A Tale of Two Grads

On the Job with Rebecca Ward '06 BSEM

“When starting new projects, I'm often tested with the question, “Are you an engineer?” The best feeling is being able to answer 'yes'.”
- Rebecca Ward

Rebecca Ward '06 BSEM is just as comfortable in steel-toed boots and a hard hat as she is giving PowerPoint presentations to executives in a board room. “It's all part of the job,” she says. Ward is Project Integrator for Headquarters U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

A typical day for Ward begins with checking on contractors and timelines for her largest project -- a new 55,000-square-foot medical training facility at Fort Sam. She makes frequent visits on site to assess progress and inspect installation of everything from cross-beams to soap dispensers for the state-of-the-art simulated hospital construction she's overseeing, a facility that will ultimately hold more than 300 nurses, medics and technicians in training. Scheduled to open in August, the building is just one of more than ten MEDCOM projects Ward juggles nationally. She travels nearly half the time, managing small and large-scale engineering assignments with her personal touch.

Always upbeat and confident, Ward has earned the respect of her colleagues in a male-dominated field. She's both friendly and direct with a clear command of her domain. “This job was made for me, and I can't imagine doing anything else,” says Ward. “I wake up each day and can't wait to come to work.”

But engineering management wasn't her first choice. She started in a joint training program in equipment science engineering offered by her former employer Philips Semiconductor and Northwest Vista College in early 2000. When the company closed its U.S. locations, she finished the two-year program at Northwest Vista and transferred to UIW to complete a four-year degree. When she came to UIW in 2004, instructor Alison Whittemore convinced her that UIW's new program in engineering management would be an excellent choice for her. An experienced civil engineer, Whittemore was sure Ward was a perfect candidate -- a people person with the intelligence and fortitude to grasp the span of skills necessary for success in the field.

A single mother of two, Ward worked full time throughout college, often wondering how she'd make it through. “The stress was sometimes unbearable, but I prayed for strength and was provided it,” she said. “I told my son who is graduating high school this year that I would beat him to graduation. I finished in four years, and by the fall of 2006 I was contracted with Fort Sam.”

She credits UIW with preparing her for the role. “I had all the right tools to hit the ground running,” said Ward. “I learned everything from electronic circuitry to business ethics. It's all about understanding the fundamentals so you can make sound decisions and then communicate them.”

Of ten MEDCOM project integrators worldwide, Ward is the only engineering manager, and now they want more just like her. “Maybe this will open doors for more graduates to come here, says Ward.

What's in store for Ward now that she's landed her dream job? She said, “If UIW had a master's program in environmental engineering, I'd jump right on board.” Funny thing… Whittemore and her colleagues in the School of Mathematics, Science and Engineering are working hard to make UIW's engineering component bigger and stronger. Until a UIW master's program is born, Ward looks toward a bright future at Fort Sam and hopes to rise through the ranks one day managing project integrators like herself.

On the Job with Landon Mitchell '06 BSE

“I believe engineers should not only be familiar with the technical and fundamental aspects of engineering principles, but they should also have a keen business sense of how engineering operations are executed.”
- Landon Mitchell

For Landon Mitchell '06 BSEM, it wasn't always smooth sailing. Working two jobs to help pay for school while managing a tough course schedule was a big commitment for someone who didn't start out on an engineering track.

“I wasn't sure what I wanted to study in college,” says Mitchell. “I have relatives and family friends who are engineers and they shared their perspectives with me. But after gaining confidence as a McNair Scholar and meeting university professors Dr. [Roberta] Leichnitz and Ms. [Alison] Whittemore, things just fell into place.”

As a McNair Scholar, Mitchell was challenged to stretch his limits, sometimes beyond his comfort zone. “I learned how to convey information through writing, discussions and public speaking,” says Mitchell. “Presenting my research findings allowed me to get over my fear of speaking in front of large crowds and it also taught me how to interact with people one-on-one.”

According to Dr. Roberta Leichnitz, coordinator of the McNair Scholars Program, Mitchell was a quiet introspective student when she first met him. She explains how in three years he blossomed into a more outgoing person with a great sense of humor, and says,“He's a deeply caring person -- someone who will do good things for people in his life and career.”

Along the way, Mitchell became very focused on achieving a degree in engineering management. While taking classes, he secured a coveted internship as a quality engineer at a local company -- KCI, a major designer and manufacturer of patient care products. After graduation, he landed a job as a mechanical engineer at a small engineering firm in north San Antonio.

“My job involves a lot of drafting and design,” says Mitchell. “I lay out detailed specifications for facilities that store raw materials derived from coal for companies across the country. Sometimes, I'm juggling two major projects at once assigned by our designer who initiates the concept. I really enjoy my job.”

Mitchell attributes his success in finding the right path to his family and members of the UIW community such as Whittemore, dean James, Leichnitz, assistant physics professor Dr. Haoxuan Zhou, dean of campus life Renee Moore and director of student life, Dr. Angela McPherson-Williams, to name a few.

“The most important thing I learned at UIW was how to think. Classes are often geared towards what you want to do in a career, but at UIW I was taught to think in the world, how to react to different situations and how to carry myself.”

Mitchell's next step will be graduate school to further pursue his studies in engineering and obtain an engineer’s license. He'd like to eventually manage others in his field. To potential engineering students he gives this advice: “Find out as much information as you can. Talk to faculty. And be prepared to learn a lot, and love where you end up.”