The Complete Engineering® Podcast

Clarence Waters

These students have to present their work in front of these 60 professionals. And these professionals tell us that they are, in many cases, do as good a job, if not better, than some of the professionals that they're working with themselves. Those communication skills, those presentation skills, those teamwork skills are just critical.

Dr. Clarence Waters
Professor, Architectural Engineering; Industry Liaison
The Durham School’s architectural engineering (AE) program has developed a unique relationship with the abundant local industry. Professor Clarence Waters shares how that relationship developed to make the Nebraska AE program a giant success.

Clarence Waters
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Narrator: Welcome to the Complete Engineering podcast brought to you by the College of Engineering. We are Nebraska where we develop complete engineers with technical and non-technical skills to do big things. Visit us at

Matt Honke: Welcome to the Complete Engineering podcast, brought to you by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering. I'm Matt Honke.

Karl Vogel: And I'm Karl Vogel.

Matt Honke: And today we are joined by Dr. Clarence Waters, who is with our Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction. Welcome, Dr. Waters.

Clarence Waters: Glad to be here.

Matt Honke: Dr. Waters is an Aaron Douglas Professor and industry liaison. He came to the Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction in 2000. He has also earned many teaching awards, including the Architectural Engineering Institute's 2016 Outstanding Educator Award that is given to the nation's top educator in the field.

Karl Vogel: In addition to teaching and research Dr. Waters is also the AE Program's chief industry liaison and relates with a very vibrant architectural engineering industry in Omaha and nationally. It's been a key factor in the success of the program is that unique relationship. What did you know about Omaha before you came here, and what factored into your decisions to come to this part of the country?

Clarence Waters: I came here actually for a short period of time, just one semester to teach a course, and I commuted from Kansas State where I was on the faculty, and learned of the industry that was here, and saw the opportunity just as architectural engineering was getting started. They offered me a job and I took it, and really, the reason I took it was because of the opportunity with this industry connection that is really amazing in Omaha.

Karl Vogel: What specifically about Omaha and maybe this part of the country makes this a great place for an architectural engineering program?

Clarence Waters: We really have giants in the architectural engineering industry in Omaha. HDR, who just moved their world headquarters to Aksarben Village, which is two blocks away from us, in Omaha, they are the number one designer of health care facilities in the world. They're not in any way, shape, or form the only one. Leo A Daley, a very large AE firm, third in the country in health care facilities is in Omaha. Creek started in Omaha. DLR also in Aksarben Village just blocks away from us is the number one designer of K-12 educational facilities in the country. Other big firms, Alvine Engineering is an excellent engineering firm that just has engineers, not their own architects. They're working for architects all over the world. So that's what makes Omaha unique is that center really that's found no place else in the world. I'm convinced there's not a better place in the world for architectural engineering.

Matt Honke: That sounds a little strange for the listeners. Our college of engineering here, we are located in both Lincoln and in Omaha, and we have a wonderful facility on the Scott Campus, the South campus of the University of Nebraska-Omaha. That Askarben area, that's just sprouted up in the last, really, 10 years. If you haven't been down there, it's amazing now.

Clarence Waters: It is, and that all used to be a horse track. The building where we are was the first building in that area and now it's just exploded. HDR's world headquarters, DLR, Olsson and Associates, Kiewit Building Group are all right there, and the interaction that we have with them is really amazing.

Matt Honke: Is there a monetary value that we can put on the input that these industry professionals and alumni provide the students? I mean, how unique and how important is that to have those people literally a doorstep away, just a block away?

Clarence Waters: I teach a course that's a Capstone course in the Master's degree five year program. It's called, we call it Team Design. The technical name is Interdisciplinary Team Design Project. In that course we put the students in the teams of eight to 10 students and we give them mentors. And we also then have industry evaluators that are all over the country that evaluate the students work. They present over Zoom and their work is available electronically. So we have people all over the country that evaluate their work. But on the first day of class we'll have 30, 40 students in this class and we'll have 60 professionals that mentor and evaluate them. On the first day of class always I require the students to calculate the actual contribution to that class. So they calculate the number of volunteer hours and then we use a standard engineering hourly rate, $100, $125 an hour, which is what these professionals bill their time at, and every year it comes out to be close to right around a quarter of a million dollars. So that's an example just from this one class. There are thousands of other hours that are volunteered. But that's the only actual number that I have. But it's very significant. That class won the NCEES Grand Prize in 2016 for the best Capstone in the country for bringing industry to students.

