Christopher Shem Hawes, P.E., is a Partner at Civiltec and is celebrating his 10-year anniversary this month. We wanted to give Shem a chance to reflect on his time with Civiltec.
In 2007, Shem had been working at a small consulting firm in Salt Lake City, Utah. His wife and family had lived in California and later moved to Utah, but they wanted to move back. Moreover, Shem had started to outgrow his previous company; he wanted to contribute his skills and abilities to an organization that could help him learn and grow as an engineer. Civiltec had reached out to Shem for a phone interview at this point and, after favorable discussions, Shem flew out to meet David Byrum and Terry Kerger in February 2007.
Civiltec offered Shem a position within the company shortly after this and began welcoming him into the company while giving him time to set his affairs in Salt Lake in order. However, Shem did not begin working with Civiltec immediately: dedicated and responsible, he had been committed to finishing his last project with the previous company. Once the Treatment Plant in Bullhead City, Arizona, was complete, he drove to Civiltec and began his new career, starting with a first project for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Treatment Facility. His family stayed in Utah for the first three months, while Shem flew back to Salt Lake once a month to see them. Shem and his family finally settled in together around July.
After several years of working with and on behalf of Civiltec, you became an Associate of the firm in 2009, then a Partner in 2014. What was that experience like?
Civiltec has had a lot of success over the years. The office was impacted by the recession, but ultimately, our team worked together as a group to make it through the tough times. There was a lot of effort that went into that. For my own part, I took on more duties; from my start at the company to the time the partnership position was offered to me, my growing responsibilities were instrumental in developing my skills as an engineer and a business leader. I jumped at the opportunity to become a Partner because I knew that, with more responsibilities, there were also more opportunities for growth.
What skills have you gained during your time at Civiltec?
I had treatment plant and wastewater experience prior to starting at Civiltec, so I was able to transition well into working on water treatment projects. I took on a lot of responsibility in supporting Civiltec’s water treatment efforts; now, Civiltec has the ability to work on complex projects that deal with drinking water and wastewater. I have worked to contribute my skills so we can grow that part of the business while maintaining what was developed in prior years.
Aside from the technical side, there are a lot of areas that I have gained skills. For instance, relatability and empathy: there are many opportunities to mentor and lead individuals within the firm. Assisting up-and-coming engineers and helping them realize their potential has been an integral part of what I do. It has been pretty rewarding.
In your 10 years with Civiltec, what has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
I have learned how to be patient, how to respect the process. For each project, you need to invite collaboration into project development and consider the interests of various stakeholders—the client, regulatory entity, our own staff, subconsultants, and partners—to create a workable system. This is important in overall success of the project. Once I learned this, I became more of a team player.
What has been your favorite project and why?
I really enjoyed implementing the design of the Hollywood Casino Wastewater Treatment Plant. Civiltec had been tasked to do this project as a Design-Build partner and was given a very short timeframe for completion. The client directed us to start formal designs in April 2015; the plant was operational in March 2016.
On this project, we showed that we could come together as a group, collaborate, and put forward a design that was ultimately put into operation shortly after project initiation. I have a passion for wastewater, so it was a fun project; this one was very process-oriented. We had to develop a process for all elements of the project, from the front of the plant to the backend. Additionally, we had to make sure the water was treated to standards so it could be utilized or re-used for irrigation and industrial purposes, such as toilet water. Lastly, Civiltec took care of the solids-handling design and conceptualization.
This project brought me back full circle to my experience from my previous work with treatment plants and wastewater. I am also proud of it because it gave Civiltec more opportunities to do similar kinds of projects.
Since joining Civiltec, how has your life changed? Do you have any hobbies?
Working for Civiltec has been demanding. My job has a lot of obligations and many demands on my time. Additionally, I live in Chino Hills, so I have quite a commute. Meeting client expectations and demands has been taxing on my time, and has required my family to make sacrifices so that I could contribute at Civiltec. My family often does not see me due to time commitments at work; however, we have all grown together and my family has respected my work and accomplishments.
With four kids, the kids are the hobby. In my spare time, I volunteer and coach so I can be involved in my kids’ lives as well as in my church and community. Aside from that, my family and I have worked on gardening. When I was growing up, my parents had a large garden and us kids were tasked with taking care of it. Moving from California to Utah and then back again did not give me much time to continue gardening, and I missed it. But in the last couple of years, my family and I have been able to start again. We have a limited space, so it can be tough, but we’ve made do. A few years ago, we made improvements in our backyard and the garden was one of the improvements. For the last two years, we’ve had the space to garden.
We have seven or eight fruit trees: lemons, oranges, nectarines, mandarins, avocados, limes, Fuerte avocados, olives, figs. In our garden, we are also growing cantaloupes, kale, arugula, tomatoes, onions, strawberries, herbs, beans, and hot chilies.
How do you want to help Civiltec grow in the future? Is there anything you want Civiltec to achieve?
We’ve set up a strategy in our business that outlines what we want to achieve. I myself was elevated to an Associate as part of this Leadership and Ownership Transition plan. Civiltec is a legacy firm with a focus on internal leadership and ownership transition.
Personally, I want to become a better leader. I want to motivate and inspire the rising generation of engineers and technical staff, administrative staff, operations staff. I am interested in seeing (and helping!) the development and improvement of individuals, allowing the company to grow as a whole.