Engineers Week 2024: Q&A with Atwell Engineers

This year we’re celebrating Engineers Week by featuring some of our talented engineers and getting to know more about how they entered the field, their favorite projects, and their opinions on the future of engineering.

1. Why did you choose to become an engineer?

Alexis Griffiths, RG, PE | Project Manager (RELD): My path to engineering led me down a curvilinear route rather than the standard straight line. After completing my master’s in structural geology, I was fortunate to gain field and office experience performing construction materials testing and as a geotechnical engineer focused on projects throughout northern Arizona. I was inspired by the civil plans provided for these projects, along with field work during a significant Flagstaff blizzard, to make a shift into civil engineering. Going back to school was not my preference, so I researched typical coursework for undergraduate engineering, found course videos by university professors, and ultimately passed the PE.

Dustin Wilkinson, PE | Senior Project Manager: I grew up in a motorcycle shop and fell in love with machines and how they work at a very early age – so I guess I was born into it to some degree. I also did well in STEM classes and technical subjects in school as well. But really, it was just my love of machines (motorcycles, snowmobiles, cars, planes, etc.) that inspired me to become an engineer.

Jim Bieda, PE | Project Engineer: The choice was more pragmatic than romantic. My pre-college interests were art, math, and science, and I was attracted to architecture. But my academic advisors (and family and friends) said that most architects, like artists, starved, and I listened. Engineering was “honorable” and seemed to have many career opportunities. I liked the idea of solving real-world problems using math and science, so that was the path I chose.

Morgan Walubita, PE, MBA | Director: I always enjoyed building things as a kid, I actually thought I was going to be a mechanical engineer. It wasn’t until my family relocated and my dad started a cattle ranch that I really started to think about civil engineering. Watching my dad and what was required in terms of water and stormwater systems and other engineering requirements necessary to develop the land and build my family’s future was my first experience with civil engineering in the land development market and the start of my career.

Neal Tilbury, PE, MBA | Project Manager: In high school, I was good with numbers and logic.  My high school did an engineering academy where I got to try different types of engineering, and I enjoyed electrical engineering the most, so I pursued a career in it. I like the challenge each new project brings and the joy of giving back to my community by being part of the power industry and doing my small part to “keep the lights on.”

Scott Perrie, PE | Director, Pre-Construction SCS: I had some cousins who were engineers. I was good at math and science, and I liked building things. I was interested in electrical engineering because of computers and became more excited during college.

2. Can you share a memorable project you’ve worked on?

Alexis Griffiths, RG, PE | Project Manager (RELD): One project that stands out revealed to me how geology, engineering, and art can be interconnected. Artist James Turrell was transforming this dormant, volcanic cinder cone into a land art installation with the intent of changing a viewer’s perception of light and space. The natural environment plays a vital role in the artist’s vision, so it was imperative to develop a deep understanding of the artist’s intent and then apply standard engineering design with the goal of producing municipality-approved plan sets that could be constructed in a remote area.

Dustin Wilkinson, PE | Senior Project Manager: I’ve been a part of so many great projects, but one that comes to mind is an EPC project I did north of Denver. We installed Amine and Cryo Plants, NGL storage, and several other major pieces of equipment at brownfield compressor station that was in the middle of a total reconfiguration. The client had begun the job with another EPC firm, but they had not performed up to the client’s standards. Once we got the project, there were many critical eyes on us from the client’s management team as soon as we started. It was a supremely complicated job with a bunch of stakeholders and coming in mid-way through the project made things so much more difficult, but we were able to right the ship and turn a project that was headed for failure into a really bright spot for our client.

Jim Bieda, PE | Project Engineer: For me, it was my first carbon capture project, in Wyoming, full of major commercial and engineering responsibilities. The problems and challenges were very instructive, but the best part was working with the broker who had the foresight to lock up the CO2 supply years before the need was realized.

Morgan Walubita, PE, MBA | Director: It was a mixed-use development project that was initially a clay mine with an on-site manufacturing plant used to make bricks, but has been redeveloped into multi-family housing, commercial businesses, and an industrial site. I was exposed to all the engineering design and services aspects for nearly two decades, including a sizeable archeological aspect. During construction, they found a dinosaur tooth, which later led to the addition of an interactive park where families can dig for fossils and learn about the lives of dinosaurs. I remember taking my own family there and sharing not only a fun experience but how my job helped create this unique site.

Neal Tilbury, PE, MBA | Project Manager: I once designed the largest wind farm constructed in a single phase in the U.S. at the time — just under 1GW. Coordinating the three separate collector substations required for the facility was challenging, and I was proud to be a part of something that significant.

