Engineering Week 2020: Q&A with Curtis Wilson
Curtis Wilson, PE, RPLS, is a civil engineer and registered professional land surveyor on the Water Resources Team. Wilson brings 35 years of experience in professional engineering, design, construction, project management and surveying to PSC.
Q: What inspired you to become an engineer?
CW: Unlike a lot of others who are raised in a rural community, I just always assumed from my earliest memories that I would go to college, instilled from my parents, and I would become an engineer someday. My father was an engineer for the Texas Highway Department (now TxDOT) and I grew up around heavy highway and bridge construction projects all over the north and west Central Texas. I really was always amazed at creating something that would or could be utilized by thousands of people in their daily lives. I was independent-minded, did not exactly follow in his footsteps and routed myself on a path to secure my education rather circuitously but finally met that goal at Texas A&M University.
Q: How have your previous experiences prepared you for your role with PSC?
CW: My career in engineering started in a time of great prosperity for our state and nation. I joined one of the many start-up consultancies in Austin, Texas, and we worked like our hair was on fire. The real estate meltdown and banking collapse in the middle-to-late 1980s changed all of that just as I became a licensed engineer. I now have a respect for the economy like few others.
I organized my own consultancy and went to work on anything I could find. I secured my surveying license as a matter of survival; land surveying was always in demand, even during a poor economic period. A lot of the time, I was in the field providing construction services on heavy highway, water resources, and municipal endeavors. The business of being a consultant was growing, and more of our work began to manifest itself as in-house design. I was the responsible engineer-in-charge of county bond programs, civil-site components of school construction, land developments, small water systems, right-of-way surveying all over the state, subsurface utility work, regional stormwater management program development, water quality attenuation projects, and heavy highway design.
All the while, learning how to comply with an onslaught of a multitude of non-point source pollution ordinances or environmental laws or rules and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service federal listings of endangered species. This all should sound very familiar with those associated with PSC because those are the same obstacles that PSC has now in total.
I have managed one of the first low-impact high-end developments in the state, which took more than three years to permit. I have expended more than seven years in municipal water system design and operational management on the public side. Hopefully, I will be able to use this background to further PSC projects.
Q: In your years and years of experience, what is something you have learned about yourself by being an engineer?
CW: I found out how resilient we as engineers can be once pressed. Whether a poor economy, tough client, design issue or business problem, I learned that with persistence, asking the right questions, good counsel and basically surrounding yourself with very talented people would always pull you through the hard times. I learned that I could never be an absolute expert at everything, but I knew where to go to secure that expertise when needed. I also learned that regardless of the outcome of any situation, the sun will continue to rise and set the next day.
Q: What is one of your favorite projects? Why is that project a favorite?
CW: After a lot of thought regarding favorite projects, I do not think I could select a favorite project. The challenging projects where I was an integral component of the plan development, permitting and/or construction decision tree have all been my favorites.
Q: What advice do you give young engineers about the engineering field?
CW: Patience and perseverance and leaning on those grey-haired souls will help younger engineers make good solid choices. Unfortunately, there is nothing in print that could take the place of live experience in any given situation. That is why older engineers are called to mentor. Listen to the stories and outcomes of the past. While we do not live in the past and times change, engineers should build up a toolbox to use in decision making, and utilizing these experiences from older engineers will accelerate that young engineer’s ability to make those good solid choices.
I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of finding a way to equally respect and effectively work with the broad cross-section of skill groups that you will rely upon, regardless of educational status, from laborers on a given project to our highest political leaders in Washington. This will serve you well for an entire career.