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Interview with UK CE major - Macy Purcell

August 08, 2016

This interview is with Macy Purcell, a civil engineering major expecting to graduate from the University of Kentucky in December 2016. ValuePenguin recently spoke with him about his experience within his program and what he's planning to do with his professional future.

Macy PurcellUniversity of Kentucky Civil Engineering Major - Macy Purcell

by Kelsey Szukhent (ValuePenguin.com)

This interview is with Macy Purcell, a civil engineering major expecting to graduate from the University of Kentucky in December 2016. ValuePenguin recently spoke with him about his experience within his program and what he's planning to do with his professional future.


What has your experience been like at UK?
It has been an amazing experience overall. The last five years, I’ve been surrounded with great Civil Engineering faculty and ambitious students that have really pushed me to do my best. The College of Engineering has great staff that are glad to help you find internships, provide resume critiques and interview prep, as well as find a tutor. UK’s College of Engineering has been an incredible environment to be a part of, and I believe it has prepared me for a rewarding career.
Were there other schools you were considering?
I was considering a couple of schools, namely UK and the University of Louisville Speed School. I had always planned to go to UK, but my parents encouraged me to at least look at UofL. A lot of people will say that when they visit a school, it “just felt right,” and I think it’s the same with me. I loved the atmosphere of Lexington, I knew a lot of other students going to UK, and I also had family in Lexington. On a couple of campus visits I was impressed with the engineering facilities, and I got to interact with some of the faculty, all of whom were very pleasant and encouraging.  All the pieces fit together and I felt like UK was where I belonged.
What influenced you to pursue a major in engineering?
As a kid I loved art and enjoyed drawing and sketching. For a long time, even into early high school, I wanted to be an architect and design bridges and buildings. On the other hand, I loved math and science too. After researching the education requirements of architecture and what they do day-to-day, I soon realized that Civil Engineering better fit my interests. Architecture wasn’t as calculus and physics driven as I wanted either. I spoke to several people I knew who were pursuing engineering degrees, as well as some Civil Engineers, and they gave glowing recommendations of the field. I felt that there were more diverse opportunities within Civil Engineering, as well as more room for professional growth. So, around my junior year of high school, I decided to pursue Civil Engineering, and began preparing to study it in college.
What is your favorite class so far?
The most enjoyable class in my undergraduate years was Fluid Mechanics. The professor had great energy and what can only be described as profound exuberance for the material and for teaching students. There was a great relationship between the students and the professor because we knew he cared about the material, and he truly wanted us to understand it and it’s importance. He made the class interesting and he was a bit of a comic too, so it was a fun class. I’ve had a chance to work with that professor in a couple of extracurricular organizations, and he has that same joie de vivre outside of the classroom, so he’s had a positive impact on my life in a non-academic way as well.In grad school my favorite class has been Advanced Concrete Design. The professor was always pleasant and did a phenomenal job making a difficult subject understandable. My focus area within Civil Engineering is Structural Engineering, so the material was important to me, and interesting as well. I feel like that class came closer than any other to presenting real-world design challenges and teaching students to solve those problems.
What is unique about the nature of your major’s classes?
Civil Engineering encompasses a very broad spectrum of topics. Namely, the engineering sub-groups within civil are: Structural Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Construction, Transportation, Hydrology and Fluid Mechanics, Environmental Engineering, and Surveying. Many of these don’t seem like they have much in common, but they are all interconnected in various ways. I think Civil Engineering is unique in that it is comprised of so many different fields.
What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?
Once gaining engineering standing in the college, civil students take generally the same classes in roughly the same order, so great camaraderie is developed. So, you get to know your peers pretty well and develop close relationships. Those friendships were crucial when it came to studying and moral support. That said, there are many great engineering student organizations at UK that are fantastic resources for studying and networking. All of our engineering organizations do a good job of connecting with local companies and alumni and facilitating lines of communication between the two groups. The College of Engineering’s role can’t be understated either. Each semester they hold an engineering-only career fair that routinely consists of 100+ companies seeking to hire young engineers. 

Have you participated in any internships?

