The Source Civil Engineering Magazine Engage with empathy and jump on opportunities
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Engage with empathy and jump on opportunities

By Laurie A. Shuster

Garit Poire, A.M.ASCE, has always stood out from the crowd. As a student at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering — a joint college operated by Florida A&M University and Florida State University — he served as the student chapter president for both ASCE and the Florida Engineering Society as well as the publications and communications co-chair for ASCE’s Florida section. He is the co-founder of the INSPIRE program, which provided science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education outreach days to nearly 1,000 at-risk youth in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama by way of ASCE’s Dream Big educational film. With ASCE’s Florida Section, he also created the Great Give initiative, which ensured 2,400 Dream Big DVDs were delivered to Florida K-12 schools. He has won 13 local, state, and national awards, was given the key to the college, and was named one of ASCE’s New Faces in 2019. Turner Construction Co. recently promoted him from a construction engineering position to business development engineer, a role normally reserved for more experienced engineers. He credits having high professional standards, a willingness to take on untested opportunities, and supportive friends, company, schools, and parents for his success.

What are the chief responsibilities that come with your new position?
On a day-to-day basis, I try to do anything I can to make new work for our company be successful. We have a marketing team, and I outline for them the path I think we will need to take to best connect with the client. I determine if we have the correct documents in the submission package: Do we have the right insurance forms and relevant work samples? Are we marketing our skills in a way that will communicate clearly with the owner? 

I also do research on clients and determine what work we have done with them before. I look at the contract terms and try to determine how these align with company policy. I work with our in-house legal counsel, and we go line by line through every contract and do risk-mitigation studies. I look at all the details that are necessary for us to win the work but also at what is good for us as a company. While other construction companies might want to go after all work, we want to go with clients we know, that respect the work we do, and that we respect. 

What are the chief skills and abilities that you developed in your previous positions that enabled you to move on to this new position?
When I first came to Turner, they asked if I wanted to take on an opportunity doing something they normally don’t do. Turner builds many of the largest projects in the world, including Burj Khalifa. They asked me to consider being a part of the Special Projects Division, which focuses on smaller projects, $30 million and under, throughout the city of Orlando (Florida). On my first project, I was the only construction engineer, along with a project manager and a superintendent. The three of us were responsible for the entire site and structure, including the building envelope system, the fire protection system, the mechanical systems, quality control, planning, phasing, and logistics. This was an incredible opportunity to learn, so I said yes; I wanted to see how everything on a project came together. 

Within six months, I received my first promotion. I had been working countless hours into the night to understand all the different components of projects. It was stressful but also rewarding. Even the city recognized how detailed I had been, and by the completion of the project, I’d had special training with the city of Orlando’s surveying and permitting processes. I wanted to understand how the city did things, and I could teach others at Turner, which would help Turner in its future submissions to the city. I learned things I had never learned in school, and I developed such great relationships with individuals at the city that we became friends.

When Turner saw my ability to create good relationships with people, that solidified my opportunity to become a business development engineer. That role is usually for people more seasoned in the company; I was only a year and a half in. If I had to guess why they asked me, I believe it would be because of my ability to create relationships as well as the additional marketing skills I learned by raising funds for my student chapter.

I have always tried to go after things I wanted, but I have also found that when you work hard, the opportunities will be laid in front of you. When another opportunity popped up, they said, ‘This is going to be something completely different,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ 

How did you learn relationship and marketing skills?
I originally learned my marketing skills when I raised funds for my chapter as a former ASCE and Florida Engineering Society student chapter president. When the ASCE Florida Section saw how effective I was at marketing and graphic design, they named me a committee co-chair. Now I run all design aspects for the state, including its annual conference. 

When I transitioned into the graduate adviser role for my former chapter, I co-founded the INSPIRE program, a nonprofit K-12 program that created STEM outreach days for at-risk youth. We raised more than $25,000 to sponsor the activities for those kids, cost-free, in relation to the Dream Big release. We reached almost 1,000 kids. If I hadn’t put in the effort to develop the skills to effectively market programs, that program would not have reached the amount of donors and assistance necessary to be successful. 

