Senior Construction Engineer
Bechtel Group, Inc.
Advice to Students
“Civil engineering students should be aware that math and science are essential for engineering, but reading the newspaper and studying history, English, foreign languages, etc. are equally as important. Automation plays a major role in engineering projects so be sure to take plenty of software courses. Studying abroad is one way to investigate how interested you are in working internationally.”
- B.S., Civil Engineering, Tufts University
- B.A., German, Tufts University
- M.S., Construction Management, Stanford University
As a Senior Construction Engineer, I am responsible for integrating construction needs and knowledge into drawing, specifications, equipment purchase orders, subcontracts, and project schedules.
Q: How about the course work and your course of study as an undergraduate? Was it rigorous? Did you feel that you could choose specialties?
Ruess: The course of study for an undergrad or graduate engineer today is rigorous. At least at Tufts where I went, you have to do more course work in the same amount of time as a liberal arts major. So much so that we used to tease them and call them the leisure arts majors. But yeah, it’s rigorous and depending on just how well you want to do, you can spend as much time on it as you like. This is one of the things that you learn when you go to college, that you just can’t do everything the way you could in high school. Once you learn that lesson, it’s pretty key to your survival. But at any rate, it took about a year for me to figure that out. And about a year also to decide on civil engineering. I wavered between chemical and mechanical and ended up deciding on civil.
Q: And talk a little bit about your year abroad or your study abroad. What drove you to do that?
Ruess: When I started studying engineering, I realized that because there are so many courses required and four years to do it, those four years sound like a long time but they’re really not. I wanted to do more than just engineering, get to take some of these other fun courses that everybody else was taking except for us because we didn’t have as many electives. So I thought the best way to do that would be to get a double degree, get a B.A. and then select — I had a strong interest in German because of my background — selected a major that I really liked and then be able to take all those electives. So, so that’s what I did. It took some summer studies and it allowed me to study abroad for a semester which was a good marriage between the two. I studied in the southern part of Germany, nice old country town and a lot of old theologians and farmers studied there, so it was neat, nice setting.
Q: Were you involved with any professional societies or ASCE or anything like that as an undergraduate, or any kind of engineering societies at all?
Ruess: I was very involved in the ASCE as an undergraduate. I ended up in the board. I served as different roles, secretary and vice president and ultimately president of the, of the Society and really enjoyed the projects. In fact, when I was a senior I started and initiated, over the objections of many, a playground construction project in a town close to the university that had nothing but an asphalt lot and was in a grade school. And we raised the money, purchased all the equipment, did all the site work and installed all the equipment in one weekend. And it was students from the school, it was parents of students from that school that we were doing it for, this grammar school, and even I had some friends come from out of town who helped. It was a lot of fun. It was a great project. And I’ve done actually four other playgrounds. It’s something I just like to do on the side ’cause it’s really satisfying to do stuff with kids.
Q: How well do you think that your undergraduate experience … for life in the real world, both in terms of — both the technical matter that you were taught and also the way that it was taught to you. Did you learn how to work in teams because that’s the way that real work happens or did you feel that it was mostly you by yourself?
Ruess: Engineering education today has two major components to it. One, there’s a lot of technical part that you just simply have to learn. And it’s not the most glamorous of things but you absolutely need that foundation, you have to know how to calculate roads, you have to understand mechanical systems, you have to know about materials and go through all of that in order to provide the foundation. The other part of it is that schools have begun to realize that a lot of engineers in practice didn’t have all the skills that they needed in terms of communication skills, presentation skills, dealing with the public, appreciating other factors because just the box of the calculations and how many pounds are going to be on this beam. You need to know that but also what are the environmental ramifications of galvanizing that piece of steel and is there a way that might be more environmentally friendly? What is the impact of trucking this beam through this town going to be? Do I have to find another route? All of the peripheral issues really aren’t on the periphery any more, they are just as important and sometimes more important than the basics, the essence of engineering design and construction. So like I said, universities have realized this and they are starting to emphasize these things more. And subjects that were not previously required subjects like English and composition were electives and they’re even talking about going to a five year program because it’s difficult to do those two things in four years. It’s really asking a lot of a student. But if you do do that and you complete the studies of both the technical side and the soft side or the peripherals, then you end up with some skills that are very valuable to society. It’s a good combination to have.
Q: How about coops or internships? Did you have any of those experiences while you were in school?
Ruess: I worked summer times for a company that provided a scholarship, partial, for my undergraduate education. And I actually wasn’t in civil engineering specifically, it was in a manufacturing facility. And at that time, this country was still building planes, military planes, and that’s what I was doing. I started in subassembly and then ended up doing some design and composite materials and some failure analyzes, specific problem solving, primarily structural engineering as it applies to aerospace. And did that every summer and they’ll pay for tuition and got some experience. And the assignment was close to my home so that was — it was a good thing to do. I definitely would recommend it if you can get work in your off periods between semesters or years of school that relates to what you would like to do, it can not only improve your education but help you decide exactly what it is that you want to do after you graduate. Which is a tough decision for everybody.