Q&A: Meet Troy Calkins, PE, HNTB Project Controls Manager for the New NY Bridge

Fine-tuning a bridge design contest entry/NNYB Outreach

Like many youngsters, he was unsure what he wanted to do when he grew up. During summers he built residential foundations for his father, a construction company owner; in school he excelled at math and science.

“So when it came time to decide what to study in college, my interest in construction together with my math and science skills led me to pursue a degree in civil engineering,” Troy Calkins, PE, said.

Fast forward . . .

Fifteen months into his job as Project Controls Manager with the Owner’s Engineer (HNTB) on the New NY Bridge project, Calkins is as excited about work — he’s responsible for cost and schedule control — as he was the first day.

The Rockland County Times recently spoke with Calkins about his work and career path, how the project’s educational outreach component complements STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education — and dispelled some myths.

What is the most rewarding part of working on this project?

Professionally, it is knowing the profound impact it will have on the region, and being part of the cutting edge engineering and construction taking place on the Hudson River each day.

Personally, it would be watching the wonder in my children’s eyes and hearing the excitement in their voices each time we go over the Tappan Zee Bridge and they see what “daddy is building.”

What challenges do you face working on a project of this scale, and how do you handle them?

Given the number of companies, workers and stakeholders involved, it is critical to be able to adapt and respond quickly to any changes. To keep up with the constant change, I work hard to develop relationships with the various parties that impact the budget and schedule so that I am positioned to respond quickly to any questions or issues that arise.

What is a common misconception people have about your work?

Most people associate civil engineering with design and assume I work on the design of the bridge structure. What I have learned through my career is that civil engineers bring much more than design to the table. Civil engineering backgrounds provide a great foundation for construction and project management.

Calkins discusses networking and mentors: w//Educational Outreach Administrator Andy O’Rourke/NNYB

You often address schools and groups during outreach presentations and recently addressed GreenburghElmford Girl Scouts about STEM.

Speaking with the Girl Scouts was important to me as civil engineering; the engineering profession overall needs more women. As a parent of a young daughter, I think it’s important to nurture a love of math and science from an early age and to encourage girls to explore engineering as a possible career choice.

What lasting impression do you want the public to have after the project is completed?

It’s a true collaboration of form and function. All parties involved worked extremely hard to make the best decisions for the surrounding communities, commuters and future generations. The design was selected with safety, the environment and mass transit capability at the forefront.

How did your career begin?

I was very fortunate to start my career as a junior engineer on the East Side Access Project in New York City. I joined it in its infancy and remained with it through major construction. While there I was exposed to many facets of engineering and construction and was able to guide my career towards my interests.

Who were your influences?

I have been extremely fortunate to work with many talented professionals throughout my career. From my start as a junior engineer, I was mentored and guided by some of the best in the field that have worked on large projects around the world. As my career progressed, I relied heavily on my colleagues and team for advice and support.

If I had to name one individual who influenced my choice to become an engineer, it would be my father. Working alongside him, I developed a passion for construction and the work ethic that has shaped my professional life.

How would you advise students interested in construction, project management, and STEM careers?

Construction projects require the expertise and coordination of planners, architects, engineers and contractors (among other professionals). If you are open and willing, there are endless opportunities and paths within the industry to develop and grow. It is also a unique opportunity to create a lasting physical reminder of what you have accomplished during your career.

Working on a project like the NNYB might be a distant goal; what steps can they take now?

Opportunities in engineering and other applied sciences are growing. Get involved with internships, extracurricular activities or events at your school or within your community. Class work often focuses on theory. It is important to see how engineering is applied in practice. Networking will expose you to the different aspects of engineering.

Involvement with organizations and engineering activities will help you gravitate to the aspects that interest you. Seek a mentor — whether a teacher or professional — who can facilitate your exploration and put you in contact with others. Engineering is a small industry, and the relationships established early on will remain with you throughout your career.

My article originally appeared in the Rockland County Times March 12, 2015.

Copyright © Janie Rosman and Kaleidoscope Eyes 2015

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