Steve Wendland, PE, PG, DGE – GeoEngineers

Abundant Opportunities Provide Career of Growth

When I was three years old, whenever I went outside I would grab handfuls of dirt and eat it. My mother told my doctor about this odd habit, and the doctor told her not to worry about; it was not harmful. “You are what you eat”; I ate soil as a toddler and there began my career as a geoengineer.

As a child I learned the value of education and hard work from my parents. I grew up in a blue-collar family in the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri. My father stopped going to school when he was just ten years old because his family needed him to work on their farm. I saw that his limited education curtailed his opportunities. I also saw both of my parents work hard to provide for our family. I learned to get a good education, work hard, and be self-reliant.

I was fortunate to have a high school math teacher guide me to a career in engineering. I earned a BS in Geological Engineering from Missouri University of Science & Technology. My involvement in the Sigma Chi Fraternity built my leadership skills and taught me the value of teamwork. I went to graduate school at the University of Texas – Austin, earning an MS in Geotechnical Engineering.

For 12 years I worked at Black & Veatch, a huge engineering and construction firm. I worked in their Power Division, which designed and constructed electrical generation plants and electrical transmission lines around the world. That job provided tremendous opportunities to learn from technical challenges on complex projects and to participate in the construction. I worked on projects in about 30 states and traveled to project sites in 14 other nations. My work at project sites around the world provided exceptionally enriching  opportunities to experience other cultures and international practices. My international travel took place before the internet was widely available or global cell phone connections; I was on my own to solve problems by working with local engineers, drillers, and contractors who often did not speak English. I learned that if I understood local cultures and learned some of their language, I could accomplish far more than if I just showed up and started giving orders. I was promoted to lead a group of 15 geotechnical engineers and geologists. However, I received no leadership or management training. Therefore, I was a poor leader in that first opportunity, but I learned much. At that time, my wife and I had two young children at home, and the frequent travel became too much of a burden; it was time for a new job.

In 1999 I joined GeoSystems Engineering, a Midwestern geotechnical consulting firm that was acquired by Kleinfelder in 2002. I was an Area Manager for Kleinfelder starting in 2002, leading their operations in the Kansas City area. The Area Manager role was a poor fit for me because of the focus on profits, sales, and personnel management; those are not my favorite interests. However, the ample training provided by Kleinfelder improved my leadership and business skills. In 2011, I transitioned to a technical leadership role. In 2014 I was promoted to be Kleinfelder’s Director of Geo-Engineering; I was responsible for company-wide technical expertise, quality of work, and reducing professional liability risks. That role was perfect for my interests and skills and I greatly enjoyed it. I became active in GBA in 2014. The loss prevention and quality-related resources from GBA helped me in my technical leadership role. Recently, I have accepted a position with GeoEngineers, and I look forward to this new chapter in my career.

Many times throughout my career someone would ask me, “What do you want to do in 5 or 10 years?” I never had a specific answer, but I knew that opportunities would arise if I improved my skills, worked hard, and kept a good attitude. I have worked especially hard to improve my writing and oral communication skills. I pass this advice on to young geoprofessionals:

• Make yourself a technical expert in two areas.
• Improve your communication skills.
• Work hard, that is not the same as working long hours.
• Maintain a good attitude so people will enjoy working with you.
• Teach those around you.

I believe these steps will lead to an abundance of opportunities in your career. For anyone interested in a technical leadership role, the resources available from GBA can be helpful in building those skills.

Outside of my work life I am blessed by a 31-year marriage to my wife Molly. We have two adult daughters, Kelsey and Paige, who have recently been engaged and married. Molly and I are enjoying life as empty nesters and whenever possible we pursue my great passion of travelling to interesting places. We are also committing more of our time to service in volunteer efforts. I also enjoy baseball, Kansas Jayhawk basketball, reading history, and exploring my faith.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve on the GBA Board of Directors. I look forward to continuing to grow the friendships I am building here while improving myself and the operations of my firm!