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Doug Wesselschmidt is city engineer in Shawnee, Kan., where he has worked for the past 20 years. Photo: City of Shawnee

The only time Doug Wesselschmidt thought about going into a field other than engineering was during a college calculus test. “I was thinking, ‘What kind of a profession can I go into that does not involve calculus?' Fortunately, I made it through that test and many others after that,” he said.

Wesselschmidt entered the public works field during college, when he spent three summers working for the city of Lee's Summit, Mo. After graduating from University of Missouri, Rolla, with a civil engineering degree, Wesselschmidt worked for the Missouri highway department for two years. A position then opened in Shawnee in the public works department, where he has been since.

Incorporated in 1856, Shawnee is one of the oldest cities in the state and also one of the fastest growing. The city has to maintain an infrastructure that goes back, in some cases, more than 100 years. Shawnee's population of about 52, 000 increases by around 2000 people each year. Many new subdivisions are going in and approximately 600 new single-family building permits are issued annually. In addition, commercial, industrial, and office development is thriving.

Wesselschmidt is part of a technical review committee that works with 19 other cities in Johnson County to make policies and distribute public works funds. Two of the joint efforts are a county road program and a stormwater program. “There's good cooperation between the cities to make best use of that money to do drainage projects that may cross city boundaries as well as creating a county-wide street network,” said Wesselschmidt.

In the 20 years since Wesselschmidt joined Shawnee, the city has made progress on street improvement and drainage improvement projects. Through hard work, the small staff has been able to implement these and other capital improvements.

“The way I've always looked at [public works] is that it is most like being in a service organization,” said Weselschmidt. “It's a rewarding position. It's very satisfying knowing that at the end of the day your work usually helped out either an individual or a group of individuals.”