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UESI Member in Focus: Victor Fernandez-Cuervo

Thursday, February 9, 2017

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Victor Fernandez-Cuervo - Photo by Frank Kim, UESI

Victor Fernandez-Cuervo, P.E., M.ASCE is the Chair of the UESI Pipelines Division executive committee and the Director of Miami-Dade County Water & Sewer Department.

In this feature interview, Victor shares on his life and career path, vision for civil engineering, Pipelines Division activities and goals for 2017.

Interview by Frank Kim, UESI

Where were you born and where was most of your upbringing?

VFC: I was born in Washington, DC and spent my formative years across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.  I attended primary school at Congressional Schools of Virginia in Falls Church, VA.  My parents moved to Miami when I was ten where I spent my teenage years and graduated from Coral Park High School.

After high school, I left home for college and attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.  Upon graduation, I moved to Chicago, Illinois and held my first Engineering job for a few years with Rockwell International Corp.  I decided to move back to Miami in 1988 when my father became ill and have been in Miami ever since.  Received dual Master degrees from University of Miami.

I have been employed with Miami-Dade County for over 25 years. I'm married with 5 young adults, the oldest of which graduated from UF last year with her BSCE degree and is currently also working in the water and wastewater engineering consulting industry.  The next two are students at UCF (3rd year) and FIU (2nd year) studying Biology and Psychology, respectively.  The fourth started civil engineering at UF this year and the youngest is a high school senior.

What were some of the motivating factors for you to go into civil engineering and who were some influential people in your career path?

VFC: As a teenager I found myself always wondering and trying to understand why and how things worked.  In junior high I took all available shop classes (carpentry, electronics, engine mechanics, etc.) and really enjoyed them.  Throughout high school I developed a love for higher math and science and even took a few years of engineering drafting.  This love, coupled with the fact that my father was a Civil/Structural Engineer made me a natural for the engineering profession.

My parents have been the most influential individuals in my career.  My parents left their homeland Cuba in 1959 and came to the US with nothing but the clothes on their backs to avoid adverse political changes.  My Father received his Civil Engineering degree from the University of Havana in Cuba and because of his engineering degree and experience, came to a new country, readily re-established his career in the US and was subsequently rewarded with a good life for raising his family. This taught me early on that an engineering career can be used around the world, regardless of language, governance, social and racial influences.

What are some important lessons you learned in your career path that you abide by still today?

VFC:

  1. Know yourself and be sincere regarding your strengths and weaknesses.  Exploit your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
  2. Always continue to expand your knowledge and experience because you don't know when you'll be rewarded for it in the future.
  3. Approach everything you do in life with a positive attitude!  Be trusting, have keen instincts and verify if in doubt.
  4. Respect is key to a happy life, the world is a huge playground open for full enjoyment, and always live well below your means.

What do you enjoy most about civil engineering?

VFC: What I enjoy most about my career is what engineering is all about…… Turning Ideas into Reality.  To me, there is no greater intrinsic reward than standing next to a completed project, that mankind has taken beneficial use, and knowing you played a part in the team that was responsible for its overall success. 

What are some of the biggest challenges that you see on the horizon in civil engineering and globally?

VFC: First and fore front, the biggest challenge I see on the horizon is to impress the scope and importance of engineering on young children during their formative years.  Over decades, I've participated in many elementary school career days and I can tell you first hand that most young children have no idea what engineering is all about or why the career is so important to a society.  I would propose that a new subject (just like science, math, language arts, social studies, etc.) be developed and made part of K-12 curriculum.  The new subject (let's call it "Engineering") matter would start out very broadly in Kindergarten, would become more descriptive and in-depth as the students get older, would progressively tie-in all the other subject areas (business, politics, legal, math, science, social studies, information, vocations, etc.) that are needed to Turn Ideas into Reality.  

Our children are our future and as such educating our children comes first!