Karl Vogel: That's amazing. It is. And this relationship has created a very successful job placement rate for graduates. How has that relationship with industry evolved and how is benefiting our students right now?

Clarence Waters: In the first class that we teach, AE1010, Introduction to Architectural Engineering, second or third week of class we assign these freshman students an industry mentor. So there will be one industry mentor for six or eight students. One of the assignments is the student has to interview that mentor and they have to go to that mentor's office and learn what that mentor is doing. So they develop a relationship very early on. These connections, these networks that the students build start from, really, the very beginning. And that obviously is very beneficial to them. You mentioned the opportunities then when they graduate. They are just outstanding. I think there are specialty areas within architectural engineering, especially in the graduates who design HVAC mechanical systems, graduates that design electrical systems, right now I'd guess there's probably four opportunities per student. And the reason is industry wants our graduates. They value our program. We have very high quality students. They're productive for their employers.

Karl Vogel: And the Durham School has a career fair every October. And that has grown by leaps and bounds just in the last few years. I believe in the last year we're up to close to 100 industry people coming and it's kind of unique in that they're coming there to recruit the students more than just expose what they have to offer.

Clarence Waters: Very much so. There are over a hundred companies last October. We anticipate even more than that this coming Fall. I think there was something like 300 individual interviews the day after that career fair. And just amazing opportunities for the students, and kinda the cool thing that's happening is that there aren't enough students to go around. So consequently they start hiring students for their summer internships the summer before their Master's degree or the summer before their senior year. So they're just getting outstanding internships all over the country because the demand is so high. They come off of those internships typically with a permanent employment offer in their hands.

Matt Honke: The architectural engineering program at Nebraska is one of the tops in the country. I think the industry advisory committee has really helped a lot with that. How would you say that that relationship has evolved over the years?

Clarence Waters: The Architectural Engineering Advisory Committee has been a critical component really of the architectural engineering from the beginning. We graduated our first students in 2003, and an advisory committee was in place prior to that, and around that time became more formal. So it's 14 members. They serve for three year terms. Half are kinda local in the different disciplines, and the other half are really industry leaders from all over the country. They really have been a critical component to the evaluation of our program, and they are the ones that we obviously tap in for volunteers and all of those things. But they come and meet with us twice a year for a full day. They meet with our freshman students. They meet with our MAEs as they graduate. It's a neat relationship that develops between the advisory committee and our students. They really get to know them and enjoy that interaction. They even give them a gift when they graduate. We have an event the night before the students graduate. Their parents are there, and the advisory committee gives them a gift. It's neat.

Matt Honke: That's very cool. Another unique part of the architectural engineering program is the four-plus-one structure to the academic career of the students and what the Durham School offers is a program that puts the students on a Master's track a lot faster than a lot of other schools. What is that four-plus-one structure? And how did that come about?

Clarence Waters: Some of the better architectural engineering programs around the country were five year Bachelor's degrees. When we created the program back in the early 2000s, we wanted to compete with those programs, but we wanted to get the graduates additional credit for that fifth year in the program. So we created the four-plus-one. It's a Bachelor's plus what we call a Master of Architectural Engineering, MAE. Our AE accreditation sits with the MAE, so that is critical to become a licensed engineer. So all the students understand from the very beginning that they are gonna be in the five year program Bachelor's plus Master's. Beginning of the Master's starts in the second semester of the senior year and then they complete that in a five year program. What that really allows us to do is to give the students breadth in all the areas of architectural engineering, in structures, in HVAC, in electrical lighting and acoustics. Our program has much more breadth that any other architectural engineering program. And then after they have that breadth and that gives them the ability to sit on these large teams and understand what everybody else on the team is doing, then they go very deep in their specialization. So our students will end up designing the structure for a building or designing the electrical systems for buildings or the mechanical systems. And that fifth year gives them that depth, and I think that has a lot to do with the demand for our graduates from industry, because they like that breadth, and they need that depth which makes our students very productive for employers and very productive for large teams.

Karl Vogel: For the students themselves, when they have that Master's and don't have to take a sixth year to get it, what's the advantage for the student in that scenario? Well, they have an additional degree. They have a Master's degree and always will have that Master's degree. So other students have to go at least two years to obtain that Master's degree.

