#Eweek2020 Spotlight | Omar Chavez

Multi-faceted adventure seeker

For National Engineers Week 2020, we’re sharing stories from Cushing Terrell’s engineering talent to learn more about how they chose their profession and what makes them tick. 

What inspired you to become an engineer?

I’m a person who looks for the logic in how things work. I’ve always been good at math, and I’ve enjoyed working with my hands ever since I was a kid. These interests all led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

I grew up in Hidalgo del Parral, a small city in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. Originally, I wanted to study aerospace engineering in the city of Queretaro (Mexico). When it came time to choose a college, my parents preferred that I study at the University of Texas at El Paso, so we made a deal: I would go to UTEP for one year, and if I didn’t like it, I could study wherever I wanted, no questions asked. As it turns out, I really enjoyed El Paso, so I stayed, finished my degree, and eventually ended up with Cushing Terrell in Austin.

Omar and colleagues at the Cushing Terrell office in Austin, Texas.

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

My area of expertise is HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) design, and I’m also learning plumbing design. My work ranges from creating construction documents at an early stage in the design (including site survey when needed) to construction administration, which includes review of submittals, site visits, and RFI (request for information) responses.

Currently, the majority of projects I’m working on are in the commercial and retail markets, most of which are tenant improvements and grocery stores. Additionally, I’m contributing to a central plant project for a federal building in Houston.

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

Many engineers end up specializing in HVAC by accident. I know only a few people who went to school specifically to be an HVAC engineer, myself included!  While still in college, I worked as a drafter with a local consulting firm in El Paso and received my first introduction to HVAC there, and I’ve stayed in the field ever since.

What is one of your favorite projects and why?

So far, one of my favorites is a 60,000 sq. ft. addition for a building on campus at El Paso Community College. It was my first project fresh out of college, and I was in charge of the HVAC design. Additionally, it was a “ground-up” project, which can require more engineering than retrofits. The project was challenging in a lot of ways. It was a relatively large project, and because it included a central plant to serve the buildings, we had to select and design chillers and boilers at 65% redundancy, primary and secondary loops and pumps, air handlers, and VAV boxes for the building. (Yes, that is HVAC-engineer-speak.) The project is currently under construction.

Omar participates in the Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas Over the Edge event, which helps fulfill the wishes of some very brave kids who’ve been diagnosed with critical medical conditions.

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

Be curious, ambitious, and get out of your comfort zone. Everything in our daily lives has some type of engineering behind it. A great piece of advice I got when I was in college was: “Always look, think, and analyze how things work.” No matter your preferred field of engineering (electrical, mechanical, civil, etc.), if you apply this, you’ll always be learning, maybe even without realizing it.

Also, look for a mentor in your area of work, or even someone who does nothing related to your field. You’ll be surprised at how many things you can learn from the voice of experience.

What are some of the ways you mentor others?

I started Spanish lessons at the office due to a few requests I received from my colleagues in Austin. When people from other offices showed interest, I decided to open up the invitation across the firm. I find volunteering and community service very rewarding, and this was another opportunity to give back. I also like to consider myself my younger sister’s personal career advisor. She’s currently pursuing a mechanical engineering degree as well, and I am super proud of her.

Omar at a glance

  • Mechanical Engineer in Training
  • Living in Austin, Texas
  • Defining characteristics: Outgoing, friendly, honest, loyal, responsible, team player, hardworking, stubborn, adventurous
  • Interests: Outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, golf (just learning), and triathlons, not to mention a variety of sports: Major League Baseball (go Yankees!), Formula One, and the Tour de France. Two of my major goals in life are to obtain a private pilot license and to complete an Ironman. And, I LOVE my 1984 Volkswagen Bug.

Read about the other engineers we’re highlighting for National Engineers Week 2020 as we roll out new profiles!