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UH Alumnus Flourishes in Engineering Practice, Navy, Air Force for Three Decades

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Portia-Elaine Gant
UH Civil Engineering Alumnus C. Rick Coneway holds a KBR design drawing for a TxDOT highway interchange. Photo by Jeff Shaw.

C. Rick Coneway (1973 BSCE, 1976 MSCE) always wanted to fly. After receiving his first bachelor’s degree, the native Houstonian joined the U.S. Navy and used that time to launch a now 31-year dual career in the U.S. Navy and Air Force, and in engineering.

“I volunteered to become an officer and learn to fly fighters,” Coneway said. “I was able to take care of my military commitment and decide what I really wanted to do.”

Upon completion of his active duty obligation with the Navy, he returned to Houston to begin engineering studies at the University of Houston. While in school he needed a source of income to help support his family, so he continued his military career as a Naval Aviation Reserve officer. After commuting to New Orleans and then Dallas to carry out his Navy flying duties, Coneway transferred to the Texas Air National Guard in Houston to be closer to home. Later, when his company re-located him to Austin, he transferred to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Reserve and continued flying fighters. As his flying career ended, he continued in the USAF Reserve as a civil engineer officer.

The highlight of his career as a civil engineer officer was returning to active duty to serve as the Executive Director/Commander for the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence prior to retirement. Coneway served in U.S. Naval aviation for 11 years and flew for the USAF for nine years before completing 11 more years as a civil engineer officer. It was during his active duty in the Navy that sparked his interest in engineering.

“I was in the Navy, and there was a big earth day movement,” Coneway said. “I saw that it was going to become a part of our culture, and somewhere along the line they would need experts. I thought it would be my opportunity to participate in helping to solve problems in our environment.”

Coneway previously obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tulane University but decided to return to his hometown to pursue engineering.

“I had a family by the time I got out of the military,” Coneway said. “Since Houston was my hometown, I decided that’s where I wanted to continue my education.”

Four years of military experience aided in acquiring his second degree, Coneway said.

“When I received my first degree I was a young kid and probably less mature,” Coneway said. “After being in the military, I was much more mature and had a responsibility as a father and a husband. I was highly motivated to do well and establish my career. I had already been through a lot of training in the military. To go right back into school was a little easier with my newfound motivation to do better in my future career.”

Deciding to pursue a master’s degree, also in civil engineering, was the next step for Coneway, who established lifelong ties to his college advisor and UH.

“When I got to graduate school, being at UH really made a difference because I worked with some professors who were outstanding and taught me a lot about the community and what I could do with my degree and my career,” Coneway said. “My strongest influence was my advisor, Dr. Jack Matson, P.E., DEE. We remain friends to this day. He’s a real professional and knows how to use engineering knowledge to solve problems in a practical way. He is very much involved as an activist in environmental affairs, which led me to want to do the same.”’

Less than a decade after graduating, Coneway developed his own civil and environmental engineering and land surveying consulting firm, Coneway and Associates Inc. Throughout his career, he has also spent more than eight years working as an independent consultant, something he said is augmented by his first degree.

“I have a liberal arts degree in addition to my engineering degree, so it gives me a chance to understand what clients need more readily and to establish relationships so that we can help them solve their problems or provide the services they need,” Coneway said. “I consider my clients as friends and hope they feel the same, so we build trust and loyalty as clients and engineers.”

His professional philosophy and success has gained Coneway recognition in his field from many professional organizations, such as the American Council of Engineering Companies and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE). TSPE awarded Coneway the Outstanding Young Engineer of the Year award in 1978, just two years after completing his master’s degree. Twenty-two years later, the organization recognized him once again with the Texas Engineer of the Year award in 2000.

“That recognition by my peers in TSPE has been one of my greatest accomplishments,” Coneway said. “That was extremely humbling for me to be recognized by and compared against those before me who won that award.”

Coneway’s work ethic also attracted executives at Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, Inc., who persuaded Coneway to resume the role of employee instead of employer.

“I think it was the challenge that I was offered the opportunity to help grow a business,” Coneway said. “What I’ve done during my career is help to grow businesses. I saw this as a real challenge with a worldwide premier company that needed some help that I could provide. I saw it as a way to utilize my energy and talents in a way that would help Kellogg, Brown and Root.”

With a military career of more than three decades and an engineering career just as long, Coneway is truly distinctive among his colleagues.

“At the same time I was developing my consulting engineer career, I was also developing my military aviation career and then my career as a civil engineering officer. That is probably unique among my peers,” Coneway said. “The main reason I stayed involved is because I got to fly for almost 20 years, and I flew jets for 15 years. I enjoyed flying, and they paid me to do it.”

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