All those experiences helped to lay the groundwork for me to transition into the role I’m in today. And as an extrovert, I’m a natural relationship builder; I approach everyone as if they are my friend.

How did your university education prepare you for your professional roles?
I graduated with a bachelor’s and a master’s in civil engineering from FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, which is the only joint college of engineering in the nation. It’s between a Research I University, which is Florida State University, and a historically Black college and university, which is Florida A&M University. That helped me develop relationships with people outside the norm for me. And the college is heavily involved in organizations like ASCE and other student organizations, and that helped us students expand beyond engineering. It gave us the soft skills that other engineering colleges don’t really teach. I was actively involved in the FES and the ASCE student chapter, and I was president of both.

I was the State Student of the Year for the ASCE and FES, and by the time I was done with my college career, because of all the support everyone gave me, I had earned 13 awards. When I finished my master’s degree, I received a key to the college of engineering, which is a lifelong honor. If I had not been given the support emotionally and the push from my faculty — the sense that they believed in me — then I wouldn’t have been able to work and create the programs that were the base for those awards. The faculty and staff are like my family. I am a Ph.D. student there while working full time.

What personal traits or characteristics do you believe helped you win this new position?
Empathy and emotional intelligence. These are things that aren’t talked about much. When I talk to people, it’s not because I want something from them; I want to be friends with them. I love listening to everyone’s story because everyone is so unique. And I think I have semi-decent jokes. That helps. 

What skills helped you achieve this position?
When I first came to Turner, I was a construction engineer and I focused on constructability — taking the 2D plans that the engineer designed and asking, ‘Can these things be built? Do they meet code? How do we build them and in what order? Are there clashes between the disciplines?’ It was like a giant puzzle, and that taught me so much.

Also, I have high standards for my work, but one of the lessons I had to learn is that everything can’t be to my standards all the time; there is not enough time, and I would drain myself trying to make time. So I had to learn to put the energy in the right places. If I’m burned out, the whole project gets burned out. 

What role did mentors, advisers, or your network play in your achievement?
I owe so much of my support to my parents, who always made sure that I could pursue whatever dream or crazy idea I wanted to, knowing they would always have my back. 

At the university, two of my closest friends were Lisa Spainhour, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, the civil engineering chair, and Michelle Rambo-Roddenberry, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, the associate dean of student services and undergraduate affairs. They are both incredible individuals, and I am lucky to have them as mentors to guide me. 

Here at Turner, Dan LaMorte, general manager, is a leader who creates a positive and caring culture. He always makes sure that I am supported. Matt Aber, the former business development manager, brought me into this role and has always made my development a priority as a friend and a mentor. And Andrew Cameron, the current business development manager, is always by my side, supporting my wild ideas and always laughing at my semi-decent jokes. No matter how tough the day, I know he is always there for me. The only reason I can do what I do is because I have individuals like those above — and the countless not mentioned — who make me feel like I am worth it every day. 

Where do you hope to take your career next?
I wish I was that strategic! I don’t know what’s next. I’m in a position now where I can help my friends here at Turner so that they can work on incredible projects. What matters to me is that I get to support those I care about with the job I am in. Being there for those around me is always my top priority. I am going to go for my professional engineer license, though, because I do think it’s important. I may never sign and seal a plan, but I think it’s important that construction engineers, even if they are not design engineers, get their licenses. It solidifies what our community is as engineers.

There is a civil construction test on the P.E. exam that I will take. And then I am going to have a fun time trying to figure out how to write up my experience for the licensing board! 

What advice would you give to other young engineers who would seek positions similar to yours? 
Be kind. Approach everyone as a friend. That’s it. If you put in the standard of work that is important to you and you treat people well, everything else will work out.

Are you a younger member who has recently taken the next step in your career? We’d like to hear from you. Email cemag@asce.org using the subject line “Next Step.”                                                                                  

This article first appeared in the November 2020 issue of Civil Engineering.

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