Dreams of Outer Space Grounded in Earth Sciences

My passion for science and engineering started in high school. I was a sci-fi fan and I was inspired by 2001 A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cosmos and all books on space exploration. I dreamed of a career as an astronaut, working on Mars or orbiting the earth on a space station. When I considered career paths that would get me there, engineering was a logical choice. Although the adults around me encouraged me to be an educator, I was focused on headed for the stars.

I attended Clarkson University enrolled as a Mechanical Engineer. In my sophomore year, while taking Rigid Body Dynamics, I found it challenging to comprehend mechanics and moving parts. While working as a mason’s helper that summer on construction sites, where everything we built stood still, I thought to myself, I get this. Upon returning to Clarkson for my junior year, I changed my major to Civil Engineering.

I graduated in 1991 with my Civil Engineering degree in hand but did not know what type of civil engineer to be. Serendipitously, I didn’t have to choose; the economic recession of the early 1990’s chose for me. I was one of the lucky few that year to have landed a job before graduation, and I started my career sharing a small office with a geotechnical engineer. I prepared boring location diagrams, classified soil in the lab, identified boring locations and logged soils samples behind drill rigs. I really enjoyed geotechnical engineering in part, because every project had different challenges and my learning curve was steep.

I joined ECS in 1997 and while working full-time, earned a master’s degree in Geotechnical Engineering. Despite my love for engineering, I found myself gravitating toward management: growing business, developing relationships with clients, improving efficiencies, and training staff. I learned over time that I enjoyed the business of engineering as much as the technical side, possibly even more, and earned an MBA in 2014.

On September 11, 2001, ten years into my career, my perspective started to change.  I had recently joined the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team to apply my engineering background outside of work and to help the community. When I first heard of planes hitting the World Trade Center in New York, I expected that we’d becalled up to help; but being only 20 minutes away from the Pentagon, a few hours later I walked into that building while it was still burning; helping fire fighters navigate through the damaged structure searching for survivors. We spent a week there, and I saw a lot of sad, terrible things.

A couple years later I lost my first wife to breast cancer at the age of 34. I was home alone raising three young girls, the youngest only 8 months old. In two short years I went through two life changing events that helped me to understand what was most important to me in life, and to focus energy on those: My family and being a positive contributor to the success of my company and my profession.

In time, I understood why adults that encouraged me to consider teaching as a career. It is in my blood!

• In 2001, I started giving lectures about my experience at the Pentagon on 9/11.  I’ve now given my talk over 200 times, all over the country for schools, Rotary Clubs, and engineering groups (including GBA in 2003). I use the experience as an opportunity to encourage others to use their talents to help their communities.

• In 2012, I began teaching young children about engineering, hoping to inspire them to a career in engineering or space travel at a much earlier age than I discovered it.

• In 2017, I started teaching as an adjunct instructor at my alma mater, Clarkson University; instructing young professionals in a graduate level class on construction inspection.

• And now as a senior executive with ECS, one of my most important roles is working with the next generation of leaders; teaching them what I’ve learned in my almost 30-year career and prepare them to lead ECS and the geoprofessions into the future.

I’ve been very fortunate to have had a chance to be involved with GBA, a collaboration of firms like ECS that are leading the geoprofessions into the future. GBA has been a fantastic resource for me and my company, and it has allowed me to contribute to improving the geoprofessions. My time on the Board of Directors has been a rewarding experience, allowing me to develop relationships with people just as passionate and driven to improve our industry and the friendships that started at GBA will last my lifetime.

When I’m not working at ECS, engaged with GBA, or teaching future generations of engineers, I spend my spare time travelling with my wife Rosalie of 15 years, and spending time with my three daughters, Laura (23), Allison (20) and Kelley (17). As a family, we’ve been active fundraisers for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for over 15 years and together we’ve raised over $250,000 in memory of the girls’ mother and my first wife, Jen.

To unwind, I head out fishing on my kayak in the Chesapeake Bay, or pour the latest bourbon that I’ve added to my collection during my occasional bourbon hunting outings. If you like bourbon, feel free to follow my bourbon hunting adventures on Instagram at @amateurbourbonhunter.

I haven’t made it into space (yet), but my career as a geoprofessional has been very rewarding. It has allowed me to experience the fulfilling aspects of the engineering profession as well as use my natural abilities for leading and teaching people.