Right after that, our next biggest challenge is in making our world a better place given the limited resources available on Earth.  Water, food and energy are key parameters.  I believe we, as Engineers, should be advocating to live reasonably within our means, minimizing our Carbon Footprint and leaving a better Earth for our future generations.  These global initiatives have been started today, should have no borders across the globe and fall squarely within the responsibilities of the Engineering profession.

Can you tell us about your current work and projects at the Miami Dade County?

VFC: I have over 30 years of Engineering experience and have spent the last 25+ years at Miami-Dade County.  My current responsibilities as a Senior Program Manager at M-D Water & Sewer Department are to implement and all Pipeline Capital Infrastructure projects for WASD.  Currently, we have over 200 ongoing pipeline engineering projects in either design, permitting, procurement or construction phases.  Pipeline projects at MDWASD are implemented via the traditional Design-Bid-Build, Design-Build, JPAs (Joint projects with other governmental agencies such as FDOT).  Smaller pipeline projects are designed and released for construction by in-house MDWASD staff.  Long range plans call for MDWASD to spend approximately $13.5 Billion in Water & Wastewater infrastructure improvements within the next 15 years.

We understand you really enjoy playing sports and travelling. Can you tell us more about it?

VFC: My second home, while not busy at work or spending time with his young adult aged children, is at the University of Miami Wellness Facility.  Over the years, I have become a regular there and can be found in the racquetball courts or at the pool.  Occasionally I will take a Pilates and/or Yoga class as needed to stay fit and strong.  I also played competitive golf in high school and continue to enjoy playing golf when time permits.  I love to snow ski and try to get out to the mountains at least once or twice every season.  I have done quite a bit of scuba diving in the past and am looking forward to starting scuba diving again.  I love to travel and have been all over the US (especially love visiting National Parks), Cuba, Far East, Australia and Europe.

As you know, ASCE along with Bechtel has produced an IMAX film Dream Big , debuted at ASCE National Convention. If you can make a film-as a director and producer of the film- what would it be about and what would be the title of the film?

VFC: I would call the film "Live Large" because Dream Big is only one component of living large.  The film would be a biography of sorts about a special child that's born, early on determines what's really important in life here on earth, comes to learn what engineering is all about and becomes an engineer, over his lifespan goes on to make real big impacts on society as a whole, and the message at his death bead is that throughout his lifetime he lived humbly, well within his means, respected planet Earth, was well respected by all, was the richest man alive with regards to intrinsic rewards and was monetarily compensated very well throughout his life but donated it all back to society to help his future generations follow in his footsteps.

What are some of the things that you are looking forward to as serving as Chair of the UESI Pipelines Division?

VFC: As Chair of the UESI Pipelines Division, I would like to have the vision that Utility Pipelines is a Critical Infrastructure System that has a significant capital cost to install, operate and maintain; depreciate over time; and require a multitude of professionals to design, construct, inspect, operate, maintain and when the asset has reached its useful life, re-build.  Basic engineering economic principles and advancing technologies are key and need to be in sync with national and local politics and funding to have a successful Utility Pipeline infrastructure system.  I would like to foster an environment where Utility Pipeline industry professionals can network, exchange ideas and collaborate on this apparently simple, yet complex matter.  Also, I would like to reinforce the message that the Pipelines Division continue to fully support the broader effort associated with UESI.  Similar to the message "It takes a Village to Raise a Child", I believe "It takes a multitude of varied Engineering Professionals to design, construct, inspect, operate, maintain and ultimately re-construct Utility Pipelines".

And your personal goals and plans for the next year?

VFC: My personal goals and plans for next year and future years are:

  1. Continue successfully implementing Pipeline projects for MDWASD,
  2. Continue spreading the word about Utility Pipelines and their importance to society at the local, state and federal level,
  3. Travel the world and helping disadvantaged third world countries develop Utility Pipeline Infrastructure,
  4. Continue spreading the word about Engineering, the career that's been very good to me my entire life.


To contact Victor