Listen, be patient, surround yourself with good people, always consider the human element — that advice and more from the newest members of CEE’s advisory board

Friday, November 13, 2015

The School of Civil and Environmental Engineering has added four new advisers this fall.

Michael Houlihan, Emmy Montanye, Christopher Pappas and Wassim Selman joined the School’s External Advisory Board to counsel CEE’s leadership on everything from curriculum and fundraising to communications and recruiting.

They’re all graduates of the program and will serve six years on the volunteer board. Learn more about a few of them:

Emmy Montanye

Bachelor’s degree, 1982
Senior Vice President, Kimley-Horn and Associates

Your projects right now are a who’s who of Atlanta sports venues [the Braves’ SunTrust Park and the Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium] plus the new College Football Hall of Fame, the high-end Buckhead Atlanta development. What’s it like to work on these things that have such a visible and deep impact on your community?
Very rewarding. It’s a lot about the people around the table, the talent around the table, and the mutual respect for each of our areas of expertise and the talent that we bring. [We’re] working with some really fabulous architects, developers, and structural engineers and so many from the Tech community. Then, what’s really rewarding is the product and creating a place that is sustainable. You see people want to be there, live there, and work there. That’s very satisfying.

Why did you want to join the External Advisory Board?
I’m very passionate about students and what the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering can be doing to help educate and create more well-rounded students that aren’t just engineers, but who are also leaders and communicators, and who make a difference in the community. When you are a student, you don’t recognize the importance of those attributes.

What one piece of advice would you offer to a current student?
Listen. Pay attention. Find your voice, and use it with grace and persistence.

I think you can really make a difference with your voice, but when you are young, you don’t think about that. You think you have your voice, but have you really thought about your values, and your beliefs, and how they relate to your voice, and how you can make a difference with it?

We say a lot that we are “working to improve the human condition.” What does that mean for you?
For me, what that means is improving the environment where we “live, work, play.” It’s from a lot of different perspectives. For me, a lot of it has to do with storm water. In the city of Atlanta, where we have a combined sewer system, what can we be doing to mitigate overflows and reduce environmental impacts downstream? Using sustainable materials. Reducing runoff. Creating streetscapes, sidewalks and plazas, where people want to spend their time. Creating a community of great spaces.


Michael Houlihan

Bachelor’s degree, 1985
Master’s degree, 1987
Principal Engineer and Vice President, Geosyntec Consultants

Why did you want to become an engineer?
In high school, I started out in drafting and architecture because I liked the idea of expressing things spatially and seeing them built. I intended to go into architecture, but I wanted to actually be building things as opposed to planning [them]. I got into civil engineering because I wanted to build things and be outside.

Why did you want to join the External Advisory Board?
I see the need for engineering education and the value of it. When I mentor high school kids and college kids, and when I talk to grade school kids about careers, it’s clear to me — and I am able to make clear to them — that society’s biggest problems can only be solved by engineers. We need to recruit bright, talented, extroverted people to our profession. My hope is that I can become better at that by being associated with this group.

What one piece of advice would you offer to a current student?
I would advise them to seek opportunities to build their base for judgment early in their career, and be patient. Trust that if they surround themselves with good people, good mentors, and good partners, they will be very successful and find plenty of challenging projects to work on and chances to make a difference in the world.

We say a lot that we are “working to improve the human condition.” What does that mean for you?
Something that jumps to mind is our ability to sustain the advanced level of society that we have in our country and in the world, which is a real challenge now. There are grand challenges facing us. By engaging great people and working together in strong teams and applying the best science, we can make the world a great place to be.


Wassim Selman

Bachelor’s degree, 1981
Master’s degree, 1982
Ph.D., 1986
President, Infrastructure Business Line, ARCADIS North America

How have your multiple civil engineering degrees helped you as you’ve moved into leadership, become an executive, and worked more with people?
Civil engineering, relative to some of the other engineering degrees, is very diverse. It includes a variety of topics, so that has been very helpful. It has given me a good, solid, diverse foundation in terms of technical knowledge. Also, civil engineering is very visible. It is what you see out there. You don’t see what the mechanical or electrical engineers do, but you see what the civil engineers do. That is what appealed to me in the first place about civil engineering.

Why did you want to join the External Advisory Board?
Since I graduated from Georgia Tech, other than going to football games or basketball games, I have not really given Tech anything back. I think it’s the time in my career to give back to Georgia Tech because Georgia Tech gave me a lot. With my experience, especially my experience with young talent and young engineers and where they could actually accomplish more, I’m hoping that I can give back to Tech in terms of the education that they will need to be more successful.

What one piece of advice would you offer to a current student?
Think about the human element. There is the technical stuff that they learn in college, and it’s what they do with it in terms of working with others. Whether it is their employees, their supervisor, their colleagues, their competitors, their clients, it is the human element. We cannot accomplish anything. We cannot build big, iconic projects, if we don’t address the human part of the equation.

We say a lot that we are “working to improve the human condition.” What does that mean for you?
Improving the quality of life. Different people view quality of life differently. So, “improving the quality of life,” everybody defines what that means to them. But it is really all about making the Earth, making society, a better place for everyone.


Looking for more insight from successful graduates? Check out this series with some other recent additions to the School’s advisory board.