Nabi Fakroddin can easily be considered a veteran of the profession.
The Pakistan native's first job after earning his civil engineering degree in 1957 was designing and building highways and bridges for the Illinois DOT. Later, he spent 19 years as engineer and transportation director for Kane County. Employed by engineering consulting firm HNTB since retiring from the public sector in 2007, he's now senior project manager for the Illinois Tollway Project where he is part of the team that reviews and approves bridge design plans for the $6.3 billion Congested Relief Program initiative.
Though he has few regrets in his career, Fakroddin wishes he'd worked harder to persuade Kane County officials to implement tax-free bonds as a fundraising measure.Still, he's happy with the progress he made, spearheading such initiatives as expanding the county's major arterials from two to four lanes.
"My chosen profession gives me satisfaction, knowing I am playing a small but important role in making sure that public safety is not compromised," he says.
Experience has taught him to refrain from political rhetoric, operate efficiently, and attend professional meetings to keep up with trends, all of which he recommends to those just beginning their careers.
Oakland (Calif.) Director of Public Works Raul Godinez didn't enter the profession until 1990, making him one of the youngest public works officials, career-wise, chosen this year by the American Public Works Association (APWA).
When he began his career, California was undertaking cutting-edge projects, including Los Angeles' first microtunneling initiative in 1994 — a trenchless, underground method of fully automated smalldiameter (42-inch) tunneling done via remote control from the surface. At the time, only two mechanized tunneling machines existed in the world. He was also involved in the city's first rigid pipe slip-lining project, completed in 1993, which used rigid fiberglass motor reinforced pipe to slip into the wet sewer and repair the lining pipe.
Godinez was, to say the least, enthralled by the challenges.
Under his management Oakland became the third California city to be accredited by the APWA, in 2006. However, Godinez credits his achievements — like implementing seven strategic management initiatives including customer service and satisfaction and safety-first, now the foundation of the department's focus — to his 700 employees. He describes them as "people who feel empowered to take risks and achieve things not done before," and says that his accomplishments are usually team efforts.
A man of consistency, Godinez wouldn't change anything if given the opportunity. "I'd do the same thing again," he says. "This has been a very rewarding career."
To younger generations he offers several pieces of advice. "Get as well-rounded a set of skills that you can," he says. "That'll help you in the later years. Move around within an organization, because it's your experience that sets you apart."
What do you get when you combine a history major with a master's in theology and a financial analyst? The answer: Daryl Grigsby. The director of public works for Kirkland, Wash., traveled quite a road to get where he is today. He began his career first working for a nonprofit agency that provided employment for developmentally disabled adults, and then performing budget analysis for the city of San Diego, where he discovered his love for the public sector.
"Once there, I saw how interesting and fascinating the work was," he says.
His transition to the public sector spans the last two decades and includes stints as a maintenance operator for the San Diego Water Utilities Department complete with 2,100 miles of both water and sewer mains, deputy director for the department's system division, director of King County's Wastewater and Water and Land Resources Division in Washington state, and director of Seattle's DOT. Grigsby moved up the ranks without a professional engineering degree.
In his current position, Grigsby derives great satisfaction from "Public Works Week," which he introduced in 2005 and has evolved into an interactive program that entertains and educates children about infrastructure.
"Our work impacts people every single day," he says. "We provide clean water, make sure the sidewalks are safe, and see that trash is picked up. We make it possible to live a good, quality life."
Grigsby takes every experience, even mistakes, as an opportunity to learn and grow; and urges new employees to deal with problems instead of hoping they'll resolve themselves on their own.
People — both residents and employees — give Golden, Colo., Public Works Director Dan Hartman pride in his work. "I can't say there are other careers that would've been as rewarding," he says.
"Golden is the type of community where people want to get things done," he says. "For them, it's about accomplishment." One such achievement for Hartman's team is becoming the first community with less than 100,000 residents to receive a Phase II National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit in 2003.
These communal efforts with Hartman at the helm have also resulted in the development of a water system, the construction of a reservoir completed three years ahead of schedule in December 2003, and the development and application of a drainage utility in 1999.
Hartman, who's devoted himself to public works for 30 years, recalls when buying a department fax machine was a big move. "It's no longer about three men, shovels, and a truck," he says of technology's role in improving operational efficiency. "Those days are over."
As someone with plenty of know-how, he advises newcomers to always remember that infrastructure is "critically important and matters greatly."
Despite 42 years of experience derived from his evolution from sanitation worker to director of public works for the 45,000-resident city of Wauwatosa, Wis., William Kappel didn't expect to be added to the APWA's Top Ten ranks.
"It is especially phenomenal for someone from a smaller municipality," he says.
Though the University of Milwaukee graduate received degrees in both psychology and public administration, he wishes he'd at least considered civil engineering. "There's a certain way of thinking that engineers are taught," he says. "I value that thought process." But that hasn't stopped him from making an impact.
His seniority has allowed him to witness how computers and advanced technology have changed the profession. "When I started out, there was a calculator at the desk, and that's it."
He implemented the city's geographic information system (GIS) Web application, which allows any city department, not just public works, access to the Internet- based mobile program. Hosted and maintained by engineering firm Ruekert/Mielke, it uses ESRI's ArcIMS software, and enables each department to pay for upgrades and new layers as they choose. Kappel's department reserves $16,000 in its annual budget for potential additions, such as information on storm and sanitation.
