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The Moment I Wanted to be an Engineer

posted Nov 20, 2019, 4:01 AM by Louis Rodriguez   [ updated Nov 20, 2019, 4:02 AM ]
Yesterday, Lou Rodriguez addressed a group of students at the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, New Jersey in support of their Sustainability Initiative Kick-Off Event. He discussed careers in engineering and presented his story of how he became a civil engineer. 


There is a great misconception that people know what they want to do in life at en early.  Well, I absolutely, positively, had no idea what I wanted to be at your age.

It’s the summer of 1987 and I'm 19 years old. I had just completed my freshman year at Millersville University where I was studying computer science.  My freshman year was a mess...I was on academic (GPA 1.69) and social conduct (party in my dorm room) probation for most of my tenure at Millersville.  I had no idea what I wanted to do in life besides have fun.

That summer my mom got me a job working for a construction company that cleared land for housing developments.  My job as a laborer paid $6/hr under the table which seemed great at the time.  Every morning,  I met up with a crew of guys and our objective was to knock down as many trees as possible, not very sustainable.  Our crew was typically one guy in a front-end loader, a few guys with chainsaws, and a few laborers like me.  The trees we took down were always marked with pink ribbons that were set by individuals I usually didn't see.

One day our objective was something a little different, we were to build septic systems for the new homes.  Each septic system involved digging a hole about 10-feet by 20-feet by 5-feet deep.  My job was to rake the stone that was dumped in the hole and make sure it was level. Pretty exciting.

On this particularly hot July day, I happened to see some guys chopping their way through the woods with machetes and placing pink ribbons on the trees in the distance.  The guys were wearing khaki shorts, boots, and safety vests.  I asked my coworker that was driving the front end loader, “who are those guys?”  He replied, “those are the civil engineers!” In actuality they were land surveyors but close enough.

As I stood in the trench covered with dirt and sweat, I looked at those men and pondered the answer again, “Civil engineers, huh? That’s what I want to be.”

That night I sat out on my back deck pondering my future.  I was pretty sure I was not going back to Millersville.  My mom came outside and asked what I was thinking about.  I told her that I was thinking of leaving Millersville and that I wanted to be a civil engineer.  My mom replied, “That’s what you are going to be, a civil engineer.”  I committed to attending Widener University's School of Engineering the next day and the rest is history.


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