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Online MS in Civil Engineering: Construction Engineering

Large-Scale Rewards: Megaproject Engineer Boosts Career With Advanced Degree

Brian Poole

Project Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Retired)

Unlike most of us, Brian Poole loves being stuck in traffic underneath a bridge. It gives him a chance to check out the construction and imagine the rebar and mesh within the concrete.

“I’m interested in the big stuff,” said Poole, a graduate of the online Master of Science in Civil Engineering: Construction Engineering program. “It’s the 20-year-old in me that I just can't quite grow out of.”

After retiring from the U.S. Air Force at age 33, Brian went back to school to earn his bachelor’s in civil engineering and began a career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But he needed a master’s degree to gain the knowledge and credentials to work on the megaprojects that fascinate him. He also needed the degree to teach, another passion he hopes to pursue one day.

In this interview after he earned his degree, Brian talked with us about why he chose the UW master’s program and how he believes the degree gave him an edge in applying for large-scale project work.

How did you feel going back to school would help your career?

About six years ago, I was deep into my construction career with the Army Corps of Engineers. But I felt there were more things I could learn.

In our district in Sacramento, we were looking at some pretty big civil construction projects. I thought it would not only be interesting and good to know more, but it would also enhance my career options. I went back to school to help me become more competent and competitive for the construction phase of those megaprojects. In addition, I wanted the credentials to be able to someday teach in the engineering field, primarily in construction.

Why did you choose this program to earn your master’s?

The first thing that got my attention about the UW program was the emphasis in construction, because I was in construction and really liked it. And then the convenience of it being online. To me, it was a no-brainer.

Was the online format of the program important to you?

The online aspect was the clincher. During my time in the program, I lived and worked in California. I also traveled to Tanzania and Kenya. The online format provided me the flexibility to work ahead or catch up later. The other benefit was the nearly endless material to learn from, because the professors could easily share articles or excerpts from different technical resources.

What do you find compelling about working on megaprojects?

It’s a lot of people, a big team effort, big contractors, big equipment — the stuff to make somebody like me smile all day long. The Corps of Engineers is working on a couple of dam projects in Sacramento, and a dam’s a big deal — the uniqueness and the size. It’s going to be around way longer than me.

How will having a master’s degree from the UW give you an advantage in pursuing future jobs?

Say several of us came to the table with our resumes. Having the master’s is one way to show that I wanted to increase my knowledge. It’s not like an easy weekend seminar; it’s a big program, and I successfully completed this rigorous coursework.

I came out not just with a piece of paper from some unaccredited, no-name place. It's a master’s in engineering from the University of Washington. That tells the world something about me, and I think that’s what puts me ahead of a lot of people that don’t have that.