Before reaching the age of 30, Don Nguyen has already made immense impact on people’s lives. But there’s more to come. The young, three-times-awarded bridge engineer is destined to leave a positive mark on his surroundings by uniting his passion for bridges with full-time volunteering.
With his father working in a chocolate factory and his mother working as a seamstress, it was not on the cards for Don to be a civil engineer.
Yet, he became the first out of his Vietnamese family to get a Master’s degree. But that was not the only thing he brought to the table when fresh out of university, he joined COWI in his hometown of Seattle, Washington State in the U.S.
He also brought exceptional personal skills and a desire to make a difference to people’s lives.
“I’ve always liked to help people, I’ve always wanted to be involved,” he says.
Results make colleagues proud
In the downtown offices in Seattle, it becomes evident that Don is a true firebrand. People are incredibly proud of their young colleague’s accomplishments.
In 2017 alone, he received three fine recognitions: Top 10 New Faces of Civil Engineering Professionals, Young Engineer of the Year and Top Young Professionals in the Northwest.
By combining broad technical knowledge with compelling people skills, Don fills his after-work hours with activities to raise awareness about civil engineering.
He emphasizes that this work isn’t something he feels obligated to do. He does it because it gives him the opportunity to give back to the community.
In fact, one hundred Popsicle sticks can endure a weight of 800 pounds or more.
Heavy-loaded Popsicle sticks
Imagine hundreds of excited high school students, thousands of Popsicle sticks and a lot of white glue.
These are the key components of a very popular all-day event in many U.S states where students compete to build bridges in resilient designs.
They are tested by professional engineers and real equipment to measure strength… and in fact, one hundred Popsicle sticks can endure a weight of 800 pounds or more.
Don is involved and has been for several years. It takes a lot of planning and as the organiser of the event in the Northwest, he spends many months preparing for it.
His work is backed by COWI who has sponsored the competition that celebrates the engineering profession.
“It’s fun meeting students and talking to them about what it's like to be a bridge engineer. I hope I help them make an informed decision about their career paths,” Don explains.
Sustainability saves money
With a thirst and drive for knowledge, Don values being part of signature projects in which he can learn from the best.
In meetings with senior professionals, he picks up a lot from creative processes with many details and discussions going back and forth on a specific solution or design.
Already experienced in engineering complex bridge projects, Don also seeks out new opportunities and has been accredited as an Envision Sustainability Professional.
This makes him one of only a handful of people in the world in this field. Furthermore, he has been accredited as a Greenroads Sustainable Transportation Professional.
“Many clients worry that a sustainable solution will cost more, but in the long run, it saves money. At the same time, it’s good for the community and environment,” Don says.
REWARDING FIELDWORK IN PANAMA
Located more than 300 km from Panama City you will find the small community of Seguidules, where farmers cultivate rice and yucca and raise cattle. It has lush countryside, but six months of the year, the residents are cut off from hospitals, schools and the market, when the river bursts its banks.
COWI teamed up with the NGO Bridges to Prosperity to tackle this example of extreme isolation. Four bridge engineers from COWI took on the task of building a pedestrian suspension bridge – and Don was one of them.
“It was an experience of a lifetime. I was working with senior engineers, learning from the contractors and interacting with the locals,” says Don.