Imagining Tomorrow: Celebrating Engineers Week 2021
Five McGill Engineers Share What Keep Them Excited About Their Field
This year, February 21st – 27th marks National Engineers Week (EWeek) by the National Society of Professional Engineers’ (NSPE) DiscoverE program, which strives to educate people around the world about how engineering professionals make the world a better place.
Engineering is a critical field of work that affects everyday lives of people and communities worldwide. Engineers had a hand in creating the wheel, computers, cars, buildings, medicine, and almost everything we see and touch. At McGill, our teams shape lives and communities through water and wastewater engineering; solid waste engineering; civil engineering; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering; and water resources engineering.
To celebrate Engineers Week 2021, we interviewed five of our engineers from different disciplines. Each of them shared their story and what being a part of this exciting profession means to them. Common themes of teamwork, problem solving, and facing new challenges emerged in each interview. In their answers, you can find a group of passionate and motivated team members who are committed to their work, teams, and clients. Through this, we hope to inspire future generations to explore the field of engineering.
What inspires you to come to work every day?
Bill Roark, PE, CPSWQ, Principal / Raleigh Office Manager: The people around me are the biggest motivation. While our projects can be rewarding in themselves, it is my coworkers and clients that keep me inspired. There is great satisfaction in accomplishing something together.
Mark Cathey, PE, Principal / Asheville Office Manager / Solid Waste Practice Area Lead: Being a part of a team to help our clients solve problems in a cost-effective and efficient manner. This personally – and maybe selfishly – provides me a sense of belonging, accomplishment, and self-gratification, but I like to think that we are, in turn, providing significant benefit to our clients as well.
Wes Fleming, Electrical Engineering Associate: I get great satisfaction from and enjoy the idea of creating something. When you have a design of any kind – whether you are in the electrical field or any of the other engineering disciplines – the idea of creating something and that thing that you’ve created being a valid solution to someone’s problem is a very satisfying kind of a feeling. I am also a teacher. When it comes to teaching, I enjoy the idea of giving something of myself to someone else and seeing their eyes light up when they understand something that they didn’t understand a few moments before.
How are you staying up to date in your field?
Drew Hubbard, PE, Mechanical Engineer: I am a member of multiple organizations – such as ASHRAE and NFPA – who are at the cutting edge of the HVAC and fire protection engineering field. I attend trainings but also try to keep up with the latest white papers being published by researchers in these organizations. Needless to say, it’s a lot of information to digest and it is a challenge to keep up.
Fleming: I recently graduated with a Master of Science in Electrical Power Systems Engineering and a Graduate Certificate in Renewable Energy. Being a student has kept me in tune with the evolving field of electrical engineering. I am also registered with NFPA.org, which sends me information related to my field, as well as gives me access to the most recent and past additions of the National Electrical Code (NEC). I also read trade publications, such as the Journal of Energy, which helps keep me up to date on the most recent and emerging technologies.
By tutoring and teaching, I keep my skills fresh. It’s no surprise that math is a big part of engineering and that can discourage some students from pursuing engineering. But it is also true that people who are good at math are very analytical and they are not, necessarily, out-of-the-box thinkers. I think that if you are someone where math is not your strongest skill, you can still be a successful engineer. Engineering fields need people that are strong with in- and out-of-box thinking.
What excites you in your field?
Cathey: Most people in our country do not think about solid waste management and disposal daily, even though each one of us disposes of some type of waste every day. We put the waste in a big container on the street and it disappears like magic. Yes, we pay a relatively modest monthly fee for it to disappear, but it sure is a lot cheaper than groceries. Reality is that our society would be overrun with vermin, disease, and lack of clean water if we did not manage our solid waste. Even though I realize I am only a small part of the McGill team and a broader national and international effort, I am able to be part of a critical service for our society.
Roark: I’m excited to see the shift toward wholistic development projects that include consideration of work / life balance, protection of the environment, and integration into the community.
MJ Chen, PE, PhD, Senior Project Manager, Water / Wastewater Team: Out-of-the-box thinking is always a new way to look at old problems, especially in a traditional engineering field involving treating water. Coming up with an alternative solution to help clients is always exciting.
Fleming: Part of my master’s degree involved quite a bit on renewable energy solutions. I even received a graduate certificate in renewable energy. I truly believe that there will be breakthroughs in solar energy. I recently heard a story about a new wind farm off the coast of South Korea that will be one of the biggest off-shore wind farms. If you are interested in electrical engineering and especially if you have an interest in creating new solutions that will be beneficial to the world, now is a wonderful time to get into this field. Those innovations will be coming faster and faster in the coming years.
Hubbard: I have always appreciated the general nature of mechanical engineering. A mechanical engineer knows a little bit about everything. My training in understanding basic scientific principles has always excited me to dive deeper into other areas. I can speak to electrical engineers about their systems, but I can also have conversations with civil engineers who are designing large piping systems. Ohm’s law and Bernoulli’s equation translate across all of our different projects. So seeing those basic scientific principles being utilized to building a five-story building or a water distribution system for a town is really cool.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Cathey: Know yourself and be honest about your interests and abilities. Do not pursue a field solely because of your parents, mentor, financial goals, etc., but consider what brings you joy, what you are passionate about, and what you are good at. Use all of this information to develop a sensible path, but also realize these decisions are not permanent and your path can always be adjusted to suit your personal goals and objectives.
Chen: Broad engineering knowledge will benefit you in the future. Although being trained in a specific engineering discipline can be helpful, knowing more about other disciplines will make you a better engineer in your field.
Fleming: I would have liked to have been encouraged to start my engineering education at an earlier age. Due to various reasons, I delayed my education, despite having an interest in engineering even in high school. Do not be afraid to get your education. I know that it can be intimidating to go into the engineering field, but if that is your dream and what you want to do, do not delay it. For those like me who did delay their education, I would say not to let that discourage you from starting. I was in my mid-thirties when I went back to school. A great deal of the post-secondary population is in the thirties. You may find yourself with a lot of peers.
Hubbard: I would have told my younger self to learn how to learn. I was so worried about doing well in school that I lost sight of what engineering is all about: problem solving. It is impossible to be an expert in everything so you will have to learn how to teach yourself new things even when you are a professional engineer.
Roark: It is important to find a job that you enjoy. When getting started in your career, you may not know what that is, so don’t be afraid to try new things.
Curiosity, Passion, Teamwork, and Problem Solving
We appreciate all our engineers and technicians at McGill, as well as those outside of our company. The themes woven throughout these answers are easy to recognize: be curious, follow your passion, work with others, and find satisfaction in problem solving. If you would like to join our team, visit Join McGill to see what jobs excite you. Or read more about how our team recently transformed the City of Asheville’s downtown Haywood Street into a more pedestrian-friendly and polished space through collaboration between our land planning and recreation, water and wastewater, civil, survey, and construction teams.