That's a long way from his penciland- paper beginnings.
In 1990 David Miller set a standard for Branson, Mo, when he was hired as the first city engineer. He's been working hard ever since to improve and further develop the community through public works.
His title makes him responsible for all infrastructure construction in the city, including wastewater, streets and transportation, and parks and recreation, managing an annual department budget of $10 million to $15 million. One of his biggest projects, which he refers to as the "Rec-Plex," was completed in April 2004. The large-scale recreational facility includes two full-size basketball courts and soccer fields, a game room, an indoor track, and a swimming pool complex.
Miller believes his greatest accomplishment has been Branson Landing, the $420 million public-private redevelopment for which three quarters of the city's downtown area was demolished and rehabilitated with entirely new infrastructure, transforming it into an award-winning "world-class lifestyle/entertainment district" recognized by organizations like the American Council of Engineering Companies. The renovation has helped attract even more visitors to the well-known tourist spot, allowing the city to exceed its financial projections.
Miller's counsel for younger professionals?
"Think creatively. Do not ever discourage yourself from trying something new and unique just because you are unfamiliar with the system or idea. Proactively investigate all possibilities."
After more than 40 years, Earl Newman still loves his job.
For the last 28 years the traffic engineer and assistant director of public works for Springfield, Mo., has concentrated on local transportation systems. Currently, he's focusing on how the systems can make the city less dependent on oil. Achievements like overseeing the city's Transportation Management System, a joint project between the city and state DOT that maintains more than 200 traffic signals, and creating the interface for the 911 dispatch center afforded him recognition as an APWA Top Ten Leader.
After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1967 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, Newman went to work as a highway designer for engineering consulting firm HNTB. Over the years he jumped back and forth between HNTB and the public sector and, given the chance, says he "would have stayed in the public sector after my first crossover from consulting," because the greatest opportunities to apply his background of traffic and transportation engineering occurred in the public arena.
With the advances in technology made since he began and the caliber of engineers entering the field, whom he believes are "very bright and have much more knowledge of real-world applications" than members of his generation, Newman is optimistic about the future of the nation's infrastructure.
"It'll be in good hands," he says.
Linda Petelka is an accomplishment in and of herself.
When she first began in public works she was still in college at the University of Detroit, worked as a co-op student for the Department of Architecture, and was one of very few women in the profession in Michigan. But she didn't allow her minority status to hinder her performance. She worked in the United States for 10 years before migrating to Canada in 1984.
Today, as acting director of business and technical services for the Halton region of southern Ontario in Canada, she's been instrumental in the area's renovation. She developed the Meter-Permit Revenue Reconciliation initiative, which uses new reporting and auditing mechanisms to track meter installations more effectively, resulting in an additional $5 million in earned revenue. She also oversaw a seven-year project to renew 154 pounds of water main pipe, using open-cut technology with PVC (polyvinyl chloride pipe) to replace cast-iron pipes 6 or 8 inches in diameter, and lining methods including cement mortar and epoxy lining.
Her belief in the significance of her role keeps her going: "I like working for the communities we serve. We're providing work for humanity."
She only wishes that she'd taken the time to get a professional engineering degree. Canada is very credential-focused, which was not the case when she started her career in the United States.
Why change anything when you've had as much variety as Joe Superneau?
Over three decades, the executive director for the Water and Sewer Commission in Springfield, Mass., has served the public through positions in both the public and private sectors, working for local and state governments as well as a consulting firm.
Now in his 10th year with the commission, Superneau's the force behind such feats as compliance with an EPA consent order to reduce combined sewer overflows on the Mill and Chicopee rivers. Plus, he has two similar projects under construction, costing nearly $26 million. The ultimate goal for the projects, funded by a combination of low-interest state revolving fund loans and traditionalrevenue bonds, is to reduce the number of overflows from as high as 80 in some areas to no more than four in a typical year.
While he does admit to some concern over the industry's ability to meet environmental regulations, he's confident that its place in society will remain. "You'll always need to plow the snow and have safe drinking water," he says. "Public works is fundamental to how people live."
He's most proud of his ability to discover solutions to the problems faced by the commission and greater Springfield community, and to those just making their way into the profession, he suggests being courageous enough to go beyond the conventional to create and implement real-world solutions.
After 41 years, William Verkest is still going strong.
In January, the one-time U.S. Air Force civil engineer became director of transportation and public works for Fort Worth, the fifth-largest city in Texas. He's the oldest APWA member on the organization's list of top leaders this year.
With degrees in both civil engineering and public administration, Verkest spent some time in the private sector working for engineering firm HDR Inc. before transitioning permanently to the public sector.
"It's the significance of doing something for somebody every day," he says of his preference for a work environment that presents continuous challenges. He's developed "Public Works 150," Fort Worth's plan for crafting a public works department capable of meeting the demands of a city twice Fort Worth's population, to approximately 150,000. The plan is a continuum, examining the mission statement, strategic initiatives, objectives, actions plans, and performance measures.
When considering his career, Verkest believes his greatest asset is the ability to lead various public works organizations to success. "This business has been a love affair for me," he says. "I'm happy to have done it."
To the younger professionals who hope to one day attain his level of fulfillment, Verkest offers this: "Be proud of what you do. What you're doing is so very, very important."