Scott Perrie, PE | Director, Pre-Construction SCS: I finished a project at the end of 2020 for a client in Golden, CO. It was a renewable testing facility to expand generation and was a seven-year project. Our team was able to provide a lot of specialized consulting and solutions for a facility that had multiple types of renewable sources working together (wind, solar, BESS, etc.) for the first time. We really helped them understand expectations for reliability when making connections while working within strict budget constraints.

3. What changes do you foresee in the future of engineering?

Alexis Griffiths, RG, PE | Project Manager (RELD): In the coming years, I think we will see significant changes driven by AI adoption and new opportunities presented by emerging technologies. There will be ample opportunity to develop innovative designs to support renewable resources and strengthen our power grid. I have been fortunate to work on several recent battery energy storage projects, often new to municipalities, which require thoughtful civil design and clear communication of design intent.

Dustin Wilkinson, PE | Senior Project Manager: While a lot of people may cite AI, some other technology, or remote work as the future of engineering, I think smaller, nimble teams able to provide turnkey engineering solutions to clients are the most interesting opportunities for going forward. Generalist teams that can work competently on a wide variety of projects and reach into their company for subject matter experts when required are the most effective and efficient execution teams, in my opinion. While engineers are not necessarily known for their interpersonal skills, this business has always been and will always be all about personal relationships. Smaller teams more easily foster those personal relationships internally and with the client, which is a major driver for long-term clients and repeat work.

Jim Bieda, PE | Project Engineer: How we do our work will continue evolving with technology. Drones and 3D scanning will allow us to build more sophisticated virtual models. AI will undoubtedly play a role, though it is too soon to predict the impact of AI.

A growing world population will continue to put pressure on clean air, clean water, food supplies, energy, transportation, and housing. Engineering will play an essential role in solving these challenges.

Morgan Walubita, PE, MBA | Director: Land Development as we know it isn’t going anywhere; regulations are becoming more stringent, and they will always need engineers. Integrating AI in our industry for more repetitive aspects and tasks will help decrease mistakes and help increase productivity, keeping the projects on schedule and budget.

Neal Tilbury, PE, MBA | Project Manager: I see AI becoming more integrated into engineering. Are we going to adapt or fall behind? Whoever adapts to it first could make a difference 10 years down the road. The other challenge is the renewable push. The infrastructure in place cannot support the additional power needed in the coming years. With the improvement of technology (data centers, car chargers, etc.), we’re using more energy per person than ever before. The demand is still growing, and we need just as much focus on infrastructure as we have been on renewable facilities if we are to meet our goal of 100% green energy.

Scott Perrie, PE | Director, Pre-Construction SCS: In our area of engineering, I expect to see AI used in automating tasks and in the software we already use.  We’ll see it infiltrate other industries first, but it’s inevitable.

4. Can you describe the most rewarding part of your job?

Alexis Griffiths, RG, PE | Project Manager (RELD): Working with a talented team of design professionals with diverse knowledge who come together based on a client vision, mutual project understanding, and established requirements to bring a project through design and construction is the most rewarding part of my job.

Dustin Wilkinson, PE | Senior Project Manager: I really enjoy solving problems.  Asking a client, “What’s keeping you up at night?” and then having the ability to solve whatever they answer is such a rewarding feeling. Being able to do that with people you trust and enjoy being around every day in the office is the cherry on top of it all.

Jim Bieda, PE | Project Engineer: The variety of the assignments is the most rewarding part. A typical project will contain survey, mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering. The PM role requires understanding and coordination of each component.

Morgan Walubita, PE, MBA | Director: I would say mentoring engineers who are starting their careers. It’s exciting to recognize the aptitude in others and find new ways to reach and teach different mindsets. Because I went through the same experiences, I’m able to impart my knowledge of wastewater design and other engineering aspects, helping them grasp design concepts and grow professionally. I take pride in that. I get to support them when they are ready to sit for their PE license and share their successes and tribulations. It means a lot to me to keep in touch as they progress through their careers.

Neal Tilbury, PE, MBA | Project Manager: For me, it’s when you see your design come to life. Driving past a project that you worked through entirely built, energized, and providing power to the community gives immense satisfaction.

Scott Perrie, PE | Director, Pre-Construction SCS: I love the problem-solving aspect. Coordinating the team’s expertise and considering the stakeholders’ various needs to come up with the right solution. It’s the core of engineering and being able to apply that to the construction side.

Thank you to all of our engineers at Atwell for your incredible work, talent, and dedication!

 

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