percent of an engineer's success in business is the result of his or her technical capability, and 85 percent is due to his or her ability in dealing with people." That statement is just as accurate today as it was then. This book reminded me to take an interest in other people, treat them with respect, try to see things from their point of view, and dozens of other valuable pieces of advice.
  1. Join Toastmasters. It's scary the first few times you go, but you get over it, and there's no better way to learn how to run meetings, think on your feet, and speak confidently to groups of people.
  1. Attend PSMJ Bootcamps. PSMJ teaches project management, business development and corporate management. They specialize in consulting engineering firms and their 2-day workshops are attended heavily by those in consulting engineering.  Many firms consider PSMJ Bootcamps as professional development, so ask your employer about these opportunities for your own development.
  1. Learn to write well. You can be the smartest engineer on the planet, but if you can't express your ideas eloquently and powerfully in an email, a letter or a report, then much of your talent will go to waste.
  1. Learn to network. Now networking does not mean going to conferences and hanging out with your buddies. Networking means going up to someone that you've never met before, that is standing alone, and asking them about themselves. You'll be amazed at what you learn and who you meet. Look for commonality between what you do and what they do. Even if you only succeed in linking them up with someone else for an idea or a project, you've earned yourself a favor that might get returned someday.
  1. Become involved in associations and attend conferences.
     The biggest regret in my career is that I waited until I was in my 40's before I started doing any of these things. Twenty years ago I wouldn't have stood up in front of an audience to make a presentation, not even to save my own life. So these things can be learned, and the sooner you learn them the more fulfilling your career will be.

     As I took on increasing responsibility at McElhanney, I became less involved in the day to day management of projects. This gave me the opportunity to turn my attention back to the international scene. I played an important role in establishing McElhanney's international office in Jakarta, Indonesia, and I still travel there twice a year to provide management overview to our office.

     "Why do I look forward to going to work each day? Same reason I turn the page in a good book. I want to know what happens next."

     I also can't resist taking on a project over there from time to time. When the tsunami of December, 2004, killed over 150,000 people in Aceh, Indonesia, I was part of our company's team that went to work for the Canadian Red Cross to map, survey, plan and design some 25 villages that had literally been wiped off the face of the earth. When East Timor achieved independence from Indonesia in 2002, I was part of our team that went in to help rebuild their infrastructure that had been destroyed by civil war. Since year 2000, I've been part of our company's team that's been developing a system to create property titles and establish property ownership in rural areas of Cambodia that were contaminated by land mines and had suffered decades of warfare and population dislocation.

      Over the past 15 years I've also become very involved as a volunteer in association business. I started as a member of various committees at the Consulting Engineers of British Columbia (CEBC), which is the provincial counterpart of ACEC. I went on to join the Board, and eventually became President of the provincial association for a 1 year term. After that I was invited to join the Board of the national association, and eventually became its Chair.

     Why do I look forward to going to work each day? Same reason I turn the page in a good book. I want to know what happens next. I've no idea what's coming next for me, except that in the consulting business I know it's going to be surprising, fascinating and challenging.


Success Story: Arnel Baquero

Arnel Baquero
     Arnel Baquero is a Civil Engineer from the Philippines. He arrived in BC in September 2007. Arnel has a Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering, 12 years experience as a Civil Engineer and 10 years as a Civil Structural Technician. He worked in his profession in several countries including the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

     Arnel was introduced to Klein and Associations by his advisor at Vancouver Central College. At the time he met with a counsellor on December 11th, 2007 he was employed part time on a contractual basis with a company in the United Kingdom. Arnel's positive attitude, warm-heartedness, knowledge and work ethic made him an ideal candidate for ASPECT's IMMPowerBC Skills Connect Program. With some general upgrading of his technical skills and knowledge of BC standards, practices and workplace culture, the counsellor was confident that Arnel would soon be highly employable.
     Together, Arnel and his counsellor drafted several revisions to his resume and cover letter until it was perfected in both their eyes. His counsellor also advised Arnel on how to develop a leads list, a portfolio, references, and how to make cold calls, leave English answering machine messages, as well as the follow up procedure.
     Arnel's biggest challenge was the interview practice which he jokingly referred to as "like a course". Arnel and his counsellor shared many humorous moments from his crushing handshake to Arnel's belief that one must wear the color light blue to a Canadian job interview. Arnel's challenge was to overcome his hesitancy with using the English language so as to elaborate on his brief answers and be able to truly express his educational and vast employment experience. During the interview practice sessions, Arnel followed the counsellor's suggestions with patience and much effort and quickly developed a sense of a Canadian style job interview.
     The Skills Connect Program also provided funding for him to complete an 8 week Certificate Program in Advanced AutoCAD, BC Building Code and Surveying which Arnel finished on March 18th, 2009.
     "The Skills Connect Program is a very useful tool for immigrants who find it difficult to join the profession that they are accustomed to from their country of origin" Arnel says. "The upgrading is very helpful and the rigorous interview training are very effective, from the first handshake, the way and the timing you answer interview questions and up to the closing period of the interview proper - it's very amazing."
     Arnel's successful result was achieved on May 15th, 2008 when he was employed as a Structural Drafter by AEROTEK at a starting salary of $40,000 per year. The day before the interview, Arnel emailed the news of his upcoming interview writing that he "would surely use the interview techniques that we had practised".
     The next day, Arnel informed his counsellor that he had been offered the job and expressed his thanks for all the interview training. Moreover, a recent email from Arnel happily reported that he had received very positive feedback on his job performance from his senior Engineer. Arnel was confident that this would continue to help him develop a stable career in Canada in his chosen field.
     Arnel has consistently expressed his sincere appreciation for the assistance from the Skills Connect Program. On June 14th, 2008 following the recommendation from his counsellor, he attended the seminar for Internationally Trained Engineers. After the seminar, Arnel expressed his delight not only with the valuable information that he received there but for the pleasure of being in the company of others like himself.
     Arnel's final employment destination is to regain his position as a Civil Engineer here in Canada: based on his current employment status as a Structural Drafter as well as his increasing knowledge of the Canadian workplace culture, Arnel has the confidence that he will need to achieve his greatest employment goal.
source: www.aspect

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts