April 2022 Centennial Engineer of the Month

April 2022 Centennial Engineer of the Month – Daren Charles Williams, P.E., M.ASCE

I was born and raised in America’s largest county, Los Angeles, CA.  During my senior year at Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, CA I received my U.S. House of Representatives (Honorable Julian Dixon (1934 – 2000)) Congressional primary nomination to attend the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  After graduating from Susan Miller Dorsey High School, I attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport R.I. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in Ocean Engineering with a concentration in Coastal Engineering. I was commissioned as a Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer upon graduation from the United States Naval Academy.  I served as a Division Officer aboard the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). As a Division Officer I performed numerous additional duties and responsibilities such as Officer of the Deck, Reactor Plant Watch Officer, Small Boat Officer, and Repair Locker Leader.  I earned a Master of Engineering Management at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, in 2007, which included course credits earned at Naval

Nuclear Power School in Goose Creek, SC in 2005. I transitioned from Active Duty service to the United States Navy to the City of Virginia Beach, as a Public Utilities Operations and Maintenance Engineer, working with around $2 billion worth of pipeline infrastructure for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s most populous municipality. I earned my Professional Engineers license in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2010. During this time I also served in the United States Navy Reserve working for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) at Newport News Shipyard and Joint Forces Command in Suffolk, VA until 2012.  I served as the Virginia Department of Transportation statewide Movable Bridges Engineer and earned my Federal Highway Administration Bridge Inspectors Certification in 2019.  It was an honor to manage Virginia Civil Engineering landmarks, Coleman Bridge (America’s largest double swing span bridge) and Woodrow Wilson Bridge (the world’s largest double span bascule bridges).  I am a Sr. Specialist, Engineering who brings over fifteen years of experience into infrastructure life cycle management to Merck’s Global Workplace & Enterprise Services.

Centennial EOM Questionnaire

Question 1. What do you consider your major achievements in civil engineering in our Section area?

  • I was selected to serve as the Refueling Complex Overhaul Division Officer on the Carl Vinson (CVN-70).  A nuclear aircraft carrier undergoes a nuclear refueling in the midlife of the ship around 25 years after the nuclear plant goes critical.  Attending meetings and being part of the team involved coordination with the removal of the nuclear spent rods via the overhead crane to the transportation system was a long, but rewarding process.  We also coordinated with the Civil Engineers who designed, constructed, and operated the drydock and aircraft carrier waterfront piers.
  • I partnered with other City of Virginia Beach Departments to develop the Department of Public Utilities Easement Maintenance Program.  Easement maintenance is a major challenge for all utilities.  Major disasters in utility easements have bankrupted utility companies.  Around 2011 we were challenged with some emergency repairs in the utility easement that we were unable to fix immediately due to access issues.  The main challenge in utility easements is that the owner of the land does not maintain the utility easement and trees grow over the underground pipelines or property is placed on top of the underground pipelines.  The first partnership I developed was with the Department of Parks and Recreation.  Virginia Beach was a Tree City USA with a goal to maintain a 40% tree canopy.  To support their goal and Public Utilities goal to clear the utility easement we agreed to a 1:1 mitigation for tree removal.  Utility easements are recorded on property deeds so I had to work with the City Attorney and also review deeds at the City of Virginia Beach Courthouse.  Contractors, Landscape Management, and the City of Virginia Beach Sherriff assisted with clearing and maintaining the utility easement. 

Utility Infrastructure Challenges In The Urban Forest | Underground Construction (ucononline.com)

  • Replacement of the Coleman Bridge Programmable Logic Controllers.  The PLCs were antiquated and no longer supported by the manufacturer.  The PLCs were installed about 25 years previously in the late 1990’s when the Coleman Bridge was widened.  If the PLC failed we would have to operate the movable bridge manually.  To operate a movable bridge manually, you must know every operation and function of the movable bridge from the traffic control signals, bridge navigation lights, motors, and mechanical components.  Since the Coleman Bridge is America’s largest double swing span bridge, there was no room for error.  The most enjoyable part of this project was the multiple test openings in the middle of the night to minimize vehicular traffic disruption and to verify the new PLC worked properly under different scenarios.   The Coleman Bridge connects York and Gloucester County.
  • Serving as the ASCE Virginia Section President from 2018 – 2019.  It was awesome to serve in a time of need.  I attended the Virginias’ Student Conference at George Mason University, spoke at a few ASCE Student Chapter meetings, presented at the Virginia Engineer’s Conference about Virginia Movable Bridges, and we held virtual monthly meetings with the ASCE Virginia Executive Board.  We also started the ASCE Virginia Centennial Committee and our discussion on the Crozet Tunnel.  It was a year of “triumph over tragedy.”

Question 2. Why did you decide on a career in civil engineering?

My father was a Civil Engineer at CalTrans (California Department of Transportation).  In the third grade my class had career day.  My father spoke to the class about what he did on a daily basis as a Civil Engineer.  He also invited Surveyors to speak with him.  We went outside on the playground and all the students had an opportunity to utilize the surveying equipment.  I was excited to consider a career leading a team of individuals to build infrastructure.  He would take me to various job sites, show me highway design plans (I did not know what I was looking at), meet his colleagues, and testing concrete at labs.  I have enjoyed Civil Engineering more than I expected.  My father introduced me to transportation engineering.  I have been fortunate to work in various facets of civil engineering.

Question 3. Provide some career guidance for young civil engineers.

Seek a successful mentor.  A mentor is very beneficial because they have already experienced what you are about to experience.  They can provide you with valuable knowledge that you do not have to learn through the “school of hard knocks.”  Your mentor can connect you with someone within their network.  This may lead to new opportunities. Also seek to mentor K-12 students about a future career in Civil Engineering or exposure to a Civil Engineer.  Sharing with K-12 students about Civil Engineering may peak their interest into a STEM career. 

Question 4. What do you consider the major challenge to a career in civil engineering?

Incorporating new technologies into Civil Engineering infrastructure efficiently utilizing SMART resources.  New technologies typically are designed by electrical or computer engineers.  Civil engineers are tasked with managing the life cycle of the infrastructure.  Understanding the latest Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system for infrastructure control or PLCs is very important.  After the design is complete, an operations and maintenance engineer is responsible for the equipment.  The Civil Engineer should know when to replace equipment and at what cost before it fails without a replacement.  If we plan to live in the ASCE “Future World Vision” we must embrace technology that will support our infrastructure now and in 2070.   

Question 5. Tell us about your volunteer activities. What is the motivating factor for volunteering? How has being a volunteer enriched your professional career?

I also volunteer with the American Society of Safety Professionals (Engineering Practice Specialty, Past Administrator, 2019 – 2021), American Society of Civil Engineers (Virginia Section Past President, 2019), American Legion Post 35 Norfolk (former Executive Board member), Habitat for Humanity of South Hampton Roads, PEAK Center in Lansdale, American Red Cross, and Old Dominion University and United States Naval Academy Alumni Chapters.  I enjoy giving back to the community, because I have  received a lot of support from my community.  As a child, members of my community volunteered in my religious organization, Boy Scouts of America Troop 516, Athletic Coaches, and other community building activities.  This helped me develop into the man I am today.  Currently in my community, we have volunteers in environmental clubs, Military Veteran non-profits, and other beneficial community volunteer activities.