Railroad Enthusiast, Traffic Engineer, Entrepreneur

How a traffic engineer from the Monterey Peninsula began a new phase of his early career by launching a successful firm to address an under-served market.
by Austin S. Lin, CSPE

higgins

 

Keith Higgins, PE

BS, Transportation Engineering

California Polytechnic State University


LAYING THE TRACKS

When some people hear “engineer,” locomotive cars and railroad tracks are the first things that come to mind. For Keith Higgins, his childhood interests in railroads began with that same image, but his career would lead him to another context of the word: professional engineering.

Growing up in a family of railroad enthusiasts exposed Higgins to the fascinating convergence of engineering, people and machines. These interests at the intersection of transportation and technology are part of what inspired Higgins to graduate from Cal Poly with a degree in transportation engineering. During his senior year there in San Luis Obispo, he earned his EIT, paved the way to his eventual PE license, and never looked back.

After further developing his career at a firm in Monterey County and working in the traffic, land development and structural engineering space, the demand for specific forms of those types of services began shaping up as their own standalone markets.

And that’s when Higgins’s entrepreneurial leanings kicked in.

 

FOUNDING A NEW BUSINESS

He founded his own engineering company, Higgins Associates, to address the growing demands of the market: small projects including the design and integration of traffic signals as well as specialty work like channelization, where side roads are developed to disperse the flow of traffic from main thoroughfares.

Higgins started as a one-engineer show, contracting with partner engineering teams where he could, and later grew his firm to a group of twenty people. The business demands continued to expand and Higgins soon recognized that it would take a larger team to best support the growing public needs.

Higgins’s strong track record didn’t go unnoticed and a solution to his resourcing challenges emerged when engineering mega-firm, Hatch Mott McDonald, acquired his company in 2008.

Now with nearly three decades of experience developing projects and taking on clients like California's municipal transportation agencies including BART, Higgins, who also serves as the current President of the CSPE Monterey Bay Chapter, continues his enthusiasm in transportation ever more completely.

 

Naval Officer, Public Works Engineer, Theologian

 

From designing airports to building Naval facilities in the Indian Ocean; from founding his own engineering firm and leading municipal projects in Northern California to restoring pipe organs, this is how one California Professional Engineer built a career of global adventure and personal growth.
by Austin S. Lin, CSPE

reichmuth

Bill Reichmuth, PE

BS, Civil EngineerinG - Texas Tech University

MS, CIVIL & TRANSPORTATION ENGINEERING - Univ. of MARYLAND

Master of TheologY -  Loyola University


GIVE ME A SIGN

His academic interest was in chemical engineering, but when Bill Reichmuth, an engineering undergraduate in Lubbock,Texas, started looking into what his job prospects could be, he saw a sign. He came across a job posting by the Texas Department of Transportation that was only hiring civil engineers.

For Reichmuth, that's all the convincing he needed. "It showed there were jobs out there." he said.

His longstanding career in engineering was about to begin. But he did get some career help.

While on the path to graduation, Reichmuth learned that he needed to earn "this thing called an 'EIT' " in order to graduate. It was the Engineer-In-Training designation, the first step all Professional Engineers take in pursuing engineering licensure.

“I wish more states would put that back in as a graduation requirement.” says Reichmuth. “It helps the younger engineers have that option before their careers take off and keeps their options open.”

For Reichmuth, his academic training prepared him for several opportunities after graduation. “I was still figuring things out." says Reichmuth. "I remember struggling with things like Laplace transforms and advanced engineering math. I wasn’t sure about the [EIT exam]. But I felt pretty good overall walking out of the test."

Passing the EIT on his first try only forged additional confidence in his own engineering career path.

 

THE TEN PERCENT

After completing his degree in civil engineering at Texas Tech, Bill was accepted into the Naval Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, Rhode Island. It was a competitive program and again, Reichmuth found himself applying his engineering thinking to come out as one of the program’s highest performers.

“They only offered commissions to the top ten percent of the class. I’m not sure I was that smart, “ jokes Reichmuth, “but I know having that EIT helped. Even Harvard MBAs were having difficulty getting commissioned.”

Reichmuth would become one of those ten percent, receiving his commission and starting off what would be a decade long career in the U.S. Navy, which included a Navy-funded Masters Degree in Civil and Transportation Engineering at the University of Maryland. He thesis: the planning and design of airports.

From there, he took his engineering skills with him around the world and honed his proficiency, from project management in Egypt and Southeast Asia to the middle of the Indian Ocean where he engineered ship to shore facilities and fuel systems atop the Diego Garcia atoll.

 

FINDING ANOTHER CALLING

It was only after these adventures that Reichmuth and his wife, an educator, settled in Monterey, California to be closer to family. One of his first bosses there introduced him to NSPE and encouraged him to join, indicating it would further cement his professional experience and continue to build his leadership responsibilities.

