PART 3: To CEE or not to CEE?

(Or, what you can do with a CEE degree other than engineering)
Monday, December 8, 2014

This story is the third in a series about new members of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering External Advisory Board. Get acquainted with the series here.

If there’s one thing that ties together most of the newest members of the School’s advisory board, it’s that they don’t work as engineers. In fact, three of them work in banking and real estate.

That’s not to say, however, that they’re not using what they learned in their CEE classes every day.

Van Epp

“[My work is] real estate development,” said Michael R. Van Epp, senior vice president at Dickinson Financial Corp. He manages the company’s $325 million portfolio of foreclosed commercial, residential and multi-family assets across the country. “Civil engineering is a core component of land development and real estate development.”

Van Epp said he learned how to think and how to solve problems methodically and rationally while he was at Tech. And his engineering background still plays a useful role in his day-to-day work.

“You can tackle any given task that you have, whether it’s on the business side, human resources, or actual technical aspects of your role,” he said. “Now, having been at Georgia Tech and understanding civil engineering and grading, it enables me to go through a land development project, manage the consultants, understand what they’re going through, [understand] their time constraints, and seek out better solutions when it’s necessary.”


“It’s problem-solving and being able to work through a problem without all the answers in front of you,” said Damian Taylor, director at CBRE Capital Advisors, the company’s real estate investment-banking arm. “[You have] the ability to make decisions without a full set of facts, which, I think, is what engineering is all about. That translates to different industries.”

Silvio Lopez also works in banking, leading the mortgage division of Banco Popular in Puerto Rico. And he said he’s been able to bring engineers in to improve how the bank does business.


“I started to set up an engineering department within the mortgage operation,” he said. “What we did was a lot of process analysis, strategic planning, and looking for ways we could reinvent the business. Because, at the end of the day, it looked to me like it was very process-oriented, and engineers can look at that process and see where we can make things better.”

Lopez started his career in construction, and when he moved to Puerto Rico, he took a job in the bank’s construction department, “which makes sense, for a civil engineer who’s had experience to get into that.” Before he knew it, he was being asked to run the mortgage division — and learning how to do it as he went.

Taylor’s foray into banking and real estate was more intentional, but he said he still sees ties between his work and his studies in civil engineering.

“I like real estate because you’re a place-making person. Civil engineers play a key role in that built environment. You see in developing countries, when we develop wastewater systems or build bridges or build roads, you’re making the place better for people to live.”

UP NEXT: The one piece of advice the School’s new board members would offer to current students.

Read more of the series:
Part 1: Series introduction and bios
Part 2: Building companies versus building stuff - entrepreneurship and leadership
Part 4: One piece of advice