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The words of a teacher can escape notice in the moment, but their effects can last a lifetime.

Maybe it was a suggested approach toward a certain homework assignment. Or even just a short comment left on an essay.

Civil engineers have been sharing on ASCE Collaborate the best advice they’ve ever received from a teacher or professor. With the new school year starting, it’s a great time to look at some of the highlights from the conversation (and be sure to log in and contribute your own memories):

Horacio Galicia-Gaona Ing., S.E., M.ASCE

Project manager, ARGA Constructora SA de CV, Morelia, Mexico

“Just seeing this topic … returns me to the first grade of civil engineering studies at my alma mater Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, in the class ‘Civil Engineering in Mexico,’ taught by the then-Faculty Director Ing. José Muñoz Chávez, who, with his singular style, in his class told us: ‘Mathematics and physics are a science but ... engineering is an art,’ to refer to the fact that engineers must be like artists to make our work something that helps the welfare of society.

“I remember that in those moments I felt inspired by that class to take advantage of my time at the university. Now I always try to keep in mind that my role as a civil engineer is to make my work contribute (to people’s) well-being.”

James Williams, P.E., M.ASCE

Principal, owner, POA&M Structural Engineering PLC, Yorktown, Virginia

“To paraphrase: ‘Attention to detail on the simple aspects (project reports, etc.) provides the promise that the same attention to detail was applied to the more difficult aspects.’

“I pass this along to clients following some visual inspections of structures, structural assemblies, and structural elements, particularly where some general contractors are involved. If they are not going to utilize professional standards of care (and follow the design plans or minimum code requirements) for the structural items that one can actually see, the promise that the highest standards of care are utilized in those structural elements that one cannot see are in question.”

Luis R. Vásquez-Varela, Aff.M.ASCE

Head of the Civil Engineering Department, Universidad Nacional de Colombia – Manizales Branch

“When studying different pavement design methods, my teacher used to say, ‘There are no good or bad design methods; there must be good information about traffic, subgrade, and materials. That makes the difference.’”

Dennis Wilson, P.E., M.ASCE

Associate project manager, Transportation Engineering, Folsom, Pennsylvania

“The best piece of advice, or rather mindset, that was taught to me by a professor came during the preparation of my senior design project, and more specifically, our final presentation.

“The advice was to always refer to ourselves during the presentation as ‘we’ rather than ‘I.’ For example, ‘We designed this portion of the project to solve this problem,’ rather than ‘I designed.’ It's a simple concept, but one that can be very impactful.

“The point was to instill that sense of team and community into our engineering work. Though we all may work on individual pieces of the puzzle for (sometimes very long) periods of time, it's important to remember the big picture and that we won't get there without the help of everybody involved.

“I have carried this with me into my career, and always try to keep in mind that when working on an engineering solution, we are all on the same team working toward the same goal, even if we all may have different roles or specialties in how we get to that end goal. Even when working for a client, although the relationship can sometimes become more adversarial depending on things going well or poorly, we are still working toward the same goal, and we are on the same team, and I find it to be important to convey it as such when discussing the project with those outside of the team.

“I thank Dr. Oyler at the University of Pittsburgh for that advice.”

Join the conversation on ASCE Collaborate.