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Licensed professional engineers find career development opportunities through NSPE’s Emerging Leaders Program

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Networking opportunities and career development are the purpose of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), along with raising public awareness about the role of licensed professional engineers. The only national organization committed to addressing engineers’ concerns across all branches of the field, its members live and work throughout the country.

Sharing best practices applicable to all engineers transcends industry differences, a focus that also extends to NSPE’s Emerging Leaders Program.


The program is a selective experience offered to just 20 applicants throughout the country each year. Participants have the opportunity to hone their skills, benefit from mentorship and apply leadership lessons immediately in their respective corporate settings. 


“NSPE’s Emerging Leaders Program is unique, rigorous and comprehensive in helping young professionals develop essential skills in leadership, team-building and strategic problem-solving,” said Freese and Nichols Executive Vice President of Operations Tricia Hatley, P.E., F.NSPE. Hatley resides in Oklahoma City and is also a former president of NSPE. 


Program criteria describes ideal applicants as “promising early-career professionals with five to eight years of experience who are just beginning to lead and think strategically in the profession and their careers.”


Eric Waggoner is one of the Emerging Leaders Program’s youngest participants. He graduated from Oklahoma State University (OSU) with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 2016 and completed participation in the program in February 2021. He is currently employed in Freese and Nichols’ transportation division, a local engineering firm with offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.


“A Freese and Nichols mentor sent me the link and said I should apply to see if I could get in. It felt like a longshot at the time. I had just three years of experience, not the five or seven years requested, but it was worth a try,” said Waggoner. “I found out via email I had been accepted and that was a pretty good day. It was an honor to participate in the program.” 


The seven-month program includes a speaker series, 90-minute development sessions and team projects. Monthly meetings are held virtually from August to February.


Waggoner credits participation in NSPE with helping him develop a sense of ownership for his work, cultivate team development opportunities and improve his soft skills, which are critical in any managerial role. 


“All of the skills learned in the program enhance the participants’ technical roles as engineers and provide a framework they can utilize and build on throughout their careers. It also makes each of them a greater asset to their employers, colleagues and the engineering profession,” agreed Hatley.


Helping engineers connect with each other across different fields is also a primary objective as participants begin to establish contacts with solutions and peer experiences to share.


“The value of the group is within the program title itself. As emerging leaders, it’s crucial to meet others who are facing similar challenges,” said Waggoner. “Not only were we able to network with engineers in neighboring states but also with people I probably would never have gotten to know in places like Michigan, Alaska and Pennsylvania. Getting to hear what their states are doing helps us move forward and keeps people engaged beyond just our own day-to-day projects. That brings outside perspectives to Oklahoma, too.”


Waggoner, originally from Midwest City, is the first engineer in his family. Now in his fifth year at Freese and Nichols, he recognizes the need for young professionals to stay involved after completing their licensure requirements.


“Staying up-to-date once you’ve gotten the job is incredibly valuable,” said Waggoner.


“Professional societies like this one promote collaboration and help us know more about not only our industry but corporate management overall. If I could give some advice to future participants, it would be to really put life’s distractions aside and focus in the moment as you’re learning about these diverse topics.”


Developing a personal skill-set that engineers can continue to enhance beyond the rigors of the profession creates well-rounded professionals, Waggoner believes.


“Learning how to engage with people at your firm and circling back to talk through what worked or what didn’t helps create good leaders,” said Waggoner. “Every month, there was a new strategy to learn about and apply. Being able to participate in discussions and lead forums is another important aspect of the profession that you just can’t learn in school. It’s also about communication and personal ownership.”


Opportunities available to Oklahoma’s engineers make all the difference in these young professionals’ ability to continue to make a living and a life in the state they call home.


“I consider myself lucky to be employed at Freese and Nichols in my state home because they make it possible for me to have a career here while encouraging professional development,” said Waggoner. “I’m blessed to be able to stay close to my family and I do see the potential for growth in the community and in the infrastructure here that we all depend on as part of public works. I want to be part of that and grow and improve right along with it. This program helps me do that and it speaks to the ways licensed professional engineers are committed to continuing their education to ultimately do a better job for Oklahoma.”


Program applications are accepted each summer. Find out more about the NSPE’s Emerging Leaders program here.

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