Designing the future: civil engineering

February 5, 2017

 

rod ballardMODESTO — Before there can be roads, bridges, airports or canals, somebody must design it.

“Civil engineering is considered to be one of the oldest fields in engineering,” said Rod Ballard, principal at CTE CAL, Inc. an engineering, quality control and materials testing firm with offices in Modesto, Fremont and Sacramento. “Its history dates back to when people started building a shelter for themselves, building roads and aqueducts.”

Today’s civil engineers continue to design these structures along with those of a modern society.

“The focus is on static structures that you can walk, stand, run or bike on — bridges, buildings, all underground utilities, pretty much everything you see and use on a daily basis that does not move,” said O’Dell Engineering, Inc. Project Manager Yushin Imura.

O’Dell Engineering is a civil engineering, land surveying, landscape architecture, and land use entitlement and land planning firm with offices in Modesto, Fresno, Pleasanton and Palo Alto.

Imura has experience in both land surveying and civil design and has been with O’Dell Engineering for five years.

An interest in bridge design led him to the field.

“I really like bridge design. I love to go camping and looking at the outdoors, and I love looking at bridges,” he said.

Imura started with an internship in land development and has since remained in that niche.

“The easy way to define land development, is we do everything five feet outside the building,” he said. “Pretty much everything five feet out a civil engineer has had his hands on—parks, parking, sidewalks, curb and gutter, streets, sewer, water, storm. We coordinate bridge design, dams, levees.”

While working part time, Imura earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from San Jose State University in 2009. He became licensed in 2014.

The civil engineering licensing exam is a three-part, 13-hour-long test. Either six years of experience combined with an engineering in training certificate or a four-year college degree with two years of post-graduate, on-the-job training is required to take the exam.

Increased salary and job opportunities, along with the ability to sign improvement plans are key benefits of becoming licensed, according to Imura.

Rod Ballard began his career 39 years ago. During high school, he discovered he had a talent for math, physics and chemistry and decided he wanted to build things.

“I guess I needed that sense of accomplishment one would get from designing and then seeing your creation constructed whether it was a building, dam, roadways or other structures and infrastructure,” he said.

After graduating from Oregon State University in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering specializing in geotechnical/soils, Ballard worked for the Bureau of Reclamation. He earned a Master of Science degree in Civil/Geotechnical Engineering from Oklahoma State University in 1984.

In 1989 Ballard launched Construction Testing & Engineering and a second company, QC Southwest, in 1999.

Due to the growth of the combined firms, the three Northern California offices split into a separate company named CTE CAL in 2009. The firm has enjoyed revenue growth of more than 50 percent since 2015 Ballard said.

The project Ballard is most proud of is the $1.5 billion San Diego International Airport’s  Terminal Two expansion. To Ballard, the most enjoyable aspect of his job is doing things others say cannot be done.

“At least three project sites I have worked on over the years were deemed un-developable by other engineers,” said Ballard. “All three of these sites were developed based on using a combination of common sense and state of the engineering solutions I developed which solved the purportedly unsolvable.”

Yushin Imura enjoys observing things most people wouldn’t notice.

“I never looked at the way the ground sloped or the cross slope on a road the way I do now,” he said. “Civil engineering — you’re engineering for the public. You’re responsible for the safety of everyday people and that’s what I really like about it.”

Imura’s favorite project is Santana Ranch in Hollister, a 300-acre residential subdivision with parks, a high school, three detention basins and roughly 1,000 homes when it’s finished.

“What’s interesting is it’s a subdivision but from one end of the site to the other, it slopes at 3-and-a-half percent,” he said. “So, you have some major challenges for grading issues, a lot of retaining walls and terrain differences.”

For those interested in a civil engineering career, Imura and Ballard encourage students to get information and experience.

“If you decide to try it, I suggest that you do engineering internships during the summers as it will help you get the job you want at probably a higher salary than you expected. CTE CAL hires at least two engineering interns every summer,” said Ballard.

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