Reichmuth would later start his own company, which after years of success, would be acquired by a construction engineering firm based in Texas. "So it all came full circle!" he laughed, reminiscing on his engineering beginnings in Lubbock.

After the sale of his engineering firm, Reichmuth soon accepted an offer to become Public Works Director for the City of Monterey. His experience expanded to cover even more government contracts and municipal projects on the Monterey Peninsula.

The next logical step after reaching so many successful career milestones?

For Reichmuth, it wasn’t rest.

He would go on to earn a Master of Theology from Loyola University and become a Deacon of the Catholic Church, where he says his project management and financial skills as a business owner continue to help him serve his community, from leadership and mentoring in the Monterey Chapter of CSPE to restoring pipe organs for the Church.

When asked how he felt about all these accomplishments, he paused.

“Things aren’t so bad.” he said.

 

 

 

Professional Engineers, BBQ and The Racetrack by the Sea: How CSPE’s Biggest Summer Event Got Its Start

by Austin S. Lin, CSPE

FROM DRY LAKE TO WELLSPRING

Laguna Seca, whose name means “dry lake,” has actually become a vast wellspring of interaction, networking and learning for California Engineers on the Monterey Peninsula.

Founded originally in 2009, the CSPE summer networking event was started by sports car enthusiast and highway engineer, Bill Reichmuth, PE, who wanted an exciting social setting for professional engineers, their families and guests.

“We wanted to organize an event for historic car races,” said Reichmuth, who is also a Past President of CSPE Monterey. “It was a nice event where people could come out during the week, have a lunch meeting, get a presentation about the track and a chance to wander around the paddock and meet the owners.”

Current Monterey Chapter President Keith Higgins, PE, a traffic engineer who joined CSPE in the early 1980s, saw events like Laguna Seca as a natural extension of leveraging volunteer opportunities for the Society’s exposure, “Events like Laguna Seca are important to get the word out on CSPE,” says Higgins, “Lunch meetings are a good setting for networking.”

 

AN INTERDISCIPLINARY MIX

The presence of  race car drivers and owners, combined with local professional organizations and leaders such as the region’s public works director, made for a diverse combination of backgrounds to foster engaging discussions in a fun setting.  

With attendance from members across the peninsula and neighboring regions, the CSPE Monterey Chapter also found Laguna Seca to be a great opportunity to fundraise for the CSPE Scholarship by raffling off tickets to Laguna Seca’s own expansive calendar of professional races. Says Higgins, “This created a nice way to generate funding for engineering students in the region while still making it an activity everyone could enjoy.”

Being the primary professional organization for engineering on the Monterey Peninsula, the event also served as a channel to raise public awareness on professional engineering by bringing together CSPE members, non-members and guest speakers from local municipalities.

“If CSPE isn’t there as voice for the engineering industry out here then who will be?” explained Higgins. “We want to be promoting membership and encouraging new members to  join us. We welcome people to bring a guest to enjoy the event but also to learn about CSPE.”

 

DON’T SHY AWAY FROM CONTROVERSY

The opportunity to meet other engineers and participate in dialogue on issues important to the engineering profession isn’t confined to the Laguna Seca event. To keep California Engineers engaged, says Reichmuth, “the Chapter doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. We walk right into them head on.”  

The goal is not controversy for controversy’s sake, but to create an opportunity where engineers and non-engineers alike can engage in challenging conversations important to the ethical considerations, safety and well being of the public. Past topics such as offshore drilling brought voices from both sides of the debate together in an open, constructive atmosphere.

 

PARTNER WITH OTHER LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS BEYOND ENGINEERING

To broaden engagement and impact both within and beyond the Laguna Seca event, CSPE Monterey also stays connected with local associations like the Monterey Chapter of the American Pubic Works Association (APWA), the League of Women Voters, and the American Institute of Architects (AIA), promoting each other’s meetings and events to foster cross-pollination and cross-functional connectivity.

The Chapter also regularly invites local political leaders and regional agencies to come speak on local legislation ranging from infrastructure to sales tax and transportation as well as broader public works projects, all of which touch on the work of the professional engineer.  

 

TO THE VICTOR GO THE BBQs

The opportunity to bring professional engineers from across a wide range of backgrounds, place them in a high energy, high action environment and feed them delicious food has been part of Higgins’ and Reichmuth’s formula.

It’s been a way to bring summer to a close among friends and colleagues, with the engineering profession as a whole standing in the winner’s circle.

Welcome to The Living Room. Make yourself at home.

Have a question about career development as a California Engineer? Want to start up a student chapter? Thinking big and have questions on growing your leadership skills at the national level withinNSPE? Ideas on staying competitive in the engineering workforce?

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