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  • "Yes Granny, I Drive the Train": A case study on an Engineer's soft skills

    Written by E. Wrenn Barrett, PE - V&M Regional Vice President [SC/GA] Having been a registered Professional Engineer now for over 30 years, guess I am now entering the “Golden Years” of my career; causing me to pause to look back on the many roads that have brought me to this point in my life. During my high school years, I had no idea what “I wanted to be when I grew up”. I had no real role models, but I always really liked math and science, which is what eventually lead me into engineering. In college, I majored in Civil Engineering and minored in Psychology, which at first seemed to be an odd combination. But during the latter part of my career, I have found that my minor in Psychology has been almost as useful as my Civil Engineering degree! Which brings me to the main point of this blog – Hard Skills within the Civil Engineering profession are absolutes, but Soft Skills are what makes you a well-rounded professional. A big part of my professional career was spent at the South Carolina Department of Transportation. I was very blessed to have held a variety of positions and learned a great deal about soft skills during my tenure there. The Executive Director during most of my time there taught me, and all of us, to always stay focused on the Mission of Department and ask Why? Engineering is by definition based on scientific principles natural laws, physics, math, geometry – very black & white “hard skills”. But as I progressed through my career, I learned that there are a lot of grey areas that require more than just my engineering training. The Engineers Council for Professional Development defines Engineering in the United States as the creative application of “scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.” Notice any “soft skills” in the above? I have always heard that “you can be the smartest engineer around, but if you cannot express yourself and your ideas effectively, then your skills are not as productive as they could be”. One of Stephen Covey’s original 7 Habits - “Seek to Understand, then to Be Understood” - provides great insight on Communication skills. The ability to engage with others effectively is of course paramount in successful “projects”. Emotional Intelligence, defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”, is another important soft skill required for successful teamwork on projects. Most engineers by nature are not great communicators, so it is up to each of us to improve our soft skills in order to effectively work with all the many disciplined individuals that are a part of our daily work tasks. Use soft skill to educate those who are not familiar with the Engineering profession or what it means to be an engineer is what I call “Telling Our Story”. Early on in my career, I remember vividly trying to explain to my Grandmother what I did for a living. After many attempts I finally gave in and said, “Yes Granny, I drive the train”. My story includes 24 years as a public servant at various public agencies and 12 years as a consulting engineer in the private sector of my profession. In my current position as a regional vice president at Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers, I still enjoy working on projects that improve the quality of life for us all. My heart is always in the mode of a public servant, which has been instilled in me during my career. Those learned soft skills are still just as important today as the Statics and Dynamics hard skills I learned long ago. The Engineering Code of Ethics provides absolute guidelines for engineers through our fundamental Canons, so felt it is important to include them in this blog. Beginning with “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties”, these Canons insert some of the soft skills needed to complement our hard skills. Below are the Canons for our Code of Ethics. The Fundamental Canons for Engineers Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties. Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence. Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner. Engineers shall act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees, and shall avoid conflicts of interest. Engineers shall build their professional reputation on the merit of their services and shall not compete unfairly with others. Engineers shall associate only with reputable persons or organizations. Engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and shall provide opportunities for the professional development of those engineers under their supervision. All these Canons have always resonated within me during my career. To all who are in our profession or working toward becoming an engineer - make sure you develop both your hard skills and soft skills as you progress in your career. I am very proud of the accomplishments of those in my professional have made world-wide. So, let’s all keep driving that train!

  • Do the Right Thing: April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month

