February 19th through 25th is Engineers Week 2017! E-week is a multi-discipline engineering and STEM career-focused event to celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world and to illuminate our profession to youth. Many of my colleagues are sharing their story this week so I thought it would be appropriate highlight my own professional narrative and passion for engineering and public service.

Infrastructure Awareness

I believe it’s fundamentally important to be aware of what it means to have access to the infrastructure we have around us. Not only can we typically expect our roads, water lines, sanitary systems, electricity, and other vital systems to function for our individual and collective needs, we are also able to directly advocate for ourselves and elect others to advocate on our behalf to ensure that we are meeting our future needs. This is often something we take for granted because this simply isn’t the case for most of the world’s population.

Much of the developing world has an infrastructure deficit. This realization is simple but can be difficult to grasp without some experience that reveals a larger context. For me, it was my military service that gave me a broader view about the insecurity of communities abroad.

International Development

I served in the Army from 2007-2012 as a Fire Support NCO and Joint Fires Observer for a scout reconnaissance platoon and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. My tours were at the height of a newly redefined Counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN, for short) and a big part of our mission was dedicated to carrying it out. A large component of COIN focused its efforts on building and enriching the local communities such that they could prevent an insurgency from preying on its physical or economic insecurities. Although this sounds a bit dull and decidedly “un-soldier” like, this type of mission led to some of the most rewarding experiences for me during my service.

A small group of Afghan boys holding class outside of what will soon be a permanent school house for their village. (Shaun Theriot-Smith 2011 – Jalrez, Afghanistan)

Imagine for a moment that throughout your childhood you had no school or classroom to take advantage of and simply made do with the other children in your neighborhood by gathering class outside, in the street, when the weather was favorable. This was often the case for many of the Afghan villages we visited and children could only hold formal classes less than half of the year due to winter’s snow and the agricultural duties throughout the year.

Our team and I sharing tea and discussing agricultural business with village elders. (Theriot-Smith 2011 — Jalrez, Afghanistan)

With this need in mind, we were able to partner with the Department of State and USAID to utilize government-funded contracts to assess, design, and build a school where none had stood before. Much of the work was also executed and managed by local contractors and non-governmental organizations, generating much needed economic benefits. Beyond this, we leveraged federal and non-profit contracts to build and improve mosques, roads, utilities, watershed and other agricultural needs. Suffice to say, we produced a lot of enduring value within the villages and neighborhoods we served.

Personal Challenge

I encourage you to take an in depth look at what makes your everyday life possible:

  • What enables you to get to work/school?
  • What gives you a nice hot shower and an encouraging cup of coffee in the morning?
  • What keeps your bed from floating away in the middle of the night every time it rains?

These are all elements of your world that engineers and infrastructure advocates touch, and it is important for us be aware of our communities’ needs.
Also be sure to check out Engineers Week events nearby you including the premiere of the feature IMAX film Dream Big, which explores the many components of our lives that engineers shape and aims to inspire future engineering leaders. Thursday, February 23, will also be Girl Day which is a global day of outreach to bring awareness of STEM opportunities to girls in school.

If you need guidance, I or one of our consultants at LJA Engineering would love to walk you through your current property and development. I encourage you to call me at 713-580-4149 or email me at stheriotsmith@lja.com.

Lastly, below is a brief interview that Houston Matters (a program of our local NPR station, KUHF Houston Public Media) produced with me near the end of last year. It’s a great snapshot of what I described above, have a listen:

Source: Houston Matters © Houston Public Media 2016