Words of Wisdom

By: Kristine Mapili

On the evening of October 1, 2015, several alumni of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Virginia Tech met with current undergraduates to share some wisdom with aspiring civil engineers. Alumni who spent their careers utilizing their degrees in Civil Engineering reflected on their experiences as undergraduate and graduate students and how the field has changed over time.

A few retired alumni, who spent their careers within the environment and water resources sub-discipline of civil engineering, expressed how impressed they were with current Virginia Tech students and how easily they were able to put together a presentation and communicate information to a large audience. A few decades ago, when the alumni were undergraduates at Virginia Tech, they did not have the opportunity to practice public speaking in their classes as students do now. They also did not have access to design experiences through groups such as Engineers Without Borders or Bridges to Prosperity. While their college experience helped them become “book smart” in their field, the essential skills of collaboration and communication were not as developed when they entered the career world.

The alumni of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech believe that the current generation of undergraduates is more prepared because of the opportunities to develop skills that are essential in the work world. One stated that soft skills, such as communication and collaboration, are just as important – if not more important, than the technical skills gained through the coursework required for the degree.
Several alumni agreed that a common mistake made by recent graduates in their first job after college is that they think they know everything and do not ask enough questions. It is expected that someone new on the job will make mistakes, but doing so is part of the learning process and is the only way to become successful. They urged the current engineering students to ask questions and to seek a mentor when starting out because part of the profession is becoming life-long learners for a continuously evolving field.

It is easy for current students to take opportunities for granted, but when the growth of the department is realized, they feel more appreciative with what is currently available to them. The alumni expressed their confidence in the rising generation of civil engineers and their potential to go above and beyond in their professions for years to come.