Growing up, Thomas West had dreams of designing race cars but after taking a fork in the road, he is designing flood control and other civil engineering projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District.
West recently was recognized as the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year in the “Most Promising Engineer” category, joining New Orleans District Deputy Commander Maj. Jordon Davis, who received the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year award as a Modern Day Technology Leader.
“It means a lot to me because it’s not just a Corps award; it’s a country-wide award,” West said.
Although he still has much to learn and accomplish in his career, West said the award is a validation of how far he has come to this point in his 10-year career.
West’s supervisor New Orleans District geotechnical branch deputy chief, April Falcon-Villa offered high praise for what West has accomplished so far in his career.
“Mr. West has the unbelievable ability to retain knowledge and is quickly becoming the expert in those areas,” Falcon-Villa said. “But more importantly, his desire to learn and apply that learning to produce results is the dream of any supervisor.”
At five-years-old West said he and his best friend had dreams of designing and building their own cars, which sparked his interest in engineering.
“He’s a mechanical engineer, so he’s designing cars, and I’m in civil so I’m designing civil works projects,” West said, adding that his current responsibilities are centered on anything along the Mississippi River.
Among the projects he has played a role in designing, the MRL (Mississippi River Levee) Co-located Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System stands out as one of his favorites, West said.
“We basically started from scratch and built it up from the ground up, and it’s nice to see it being completed,” he said.
Falcon-Villa, who has worked with West off and on since 2011, credited West with ensuring continuity in those projects.
“He has truly taken a leader's role with confidence and has solidified himself as the ‘go-to’ individual for the Mississippi River Levee system,” Falcon-Villa said.
At a time when the Corps is focused on recruiting and retaining young science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) professionals, West said he has been encouraged throughout his career to further his education, get his certifications and attend different conferences to learn new skills to help make him a better engineer.
“At the Corps we strive to be the best at what we do and be on the leading edge of technology,” he said.
When asked what sales pitch he would use to persuade an engineer to choose the Corps over a private engineering firm, West pointed to the opportunities the Corps provides over the private sector.
“With the Corps, you have the opportunity to work in a lot of different places and around the world,” he said. “You could even be working on the world’s largest pump station.”