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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District News

Employee Spotlight: Adam Smith

Tulsa District Corps of Engineers
Published June 16, 2014
Adam Smith is a civil engineer assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District.

Adam Smith is a civil engineer assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District.

Adam is a civil engineer in the Southwestern Division Dam Safety Production Center at the Tulsa District. Adam first began working with the Tulsa District as a summer intern in 2003 and 2004, while studying Civil Engineering at Oklahoma State University. He began working for the Corps full time as a professional engineer in Jan. 2005.

Adam grew up in Tulsa and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. In his 11-year career with the Tulsa District, he has worked in both military and civil design. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Oklahoma State University.

He and his wife, Amber, have two children, one boy and one girl.

How did you end up in your current position?

I needed a summer job, and Cliff Warren and Billy Banks came to Oklahoma State and interviewed 20 people, and I was one of them. There were four or five slots and I was number six. So, started looking for other jobs for the summer but I received a call two weeks before school let out and I accepted on the spot.

I was an intern for two summers. I started my internship in 2003 and came back in the summer of 2004, and then started full-time in January 2005. It was nice to work with some friends. It was nice to have a job because a lot of the guys that I knew in school didn’t have a summer job.

What do you do in your current job and what does it entail?

Civil site planning and layout, utility design, interdisciplinary coordination and a lot of three dimensional Computer Aided Design modeling for our projects.

The stuff that I do gets translated into two-dimensional plans. So you have plans, sections and elevations that are developed from a virtual model of the structure we’re going to put into place. So, I develop a three-dimensional structure and then I take cuts from that model that’s three dimensional and create two-dimensional sections from that and then we’ll generate our plans.

A lot of the projects I’m working on now are either for rehabilitation of current structures or construction of new structures. As a civil engineer I’m primarily concerned with elevation, changes on the terrain and how we can excavate to the correct elevation we need so that we can put a new structure in place.

Tell us about a recent project you have completed.

We just finished up working on Pine Creek where we are going to excavate on the downstream slope of the earthen dam. So as a civil engineer, I was working on how to create safe slopes so the contractor is not risking the stability of the dam.

How do you cut into an earthen dam safely?

Very carefully. Basically, we will set up a dewatering system so that any water that goes through the soil, which is a natural occurrence, we will collect that around the area where we are going to excavate so that no water comes into the excavation. The contractor, based upon the section we develop from the CAD model, will construct what we want the final structure to look like and then remove the dewatering system.

Why did you want to work for the Corps?

I was familiar with it having been in the intern program, so I wanted to continue that service. Having friends who work here also helped that decision. It was nice to have that familiarity with people I’ve already been working with rather than risk going out in the private sector or to another public agency and not fit in quite as well. I really found my niche here early on. I’ve had some really had some great mentors here who helped me make the transition from summer intern to professional civil engineer. I really haven’t had any bad supervisors. All of them have guided me in my career path.

I come from several generations of engineers. My dad was a civil engineer in Tulsa in the private sector. My grandfather was a chemical engineer and my father-in-law is a mechanical engineer. So, it’s been real easy to start and continue with engineering.

What is the greatest source of satisfaction that you receive from your work?

I love engineering. It is so much fun to create something from nothing. The way that we start our designs from a single point, moving to a line, then to a shape and a volume is a tremendous source of satisfaction. Also, working for the public, I don’t have to be concerned with profit. I need to be concerned with savings. I need to be concerned with the best use of taxpayer dollars. Because I’m not concerned with profit, I can focus on quality and making sure that we have a product that will last for a long time, and doing the best we can to focus on the long-term, not just the short-term.

Is there a particular project that’s been your favorite?

There are probably two. The Keystone Bridge replacement is probably one of my favorites because it hits close to home. My dad lives out in Mannford, so I travel that bridge on a regular basis. So, getting to work on the replacement of that bridge and the ways we expedited construction and features of design was very cool. It was different from the way we’ve always done things. So, getting to go and see that after having driven across it thousands of times was rewarding.

The second project is the Adicks and Barker Dams in Houston. They are individual dams that are part of a system that and they work together. Both dams will have the outlet works structures replaced and the original structures are going to be abandoned and replaced. That one is a significantly civil-related project. The project, impacts millions and millions of people and billions of dollars in infrastructure downstream. Working on a project with that kind of impact is a cool thing. Because it is a heavy civil-related project we’re dealing with a lot of excavation and a lot of placement, and movement of earth material, creating new channels and impacting Mother Nature’s original intent. That is a cool thing and we are doing the best we can to make sure it is to the quality we want.

You have really embraced the three dimensional modeling for Civil Engineering which isn’t really being used as much in other districts. Why is that?

They’re using it for military works projects. The software was principally vertical-construction building-style software but over the last couple of years, in Tulsa at least, we’ve tried to implement that modeling on civil works projects. It fits pretty well; we’re not necessarily able to use all of the tools and features that a vertical construction project would but we use the tools sufficiently to get the intent across and get all of the quantities. Having that helps with quantities, brings down cost estimates, and improves the quality and the uniformity of the design. I think that a lot of people are starting to embrace it on civil works projects. It’s been cool to be in Tulsa as kind of the forefront leader in the Corps for using 3-D software in civil works.

Who is your greatest source of inspiration?

My grandfather was probably the most humble person. He had an awesome balance of work, family, hobbies and faith. He was an awesome inspiration. He was one of the most balanced people I’ve ever met. He was very quiet and reserved but he knew how to have fun. It was a very awesome balance, and I want to have that be my focus; to work on the balance. Not just work on work but family is in there, faith is in there and fun is in there. So he’s been my greatest inspiration for why I do what I do and a model for me.