    By Jennifer Wolery | Corporate Safety Director “Oh my God Mom, we’re dying – I think Maranda’s dead!” The voice on the phone was in anguished pain and panicked hysteria. I didn’t think it was real at first – they had just left my house less than 15 minutes prior after a wonderful family summer cookout in the country. Some of my guests still lingered around the backyard under the huge trees that backed down to a wide and deep running creek in the far distance. The stars were out. People were laughing and relaxed. Within seconds I realized it was all too real. “Where are you? Hold on – I’m on my way!” I left my guests and had my oldest daughter drive me to the scene as I tried to keep my son on the line and talking. The panic in his voice was frightening, but hearing his voice let me know he was still breathing even if he was hurt – and then he fell silent. I felt completely helpless in that moment. Terrifyingly, I could still hear background noises – I thought he was dead – and then the connection was broken. Speeding down the highway, I called for help from my former place of work that had instant access to multiple jurisdictions of police, fire, rescue, and EMS. As my daughter approached the scene in her SUV, I had her pull well off the shoulder and park about 50 yards away from the twisted heaps of metal and broken glass. The light from her headlights allowed me to take in what had happened and what was left of the vehicles involved in a high-speed head-on collision. “Do NOT leave this car under any circumstances – stay put!” I barked at her. As I approached the scene and prepared to perform an assessment of my son and daughter-in-law, my brain changed gears and I wasn’t “Mom” anymore. Over twenty-five years of training, teaching, coaching, and hands-on experience was not – could not – ever be enough to prepare for the life-changes we were all facing together as a family. These changes occurred as the result of a single accident – but this accident could have been prevented. It didn’t have to happen. It was a result of a series of choices by the person who caused it – a person who didn’t do the right things when he had the chance, and ended up changing his own life in addition to the lives of everyone he touched that night – which included my son and his bride, and their entire family and social circle. Accidents cause lives to change in an instant. Most incidents we call accidents are preventable. According to OSHA, there were over 2.8 million non-fatal recordable workplace injuries and illnesses reported in the United States during 2019. OSHA also reports that same year saw 5,333 fatal workplace injuries and illnesses. When I look at these numbers it could be very easy to not take in the full impact of what these numbers mean. Although we can quantify the cost in dollars to businesses in lost time, lost production, increased insurance premiums and the rising price of medical treatments, and industry experts can look at and compare experience modification ratings and many other metrics when it comes to these incidents, there is more lost than the reports indicate. What’s missing from the reports are the people and their stories. People are lost and friends and families torn apart and tested to their limits. With their health impacted, dreams shattered, and potential for destruction of finances both in the short and long term for accident victims and their families, each of those injuries and fatalities represent real people. Nothing that happens to us happens in a vacuum; there are ripples of cause and effect that impact accident victims and their families that may continue for generations. I’ve been working in the field of Safety and Public Safety for over 30 years. I’ve never met an accident victim who planned on being hurt when they woke up that morning. It’s most often an unwelcome surprise that in many instances could have been prevented by someone involved with the situation making different choices, by slowing down, and by taking simple precautions. I’m asking you to protect yourself, your health, future, and finances. Protect your co-workers, families, friends, and community from the fallout of what choices you make and actions you take. Do the right thing – be safe. Join NSC during Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April to help make our roadways and our people safer. Whether you’re driving a forklift, semi-truck or just headed home after work, attentive driving is more important than ever. Click here or on the image below to take the Pledge to Just Drive.

  • A Multi-Disciplinary Approach for Historical Renovation Projects

    Case History Jackson Avenue Ramps Project The Project Back in early 2008, Vaughn & Melton was contracted by the City of Knoxville to participate in the development of the engineering and architectural plans as well as the oversight and construction inspection of the renovation and restoration of the Jackson Avenue ramps in downtown Knoxville. The Jackson Avenue ramps were built in 1920 as a structural component of the original Gay Street Viaduct that spanned the Southern Railway rail yard. The only major repair work on the century-old ramps since their construction occurred between 2008 and 2010 when the east ramp was closed by Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) after a routine inspection revealed some serious structural issues. The project extends only 656 feet, but the entire area, including the adjacent historic buildings, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, (NRHP) thus adding to the complexity of the project. The Challenge There were several factors contributing to the complexity of this project. The coordination of infrastructure construction, utilities and the historical aesthetics as well as having to work within the one half-inch space between the ramps and the adjacent buildings to remove two large ramps without inflicting any damage all while maintaining a safe thoroughfare for pedestrians were the overarching challenges to the project. In order to bring the structure back to its former glory and without any unnecessary damage, there were a number of diverse team members brought together to study and assess all the historical, socio-economical, archeological and architectural issues that could affect the project. These agencies spent an innumerable amount of hours conducting their studies and making their recommendations to the City as well as the Vaughn & Melton design team. All of these recommendations were considered and implemented in the design, modeling and construction renovation process to ensure that the historical aspects as well as the structural and architectural integrity were maintained. In addition, because of the proximity to several historic buildings -- which are also listed in the NRHP -- the owners of those buildings all had to be consulted with to ensure that the new construction would not hinder or damage the buildings and that the historical nature of the area would be preserved. History In its early days, the area in which the ramps are located was home to several railroad hotels and boarding houses that were located at the railroad yard. The surrounding area featured businesses such as restaurants and saloons patronized by railroad workers and visitors. Now, the area has evolved into a robust, energetic, and trendy commercial district with artist’s galleries, antique stores, pubs, dance clubs, and newsstands. Located in what locals call the “Old City,” the area also features private offices as well as loft apartments and condominiums. Much like many historical places, Knoxville’s antiquities hold great value with the local community which is why so much time and effort has gone into the preservation of this unique and iconic area of downtown Knoxville. The Solution Vaughn & Melton's recommendations included demolishing the existing elevated Jackson Avenue ramps on either side of the Gay Street Overpass, reconstruction of the ramp support structures, relocation and realignment of above ground and underground utilities, and replacement of ground-level features under the ramp. This new area under the ramps will feature a mix of retail and business space. A significant amount of research and planning went into choosing materials that would be similar in size, scale, massing and width of the original ramps. Every feature from the brick pavers covering the ramps, support columns, the railings, and ornamental lighting fixtures all had to contain elements complimentary to original ramps. The contractor selected to replicate and fabricate the one-foot thick pavers covering the ramps was able to preserve some of the original pavers and many of those were placed alongside the new replicated pavers. Altogether there were over 4900 man hours invested in the project in just the construction and engineering phase alone. Along with Vaughn and Melton, there were a total of 50 individuals from five other agencies who contributed their time and expertise. The nearly $10 million project spanned almost a decade and is just in the final completion stage as of February 2021.

