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Final Thoughts: Thankful to Be an Engineer and All That Comes with It

Robert Schickel on December 18, 2017 - in Column

We’re in the season when many of us stop and think about the things for which we’re thankful. For some, it’s our family, our health, our jobs, our home. For others, it’s nature, the ability to travel, the freedom to speak. For some, it’s difficult to be thankful for anything more than just having something to eat today. The range is staggering.

In this column, and at the risk of sounding trite, I invite you to think about some of the things you’re thankful for … as an engineer. I will share some of mine.

Education. I’m very thankful for all that had to fall in place for me to attend Valparaiso University. I credit my professors and counselors for helping me attain a civil-engineering education that was perfect for me. I learned so much more than what formula to use or which reference book to read. I learned to communicate, work as part of a team and serve others through my work.

Co-workers. A wide spectrum of co-workers have shaped my career and, therefore, a good portion of my life. We learned together the ways in which problems are solved, how to provide viable projects for the public and how to work together toward a common goal. People such as Mark, Bill, Hasmukh, Jen, Magued, Todd and so many others. They know who they are, because I have told them more than once that it was my honor to have worked with them.

Mentors. If we’re lucky, each of us has had at least one mentor during our career. I have had a few along the way who gave me direction and the confidence to do things that I wasn’t sure I wanted to or could do. For them, I’m thankful.

Opportunities. I hope each of you has had the opportunity to be part of projects that are completed for the public good. The main reason why I became a civil engineer and continued with my choice for so long is that the work we do as engineers benefits so many others. Whether it be creating a building that people live or work in or solving a drainage problem or addressing a transportation issue, the fact that engineers work on projects they may never use is an important distinction. I have designed a lot of bridges that I have never driven across; but others drive on them every day, and I’m grateful to have been part of those projects.

Varied Work. I was fortunate enough to be part of many different project types. From the beginning, I thought I would be designing fairly typical highway bridges, and that would have been fine. Never did I imagine that I would see them as they were being constructed—but that happened. I didn’t think I could design roadways, interchanges, toll plazas, subway stations and airport runways—but I have. Now, in my current work, I’m developing processes and procedures for a utility company that’s replacing its natural-gas distribution lines—another type of engineering work that wasn’t on my radar screen. But that’s what engineering careers offer: a huge spectrum of possibilities.

Sharing Experiences. Above all, I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my experiences with others. I have had a long and varied career, and have been able to interact with many people, companies and agencies. This has enriched my life beyond the technical knowledge required to design projects.

Fun at work. The last thing I hope everyone can appreciate is that it’s fun to be an engineer. How else can you discover so many new things; and work with so many imaginative folks; and provide so many useful, innovative and creative products for the good of the community? We owe it to future engineers to continue to show them that not only is engineering a revered profession, it’s also fun.

Hopefully, all engineers can be thankful for a future that holds opportunities beyond our dreams. However, with some of the recent actions taken by our government, it seems we might have an uphill path to complete the work that’s necessary. Our environment, transportation network and very lifestyle depend on forward thinking and positive actions that soon must be undertaken. Be thankful this season for all you have, but also be thankful for the right to make your voice heard.

Robert Schickel

About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel, P.E., has 40 years of experience in planning, design, plan preparation, and construction management of civil and transportation projects. He currently works for DB Sterlin Consultants Inc. as a consultant to Peoples Gas; e-mail: rschickel@dbsterlin.com.

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