Meet Sam Abernethy, EI, Engineering Associate
Recent Virginia Tech Graduate on the Hickory Water / Wastewater Team
Sam Abernethy, a 2018 graduate of Virginia Tech University, started at McGill as an intern in 2016 and joined us full time in 2018 as an Engineering Associate. In this interview, Sam shares what it is like to work at McGill and what inspired him to major in civil engineering and join the McGill Hickory Water / Wastewater team.
What attracted you to McGill?
I fell in love with improving the quality of water and wastewater systems. Through my internships, I was able to get to know the McGill water and wastewater engineering team. I learned quickly that there are plenty of experienced professionals who are willing to guide me, which I appreciate. Working at McGill makes it possible for me to do what I love. Growing up in the Hickory area also made it a convenient choice.
What do you enjoy most about the water / wastewater engineering team?
One of the things I enjoy most about my team is its small size. We work closely together and are all aware of what everyone else is doing. We know and understand each other’s strengths and use them to make the final project as strong as it can be.
On our team, everyone has assets that they bring to the table and experiences that they share. Everyone is able to approach the needs of a project from a unique perspective, which helps create a thorough process. For the most part, I get to see the projects from start to completion, which can be rewarding.
Why did you decide to pursue water and wastewater engineering?
It’s a long story, but it started in high school when I took an earth science class lead by a teacher who introduced me to the idea of cleaning up things rather than creating something new that would create more of a mess. It sparked my interest, and I was intrigued when it came to cleaning up natural resources. It seemed like a cool job that would be fulfilling to know I would be helping communities to reduce waste instead of contribute to it.
What is currently your favorite project?
The bio solids project for the City of Lenoir is my favorite project thus far. This is a project that I have worked on from the beginning through the design phase, where we are currently. I have visited the site multiple times, taking measurements and photos to figure out what works best for the site. We recently had the pre-bid meeting and are waiting before moving into the next steps.
What do you see impacting water treatment plants in the future?
Mainly, what I’ve heard is that there are more contaminates that are being introduced into our natural water resources that accumulate to the point where we need to acquire more treatment practices on both ends of treatment. This would involve preventing these contaminates from being introduced to our resources in the first place, as well as removing them from our drinking water. It also seems that there is great promise in mechanical pretreatment units (MPTs) and that we will be seeing more MPTs in smaller plants. This process reduces the amount of basin capacity a plant needs to traditionally treat its water, which reduces costs when expanding a plant’s capacity.
How do you stay motivated?
My motivation comes from something that is imbedded in me. Growing up, I always enjoyed helping my dad with projects, both small and large. For instance, remodeling the bathroom. I enjoyed all the little things that go into the project and how rewarding it is to complete it. Much of the work that is done doesn’t directly show in the end, but it would be evident if you had lower “good-enough” standards. These thoughts of continuing projects with the end in mind and placing value on long-term projects has helped me stay motivated throughout these long-term tasks.
What is your advice for a recent engineering graduate who is wanting to join this profession?
Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. The work seems fast paced and the goal is to work for the client and get the project done. However, sometimes the people teaching you the process are accustomed to it and do not know what parts of the process they need to slow down to truly teach you, so asking as many questions as necessary is key.
The work we do consists of a lot of little things that add up to the big picture. The quality of the picture is determined by the details. In contrast to any project that you work on in school, these projects may last years. The amount of effort that was put into a project through all of your good days and bad days throughout the year begin to show as all the pieces come together. Although school is a faster pace, the work directly ties into a project that can be completed in a week, which leaves a lot of stones unturned. Work, on the other hand, takes longer to complete projects, but is more rewarding.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I am in a bowling league on Sunday nights in my hometown. We won first place out of eight in our last tournament. I am also involved in a program called Young Life, which is a Christian organization that helps mentor middle schoolers. I spend a lot of time with my family too.
Thanks to Sam for sharing his personal story on finding his way to McGill and his experience being a part of the McGill team. To meet more staff, check out our interview with Carrie Cranwill, PLA, EI who is an important member of our Land Planning and Recreation team. To find out about ways to join our team, contact us or see current open positions.