Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Philip Parker

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Dr. Philip Parker
August 18, 2017

Dr. Philip Parker, civil and environmental engineering professor and assistant dean for outreach and new ventures in UW-Platteville’s College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, has been with the university for more than 18 years. After discovering an interest for the subject in high school, Parker obtained his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in civil and environmental engineering from Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York before joining UW-Platteville in 1998. Since then, he has taken on numerous roles, educating both students and faculty about the importance of civil and environmental engineering. This month, he is leading efforts for the upcoming Getting to the Bottom of the Triple Bottom Line Conference.

What is something that many people may not know about civil and environmental engineering?

People don’t realize that the reason you can buy bananas at Kwik Trip for 38 cents a pound is because we have such an amazing infrastructure. The infrastructure is what gets the bananas from the farm in Central America to the truck to the airplane to the user for next to nothing. Another thing that isn’t well known is that engineers are in the people business and that’s very important. To quote the CEO of Starbucks, “We are not in the coffee business serving people, but in the people business serving coffee.” The same goes for engineers. We are not in the engineering business serving people, we’re in the people business serving engineering. Civil and environmental engineering is so much more than just bridges, highways and water towers.

What is the one thing you most want your students to take away from your classes?

Life is not as clean as textbook problems are. I can train almost anybody older than say eighth grade to solve textbook engineering problems with the help of a calculator. Students aren’t going to be hired to solve simple textbook problems. I want my students to know that they’re being hired to solve complex problems with more than one way to solve them, and that this requires a very broad skill set.

What other positions do you hold at UW-Platteville and how do you balance these roles?

I’m an assistant dean in the College of EMS, coordinator of the online Master of Science in Engineering program, coordinator of the Environmental Engineering program, an advisor for the American Society of Civil Engineering student chapter and a professor of environmental engineering. The key to balancing these roles is to enforce self-discipline and efficiency. It’s just like how we ask our students to continually develop their skills and knowledge. I have to continually develop my self-discipline and efficiency. The other thing that helps is having a good team and having people that I trust to help me out. That’s very important to me.

Are you currently working on any projects or research, either by yourself or with students?

I’m currently working on a triple bottom line workshop that is scheduled for this month and I’m also putting together an ethics workshop that is scheduled for December. I’m also involved with the National Science Foundation-sponsored Center for Infrastructure Transformation and Education, known as CIT-E. We’ve created this community practice that’s coming up with a model introductory infrastructure class. What’s cool about this class development is that it’s very collaborative. We have three different professors from all over the United States who are working on individual lessons together. They’re brainstorming and combining their best ideas. We are looking for, and finding, other universities that would like to adopt our materials. We want everyone in the world to know what infrastructure is and be able to understand it.

What do you consider to be the most rewarding part of your job? 

I love being able to collaboratively solve problems with other people. Whether the problem is designing a lesson or figuring out how to create a workshop, collaboratively solving these problems is what I enjoy. The same goes for helping a student solve a problem. It’s just very rewarding.

Interview conducted by Amanda Bertolozzi, Writer/Editor, Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact pr@uwplatt.edu.

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