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Charles Nelson, CE '70, receives top engineering management award

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Civil engineering alumnus Charles W. Nelson has received the 2013 A.B. Paterson Award for an Engineer in Management from the Louisiana Engineering Society (LES).

A 1970 graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Nelson currently serves as the Chairman of the Waldemar S. Nelson & Co., Inc., an engineering, project management, environmental science, and architectural services company located in New Orleans. Nelson is a member of CEE’s External Advisory Board.

According to the Society, “The Paterson award is intended not only to recognize the recipient but to encourage and inspire other engineers to greater effort in the field of business management.”

"It was a big surprise for me," said Nelson. "All of my management skills have been learned on the job. Running a company has been like running a project. You plan your work, you work your plan, and you try to get the best team possible behind you. I've had a great team."

Nelson officially received this honor at the Joint Engineering Society Conference, held in Lafayette, this past January.

A native of New Orleans, Nelson remained in Atlanta after finishing his undergraduate degree so he could work as a research engineer with one of his former professors.  By the time he entered the University of Florida’s graduate program in coastal and oceanographic engineering in 1972, he had succeeded in building and operating a physical model of a hydroelectric power plant that was planned for north Georgia.

As a design engineer for Frederic R. Harris, Nelson traveled the world, where he worked on structural designs for the first offshore oil and gas platforms in the Dutch Sector of the North Sea. But it was his long and distinguished tenure with Waldemar S. Nelson & Co., that most impressed the LES.

As an engineer, project manager, and an executive, he has overseen Waldemar S. Nelson & Co., on many exciting initiatives, including IMTT’s Tanker Docks 2 and 3 at St. Rose, Louisiana; Freeport Sulphur’s Main Pass Sulphur Mine in the Gulf of Mexico, which was recognized as the NSPE Outstanding Engineering Achievement in 1992; and the 2005 CG Rail ferry terminal at the Port of New Orleans’ Elaine Street Terminal.

As a corporate executive, Nelson led his company through the depressed oil and gas economy of the early 1980s, emphasizing geographic diversity of the practice. Under his tenure, the company’s Houston office was opened in 2000 to serve longstanding and new clients in the oil, gas, port and power industries.

Today, Houston activities account for roughly one-third of the company’s 400 employees.

One of the proudest moments in his career came in September of 2005, when he and his management team re-opened the company’s home office in downtown New Orleans -- just six days after Katrina left much of the city and surrounding areas out of commission.

His civic involvement spans Nelson’s 34 year tenure at the company, and includes board positions on the Boy Scouts of America, the Salvation Army, the World Trade Center of New Orleans, the St. George’s Episcopal School, the New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute, the Louisiana Technology Council, the Loyola International Business Center and the UNO Engineering Advisory Board.

For more than 12 years Nelson served on the World Trade Center International Business Committee, including two years as president. In 2004, LES recognized Nelson’s community involvement with the Andrew M. Lockett Award for Civic Activities.

Nelson and his wife, Dorothy, have two sons, Lee, age 28, who is finishing his doctorate in philosophy at the University of British Columbia, and Hunter, age 25, a Clemson University engineering graduate who now works for Woodward Design+Build in New Orleans.