Matt Honke: We're called the Complete Engineering podcast, and that's in reference to our Complete Engineer Program that we have at the university. It correlates a little bit with what you were just talking about how at the end of your five years you understand what other people are doing on your team. You know the different roles, and that's one of the tenants of the complete engineer is teamwork. How important is teamwork when you're working in groups as you get to a professional world. You're not just working in a silo anymore right? As an engineer having that understanding and the ability to work with others and communicate is crucial.

Clarence Waters: It's critical for our industry. It's probably critical for most industries. But being able to work on large teams, somebody that's going to design the First National Tower in Omaha, or Baxter Arena, there's 30, 40 people that are involved in the design of that facility, and you have to work very closely on teams. I mentioned earlier that interdisciplinary team design project. These students have to present their work in front of these 60 professionals. That causes the students to take that very, very seriously, and they work extremely hard. And these professionals tell us that they are, in many cases, do as good a job, if not better, than some of the professionals that they're working with themselves. Those communication skills, those presentation skills, those teamwork skills are just critical.

Karl Vogel: And that comes down to teaching. Part of the factor of them learning it is teaching, and you've been honored in the past for your teaching and your ability to relate with students in that way. How do you create an environment that allows these students to thrive and how do they respond to that?

Clarence Waters: I don't know that it's much about what I do. But I love our students. I love our industry. And I think the students understand that and they value that. They know that I respect them. They know that I am there for their success. Simply a lucky man that gets the opportunity to work with these outstanding students in the outstanding industry that supports them.

Matt Honke: Well, you were recently chosen to receive the Aaron Douglas Professorship, becoming the first Nebraska Engineering faculty to be so honored. What does this particular honor mean to you?

Clarence Waters: I'm very humbled by that award, and greatly appreciate the work that Dean Lance Perez and the director of the Durham School, Jay Puckett, put into giving me that award. Aaron Douglas is a black artist who was born and raised just a few miles from where I was born and raised in Kansas. So he was a graduate of the University of Nebraska. I'm very honored to be named that professor, and I'm a lucky man. I enjoy very much what I do, and don't tell the dean, but I'd probably do it even if he didn't pay me. (group laughter)

Matt Honke: Well congratulations on it. Thank you. (bell rings) Alright, well it's that time again for our lightening round. Dog or cat?

Clarence Waters: Absolutely dog.

Matt Honke: Who is your favorite super hero?

Clarence Waters: I suppose Iron Man.

Matt Honke: Favorite tailgating food?

Clarence Waters: Brats.

Matt Honke: Have you ever used a slide rule?

Clarence Waters: Absolutely, I did.

Matt Honke: First video game you owned?

Clarence Waters: That I owned, I don't know that I've ever owned one, but I used to play, what's that one where the thing goes around and eats the little balls? Pac-Man?

Matt Honke: Pac-Man, yeah. Favorite musical genre?

Clarence Waters: Rock, Boston.

Matt Honke: Oh, More Than A Feeling. Man, they're very good. What was your favorite toy growing up?

Clarence Waters: Etch-A-Sketch.

Matt Honke: If you could time travel, to when would you go?

Clarence Waters: To the future.

Matt Honke: Ah, nice. On a scale of one to 10, how strict were your parents?

Clarence Waters: My mother was a two, my father was a nine.

Matt Honke: Do you know how to run a VCR?

Clarence Waters: I do.

Matt Honke: Chocolate or vanilla?

Clarence Waters: Vanilla with chocolate on top.

Matt Honke: Ah, nice. Saturday or Sunday?

Clarence Waters: Sunday.

Matt Honke: What's your pet peeve?

Clarence Waters: Cats. (chuckles)

Matt Honke: That explains the answer in number one. Pancakes or waffles?

Clarence Waters: Pancakes.

Matt Honke: And last but not least, Herbie Husker or Lit' Red?

Clarence Waters: I'm a K State fan, sorry. (group laughter)

Matt Honke: Well, that's alright. We'll allow that. We do want to thank you, Dr. Waters, for taking your time today and joining us. You can catch the Complete Engineering podcast on Stitcher, Google Play, and iTunes.

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Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Complete Engineering podcast. For more information visit us at

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