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several internships. After my freshman year, I worked for the local water company in my hometown and got to learn a good deal about water treatment and production.

The next summer I worked for the Paducah and Louisville Railroad where I inspected the entire track system and updated track charts. I also worked in maintenance and assisted in the daily upkeep of the track.

The third summer I worked at UK as a research assistant where I worked on various railroad related research projects. I worked with Dr. Jerry Rose, and we published several reports on railway/highway at-grade crossings, as well as co-authored a couple of papers with UIUC on railroad bridge transitions.

The next summer I worked for an engineering firm in Louisville, KY, C&I Engineering. They focus primarily on oil and gas refineries. I worked in the structural engineering side of things, designing pipe racks and retrofits of different structures in the refinery.

That brings me to this summer. Now I am working for KY American Water in Lexington, KY. I’m involved in new construction of water lines, some water treatment projects, designing layouts of new projects, as well as coordinating with owners and contractors.

What are your career plans and aspirations?
My number one immediate goal is to finish Graduate School. Fall 2016 will be my final semester, and I will defend at the end of the semester. After that, I’d like to go into consulting, specifically in structural engineering. My Master’s program has focused on structural engineering, and I’d like to do bridge design and inspection.

What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?
Engineering is a major time commitment. It takes a great deal of time studying and working on problems or homework to master the fundamentals of engineering. At times that has been an annoyance because it can detract from your social life. Ultimately, I think all that helped me to learn to balance my academic life and social life and budget my time wisely. But if you are committed to engineering, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort.

What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?
Be prepared. Civil Engineering (or Engineering in general) is not easy. To be successful, one needs to be dedicated to the task at hand, and willing to put in the time and effort to achieve their goals.

Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path?
I don’t want to ruin any surprises! But in all honesty, with my experience and knowing what I know now, I’d still choose Civil Engineering if given the chance to do it all again.

If anything, I wish I had known how hard it would be to pick a focus area. I mostly thought Civil Engineering was all about roads, bridges, and buildings, so that was perfect for me. But once I got deeper in the curriculum, I found out that there are so many facets to Civil Engineering like I mentioned earlier. My problem was that I became interested in almost all of them and wanted to learn as much as I could about each of those subjects. There were times when I considered focusing on Geotech, or Construction, or Hydrology rather than Structures. There are so many advancements being made in the industry, and lots of cutting-edge research is being done around the world. I didn’t realize just how interesting, fast-paced, and modern Civil Engineering was.

How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?
I was awarded a full tuition scholarship based on my high school GPA, my ACT scores, and participation in Kentucky’s Governor’s Scholars Program. I also had several other lesser scholarships, some from the College of Engineering, some from other organizations. In graduate school, I am a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant, so that pays for my tuition. My summer internships have also helped fund my education.

What resources or information would you like to help you think about your career that you’re not currently getting?
As I have joined more professional organizations, I have come to realize the benefit of trade magazines. I’ve learned a lot just from reading about industry news or new research going on around the country. As a student, it’s sometimes hard to get access to these types of publications without paying hefty membership costs.

What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?
I was always told to find a career that makes you happy, and with engineering I think I’ve found it. So, that is my advice, “Do what makes you happy.”

Also, a professor once told me to find my niche in civil engineering and be the very best I could be in it – make myself indispensable. He said success will follow as long as you work hard and have a strong work ethic.

Macy's Reading List:

  • 1776, by David McCullough -- I had a steel design professor that would joke (I think) that he always slept with the AISC Steel Design Manual underneath his pillow. The steel manual hasn’t made that kind of impact on my life, but one book about leadership that I find particularly interesting is 1776. It is primarily the story of the Continental Army in the year 1776 as they began fighting the American Revolution. However, it gives fascinating insight into the mind and actions of Genl. George Washington, and how he managed to lead the army through such a volatile era. Many people don’t know that Washington was a surveyor, which in itself is a key component of Civil Engineering. He was also a farmer, and I grew up on a farm as well. I think those two similarities have always attracted me to read about his life and work.

by Andrew Pentis