Marcellus and Linda Pitts are not the kind of parents to force their children to be interested in something or tell them what profession to pursue for their careers.
That doesn’t mean Marcellus didn’t make a subtle push for engineering here and there. Especially during family vacations.
“Well, if we’re going on a family trip, I’ll point stuff out,” Pitts said. “I remember we went to the Grand Canyon. And the kids were looking down into the canyon, and I started bringing up the engineering of it, talking about the river flowing, the possibility of erosion, talking about the different levels and shades of the soil.
“If you expose kids to opportunities like that, then it starts to mold and build them. And engineering has a special place, because when you show them engineering, those creative juices really start flowing.”
Pitts is the owner of Pitts-Fowler Enterprises Inc., in Atlanta. All three of his children – Tay, DeMario, and Trevoir – went into engineering and work for him.
Just like their father. Just like their grandfather.
“There must be something about who we are,” Marcellus laughed.
There probably is. There’s probably something about civil engineering too. This weekend, as ASCE members across the world enjoy Father’s Day, many of those celebrations will include family lineages of civil engineering.
Is it genetics? Something about the engineering brain? Is it learned through experience? All of the above?
Learning by example
“I think it’s watching a civil engineer work,” said Nancy Kralik, P.E., ENV SP, LEED AP, F.ASCE, senior health, safety, and environmental director at Fluor in Houston.
Kralik’s family is another excellent example of civil engineering passed down like a treasured heirloom. Her father, Marlin Sheridan, was a Life Member of ASCE, a longtime professor at Bucknell University, and a prominent engineer (he designed the foundation for the first supersonic wind tunnel).
“My dad did a lot of his own repairs,” Kralik said. “We’d go camping for three months at a time. He built his own trailer. We’d help with various things. He was one of those engineers who could do it; not just teach it. He knew how to apply it. He knew how to implement it.
“So it was really by example, by him, that we learned.”
One of six children, Kralik followed her dad’s lead, as did her two brothers. Kralik’s older brother, David Sheridan, Ph.D., P.E., LEED AP, F.ASCE, is an ASCE Life Member. A younger brother, Dean Sheridan, P.E., M.ASCE, works for Fluor in control systems.
Nancy is a member of ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability. She actually came to civil engineering after first earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in fisheries. Her parents had relocated from Pennsylvania to Texas and suggested she look into the booming market down there.
“I talked it over with my dad,” Nancy said. “He was very helpful, very motivating.”
Kralik studied civil and environmental engineering at the University of Houston and never looked back – to the delight, of course, of her father.
“We’d have discussions on what I was doing with ASCE, different committees,” Kralik said. “He’d send me articles on sustainability and green infrastructure.”
Marlin passed away last fall at the age of 96. No doubt, his civil engineering legacy is in good hands.
“I think with engineering, role models help enormously,” Kralik said. “My dad was a role model – for his kids and his students. He was proud of all of us, and we were proud of him.”
The importance of exposure
Kristina Swallow has a similar story. ASCE’s president grew up in Tuscon, AZ, around civil engineering every day. Her father, Ed Konrath Jr., is a Ph.D. in civil engineering and spent his career working in structural and finite element analysis.
“I don’t know that I would’ve picked civil engineering had I not had some exposure from him as a career path opportunity,” said Swallow, P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE, whose brother Treye Konrath also is a civil engineer and ASCE member. “You only know what you know, right? You can only pursue things that you’re exposed to.”
It’s the same strategy that worked for the Pitts family. It’s the reason Marcellus regaled his kids with fun facts about soil erosion during family vacations.
“I think it comes down to exposure,” Pitts said. “We exposed our kids to different elements of education. From my mother, my in-laws, everyone made sure – at no point did the kids ever get a summer off. We always had something educationally happening for them. I don’t care who they went to visit. There was something every day that was school-oriented.
“We never pushed them in any particular direction. We’re all individuals. But through exposure, certain things start taking their course. They start to see themselves in it. And they start saying, ‘OK, what do I do with this love for math and science?’
“They wanted to be engineers.”
Marcellus’ daughter, Tay, spent last week working on a project for the Pitts company in Dubai. His son DeMario earned his second degree – this one in construction management – earlier this month.
There may be a fourth generation headed into the profession, too. Marcellus’ oldest granddaughter is a high school senior, interested in studying engineering. Even the 2-year-old granddaughter is showing some now-familiar signs.
“All of her toys are math-driven,” Marcellus laughed. “She plays with that stuff more than she does with dolls. So I guess we got another one coming up the pike.”