CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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Q&A with Gary Goodheart, UH Engineering Alumnus and Civil Engineer of the Year in the State of Illinois

By: 

Natalie Thayer

Over the course of his extensive career, UH civil engineering alumnus Gary Goodheart has traveled near and far to tackle tough infrastructure questions and challenges around the globe. Goodheart began his career while he was still a student at the Cullen College.  He now serves as Vice President of Water Resources at Patrick Engineering in Lisle, Illinois and was recently named the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Illinois Section’s Civil Engineer of the Year.  Goodheart will be honored at the 2016 ASCE Illinois Section Annual Awards Gala on October 13, as the Section celebrates its Centennial Anniversary at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Chicago.

Learn more about Goodheart's experience at the Cullen College and beyond below!

Q: Why did you want to become an engineer?

A: I was very fortunate in that I figured out at an early age I wanted to be an engineer.  I grew up on the south side of Houston and my father, a life-long civil servant, worked as an administrator at NASA for 18 years. He frequently took me along when he had things to do on weekends, and introduced me to a number of the scientists and engineers who were working on the Gemini program.

He and a friend also had a ranching partnership, where they raised cattle and grew hay. As the oldest of five children, I spent a lot of time in the fields helping out, particularly when it was time to bale and haul the hay. Those experiences taught me that I wanted to earn a living with my brains and not my hands.

Q: How did you know that civil engineering was the right field for you?

A: At first, I thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but two years into college I started working at Houston Lighting & Power Co. as a draftsman and, later, an engineering technician. At HL&P I realized I liked civil engineering, particularly soil mechanics. I liked the idea of designing and constructing “big things you could see”—like power plants and earth dams. For me now, the most rewarding thing about being a civil engineer is seeing a large complex design and construction project through to completion. 

Q: What are your responsibilities as the vice president of water resources at Patrick Engineering and what does an average day look like for you?

A: Overall, I am responsible for the firm’s projects that have water as a common denominator – from surface water runoff to groundwater management – and for the firm’s site civil engineering practice, including geotechnical and environmental services. Although Patrick is an engineering firm, it is also does a lot of construction work, and I am very involved in the firm’s design-build projects.  In addition, I serve on the management committee, which is responsible for the firm’s day-to-day activities.

On an average day, I dedicate about one-third to half of my time to marketing, business development and new project generation. I also oversee the daily activities of approximately 25 geotechnical engineers, geologists, environmental engineers, civil engineers, structural engineers and water resources engineers who are located in offices throughout the Midwest.

Q: You were recently named the ASCE Illinois Section’s Civil Engineer of the Year. What does this honor mean to you?

A: Winning this award is certainly the biggest honor of my professional career. I am honored, grateful and humbled to be selected as the Illinois Section Civil Engineer of the Year, and have my name alongside so many great and distinguished engineers who have previously won this award. I couldn’t have achieved this honor without the help and support of my family and my many friends and colleagues in the civil engineering profession.

Q: How did your experience at the UH Cullen College of Engineering prepare you for your career as a civil engineer?

A: I have always believed that the most important thing you learn in engineering school is how to think. UH Engineering did an excellent job of preparing me for the real world.  It was clear to me that I didn’t have all the answers coming out of school, but I did have a pretty good idea where to go, how to start and who to talk to. My experience at UH and early in my career gave me great confidence that has served me well in my career.

Q: What advice can you share with current UH Engineering students?

A: Getting a college education is just the beginning of your career. Remember that as an engineer, you never stop learning. You come out of college with ideals and aspirations, but you don’t have all the answers yet. I would encourage young engineers to ask questions, challenge the status quo and strive to improve their skills every day.

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