#Eweek2019 Spotlight | Alan and Nathan Bronec

Father and son engineering dynamic duo

For National Engineers Week 2019, we’re sharing stories from some of CTA’s engineering talent to learn more about how they chose their profession and what makes them tick.

What inspired you to become an engineer?

Alan: Growing up on a farm in central Montana, we were 70 miles from the closest town that stocked repair parts for farm equipment. When equipment failed, we didn’t have the time or money to go that far, so we made the repairs ourselves. My dad was a self-taught mechanic, welder, plumber, electrician, inventor, and fabricator.

From an early age, I helped him repair, design, and fabricate farm equipment. My favorite tool at age two was a pair of pliers. I carried those pliers wherever I went. I was in a car accident at the same age (two) and my mother had to convince the operating room nurse to sterilize my pliers so I could take them into surgery with me to keep me calm. To sum it up, I acquired “the knack” from my father at a very early age.

Nathan: Growing up, I enjoyed taking things apart to see how they worked. I watched/helped my dad build furniture, work on cars, and design buildings. He easily played the biggest role in me becoming an engineer.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table counting light fixtures for a project and my dad showing me how to draw lighting circuits on a plan. I thought it was the coolest stuff ever. I tried to use my knew-found knowledge to impress the kids at school. (FYI, it didn’t work.)

In fourth grade, my teacher had us estimate how much candy corn was in a jar. When I told my dad, he thought it was silly and said we could do better. He taught me how to calculate the volume of a cylinder and the rough packing density of the candy corn due to its shape. In the end, I won, off by only one candy corn, and was accused of cheating. If rigging the system using math was cheating, I was hooked.

Alan’s interest in tinkering started early. In this family photo, he’s hiding pliers. 

What is your specific area of expertise and why did you choose it?

Alan: I haven’t specialized in a specific area because I enjoy all aspects of engineering and the variety of projects we work on at CTA. Alternative energy projects are some of my favorites, as well as complex mission-critical-type projects (combined heat power systems, micro-hydro generation, solar PV systems, 911 centers, data centers).

Nathan: I don’t have one, yet. However, I really enjoy designing shops or industrial spaces that house equipment such as CNC Mills, woodworking and fabrication tools, because I nerd out over that stuff. With my background using those tools, I feel like I have a knowledge of the requirements needed for those spaces.

Tell us something about the field of engineering that is surprising or not common knowledge.

Nathan: How wide spread and diverse the engineering field is. Your career path upon graduation has almost unlimited possibilities.

What is one of your favorite projects and why?

Alan: The Yellowstone Lamar Off-grid Power System is the first of its kind as it uses 208 recycled Toyota Camry car batteries as the storage system. The batteries are utilized to store energy produced by an on-site hydroelectric turbine and solar PV array.

Nathan: I think it would have to be data centers, because I’m able to stretch my legs and do some awesome BIM modeling of complete electrical systems down to the feeders, which isn’t feasible on a normal project.

Do you work on many projects together — if so, what is the experience like?

Alan: Yes, we work on a large number of projects together, and I feel we’re a good team. I enjoy sharing my knowledge with Nathan just like my father did with me.

Nathan: I would say about 50% of the projects I work on are with my dad or are being overseen by him. For the most part, it’s like working with any other engineer, except for maybe a little more sarcasm. Generally, though, I like to think we work really well together.

What have you learned from your son and vice versa, what have you learned from your father?

Alan: The thing I’ve learned the most about from Nathan is technology. He’s taught me many skills such as how to use the robotics team CNC plasma machine, milling machine, and metal lathe.

Nathan: I’ve learned about patience, work ethic, and taking the high road.

What piece of advice would you give a young person interested in becoming an engineer?

Alan: Work hard at everything you do, ask lots of questions, be creative/innovative with the resources you’re given.

Nathan: Don’t let people psych you out by talking about how hard college is. If you have a passion for something, you become more focused on all the cool things you’re learning and less on how hard the material is.

Alan at a glance

  • Principal / Director of Electrical Engineering / Project Manager
  • Living in Missoula, Montana
  • Defining characteristics: a strong work ethic and doing the right thing
  • Interests: mentoring the Missoula Robotics Team, giving back to the engineering profession by inspiring high school students to get interested in STEM, participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition with more than 4,000 teams

Nathan at a glance

  • Electrical Engineer in Training
  • Living in Missoula, Montana
  • Defining characteristics: hard worker and a fun person to be around
  • Interests: running a small business building furniture, welding, and fabricating; mentoring high school students in the FIRST Robotics Competition — this year leading the Missoula County Public Schools program

Nathan following in his father’s footsteps.