MAE Alumnus Adam Davis: Building an Engineering Career
By Bonnie Dickson
Adam Davis graduated from UC Davis in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He is a Principal Engineer at Weston & Associates Mechanical Engineers, Inc., a full-service design engineering firm providing mechanical engineering services to architects and owners for projects throughout California. Through his involvement with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, Adam helps spark young people’s enthusiasm for engineering, from kindergarten to college. In this alumni spotlight, he shares how the fundamentals he learned at UC Davis are the bedrock of a successful engineering career.
Tell us about your work.
My industry is deadline-oriented, and no matter what, you never miss a deadline. For most of our projects at Weston & Associates Mechanical Engineers, we’re hired by an architect who puts together a design team consisting of mechanical/HVAC, electrical, structural and civil engineers. If I’m in the office, I’m usually behind a computer, using AutoCAD (computer-aided design) or Revit for designing and coordinating our mechanical requirements with the other engineering disciplines. At various times during the design of a building we’ll meet in person to field verify existing conditions, find creative and cost effective solutions to work within constraints of the existing building.
During the construction phase we’ll make site visits to verify that the contractor is building in accordance with our contract documents. And then of course is the time spent in meetings to ensure that what I’m dreaming up on paper is constructible, within the budget and most importantly what the owner wants in a facility. Then there is the business side of things, looking at budgets, reviewing invoices, etc. that also go along with a business. I’m lucky to have a great company and great group that all work together very well. I know that if I need help with a deadline they’re there to back me up, and I’m there to help them when it comes back around.
Tell us about your involvement with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
ASHRAE’s vision is to be the global leader and foremost source of technical and educational information, and the primary provider of opportunity for professional growth in the arts and sciences of HVAC&R. ASRHAE writes the guidelines and standards that states, counties, and cities adopt into building code. ASHRAE also provides grants to facilitate the research to be this leader.
ASHRAE is broken up into local chapters, multiple chapters are within a region, and all regions are under the global ASHRAE society. I’ve had the privilege of serving at all levels within the society.
I went to my first Sacramento Valley ASHRAE meeting my first week of work in 2004. I strongly believe that as a working professional it is important to be part of your industries network of people, not just be an employee working at a desk. I’m also very fortunate that I live a very blessed life, and I believe that if we can it’s our civic responsibility to give back to our community in some kind of way. ASHRAE is my way of giving back.
I’ve served on our local Sacramento Valley ASHRAE’s board from 2007-2018 in various rolls. I was quite young, but was our local Sacramento Valley ASHRAE’s chapter president in 2011 at the age of 30. For the past five years, I’ve served at the society level for Student Activities Committee. It’s really rewarding to see not only how students are getting involved in North America, but also what they’re accomplishing across the globe.
One of the best moments for me was when the Sacramento Chapter of ASHRAE established a student branch at UC Davis. It’s so very rewarding to hear students say that they’ve since decided to go into HVAC because of a presentation that I’ve made, or hear that due to an email exchange or two that I helped point them towards their area of interest for their research project. A recent UC Davis ASHRAE member that I know recently graduated and secured a permanent position working in San Jose. I ran into him last October on campus and he said that his Ph.D. dissertation and current job was all due to the little nudges that I gave him to point him in the right direction.
Another thing that we focus on in Student Activities is the K-12 age group. By the time someone is in college they’ve already decided to be an engineer. I feel that it’s important to show younger kids what engineering is all about. I remember in college the ratio of men to women was greatly skewed in favor of men, you still see this today in industry. It’s said that by the time a girl is 8 or 9 years old they’ve already decided that they’re not good at math. By the time that they reach college they’re already closed their mind to being an engineer. One thing that we focus on is introducing young children to engineering at a young age, and letting them know that it’s open to everyone.
Last fall, I had a fantastic time telling my son’s kindergarten class about engineers. It boils down to the idea that we’re problem solvers. Even a kindergartener can understand this. I told the group of kindergarteners that one of the coolest parts of being an engineer is that you get a stamp with your name on it – a professional seal. The kids all cheered out loud and were blown away with how cool that is. Each and every one of them had me put my stamp on their arm before I left. I just hope that in doing this that it might spark something in these kids.
How did your time at UC Davis prepare you for your career?
My education at UC Davis taught me how to step back and think about how to solve problems. It’s the engineering fundamentals that I learned here that are the bedrock of an engineering career. I will admit I haven’t used any of the calculus that I learned in college; however I had to understand the calculus to get to the engineering fundamentals, which I apply every day to solve the problems I face.
What advice would you give to current engineering students or recent graduates?
Take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam while you’re still in college. To become a professional licensed engineer, you have to take the Engineer in Training (EIT) or FE exam, have two years of working experience in your field and pass a second exam called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. The EIT exam mirrors what students learn in college and is much easier to pass while you’re still a student. I always tell students that even if they don’t think they’ll need to be a licensed engineer in their career, that it’s still a good idea to take the exam while they’re in college. Regardless of the position that you end up in, it won’t hurt you to have passed the EIT.
What classes were especially memorable during your time at Davis?
I remember an upper division electrical engineering class when a professor said, ‘When a doctor makes a mistake, one person dies. But when an engineer makes a mistake, lots of people die.’ It was an offhand comment, but the significance of it is true. HVAC might not seem like a life-threatening engineering field, however the number one cause of hospital borne infections are caused by the HVAC system. If you take another step back and think about the green movement, the number one user of energy is the built environment and the number one user of that energy is your HVAC system. In our day-to-day world it can be easy to get complacent but when I do, I go back and find myself thinking of this professor and his off-the-cuff comment.
What was your most memorable moment at UC Davis?
I have so many wonderful memories while at UC Davis, whether it being some kind of capture the flag in the arboretum at 3:30 AM and swimming in Putah Creek to evade capture, or road tripping with my roommate and best friend across the country to get him back in California for the start of the school year. The most life changing and significant memory would have to be meeting my now wife. We were neighbors in college, and the rest is history.
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