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  • Career Opportunities | Vaughn & Melton

    Career Opportunities We are committed to maintaining a diverse workforce and an inclusive work environment. Vaughn & Melton will not tolerate discrimination in employment, employment-related decisions, or in business dealings on the basis of race, color, ancestry, age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, ethnicity, national origin, veteran status, marital status, pregnancy, or any other legally protected status. Vaughn & Melton hires and promotes individuals solely on the basis of their qualifications for the job to be filled. Current Job Opportunities

  • Vaughn & Melton

    Engineering better communities Discover more. Our Story Vaughn & Melton is a premier civil engineering and surveying firm that is dedicated to the delivery of quality, value and innovative solutions to our clients and the communities we serve. Services Starting from a single transportation engineering project, today we offer a full complement of engineering and surveying services. learn more → Locations Based in the Southeastern Appalachian region, we operate from 14 offices in five states: GA, KY, NC, SC, & TN. learn more → Insights Project histories, white papers, blog posts and news reflect how we deliver quality, value and innovative solutions. learn more →

  • Utility Coordination | Vaughn & Melton

    Utility Coordination Return to All Services The coordination of water, power, gas and sanitary sewer utilities is a typical need of most construction projects. Vaughn & Melton’s utility coordination services include subsurface utility engineering, conflict analysis, project requirement communications, design management and utility relocation inspection. All activities critical for project start-up and project completion. The resolution of utility conflicts before the project start can significantly minimize project delays and reduce project costs. As a turnkey solution provider, we also prepare permit drawings, assess relocation costs and responsibilities, and develop agreements with utility operations. Project History M-064, Forest City to Marion, NC gas line CLIENT: Dominion (PSNC) Vaughn & Melton began work on M-64 in November of 2017. At the onset of each phase Vaughn & Melton sent Project Notification and Survey Notification letters to each affected property owner at least 30 days before field work began. In certain situations, our land agents contacted the property owners and obtained right of entry for our field work to begin ahead of the 30 days. At the onset of the construction, a Construction Notification letter was sent out to all affected owners. Read More Expertise Site investigation for lenders, developers, utility companies, state and local government agencies, and engineers/land planners including site visit, obtaining as-builts or facility maps from the utility companies, and meeting with utility representatives. Prepare feasibility study reports that include reimbursable cost estimates Prepare utility conflict reports to identify facilities that may interfere with the project development. The report will identify each conflict and methods or alternatives to resolve the conflict and the cost Prepare Environmental Reports and Permits Prepare relocation plans for municipal or government use Coordinate relocation strategies with multiple engineering disciplines to ensure utility conflict resolution Prepare encroachment agreements Prepare Utility Relocation Agreements Attend construction and pre-construction meetings

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