Following the Flow of Water
Rich Terrazas (’93) graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Though he had a background in structural engineering, he soon found himself working in the water industry. As Director of the Project Management Office at the environmental engineering firm Brown and Caldwell, Rich uses his engineering design expertise and water industry experience to evaluate the firm’s current and proposed projects to ensure they are commercially viable and successful.
Rich is stepping into this new role after a long and diverse career at the engineering and construction firm Black & Veatch that included roles in structural design, water design, team leadership and domestic and foreign business development.
In this alumni spotlight, Rich shares his enthusiasm about his new role in project management and how his experiences at UC Davis helped shape his success in the water industry.
How did your education at UC Davis prepare you for your job?
My education at Davis prepared me to be well-rounded, nimble, flexible and open-minded in my field. The opportunities that I got after starting in structural design were to do design in water infrastructure, which involved hydraulics and water processes. I didn’t know that I was going to land in the water industry, but I had already been exposed to it through the courses I had taken. These courses helped me take challenges and make them opportunities. As an example, it was a challenge to take my entire my family to live in a new country (Chile), but I took the challenge as an opportunity to work on the execution of the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere.
Are there any courses or professors that stand out to you?
I was really focused on structural courses, so those were my favorites. I especially remember Professor Karl Romstad and his finite element analysis structural course. One of the professors I recall fondly is Melvin Ramey. Professor Ramey was the civil engineering department chair and I was fortunate to take his courses and work with him on some of his projects. That experience was very helpful.
What are some of the highlights of your time at UC Davis?
Where do I start? One of the first things that comes to mind is the pickup soccer games played by the international students on the grass lot at A Street, right behind Hickey Gym. The thing I remember the most is that nobody spoke—the common language was through a soccer ball.
What I appreciated about Davis is everywhere you looked, you saw students from different backgrounds and they were open about their identity. The exposure I got from seeing some of my classmates participate in the different cultural organizations on campus was very helpful. I learned so much from their cultures—the food and the music especially—that I don’t think I would have learned if I had not gone to UC Davis. I learned to be open minded and accept who you are.
I also miss the bike riding. I recently picked it up again because my kids are now able to ride their bikes to school. It brings back a lot of flashbacks of riding on campus and my time at UC Davis. When I began at Davis, I recall being told that the average of bike accidents per student is like three per year. During my freshman year, I had used up all three of my accidents in the first two weeks!
What is your advice for current students?
I think it’s very important to know yourself. When you come out into the real world, you need to understand what types of companies or firms (large/small, private/public) you like, the type of work environment you enjoy (indoors/outdoors) and if you would like to travel (domestic/international). Knowing that will help you narrow down an employer and ensure that you are at place you enjoy because you may be there for a while.
Another recommendation would be to think global. As our workforce becomes more diverse, understanding how to communicate and collaborate across time zones and/or cultures will take you a long way. If you don’t know another language, learn one. If you know two languages, learn a third. The fact that I knew a second language is what opened doors for me and allowed me to live and work in Latin America.
What is your advice for aspiring civil engineers?
Understand and be open to the many different options within your major and the different career paths you can take within it. With civil engineering, you can work in transportation, construction, process, environmental, geotechnical, etc. in roles as diverse as management, sales, legal, technical and finance. Be sure to learn which sector—academic, private, public or research—you would like to work in. If you have an opportunity to take classes in business or marketing, take it–it will give you a competitive edge and allow you to move roles more easily.
As you move within the industry and between different roles, understand that you don’t need to be an expert on one thing, or on everything. As long as you have some knowledge about it, it’ll get you far. I started in technical design, then went on to team management , continued with sales and business development, worked in Chile and I now oversee project management. It’s still my major in civil engineering, I just apply it in different ways.
Building upon a long-standing tradition of public service, the UC Davis College of Engineering has a visionary plan for the future in which innovative research and quality education will make life better for everyone. Do you have a story to share? Let us know.