Engineers Week Spotlight: Bill Schoen’s Engineering Skills Inform His Leadership

22 February 2021
WASHINGTON - Bill Schoen, public works business line leader, is representing Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Washington for Engineers Week. He serves at NAVFAC Washington’s Core in Washington D.C.
WASHINGTON - Bill Schoen, public works business line leader, is representing Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Washington for Engineers Week. He serves at NAVFAC Washington’s Core in Washington D.C.

Schoen is originally from St. Louis, Mo., but spent his high school and college years in Oklahoma. Growing up, he wanted to work at a newspaper due to his proficiency as a writer and because his grandfather was a news host for KMOX radio in St. Louis. Things changed when he started spending time with his father, appraising homes for the local the Housing and Urban Development office. Later, his family moved to Oklahoma and he started working for his father’s land surveying business.

“I learned the ropes, went from a junior grunt hauling the gear to eventually running my own survey crew to lay out a subdivision,” Schoen said. “By that point, my love of math and problem solving had kicked in full time, so I knew engineering was my future.”

Schoen earned a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Tulsa, and eventually a master’s degree, also in petroleum engineering, from the University of Texas (Austin) through the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps Graduate School Program.

“I joined the Navy largely as a result of the great oil industry implosion of 1984. I was a recent college graduate and working as a manager for a local Arby’s franchise. Not exactly what I envisioned I would be doing with my degree. I served for 20 years in the Civil Engineer Corps and most of my tours were on the East coast, with one overseas tour and one Seabee tour.”

Schoen’s final tour of active duty was as with NAVFAC Washington as a Facilities, Engineering and Acquisition Division Director for Naval Support Activity South Potomac. After transitioning back to civilian life, he returned to NAVFAC Washington to serve as the Public Works Facilities Management and Sustainment Product Line Leader for three years and has held his current role as Public Works Business Line Leader for the last seven.

“Following on the serve within NAVFAC was natural given my military career. The other options I explored were municipal and university positions centered around the public works arena, but giving back to NAVFAC was always my top choice. A big change after retirement was that I had to actually decide what to wear each day!”

As a supervisor, Schoen notes that his engineering skills informs the way he leads his department. It all comes down to problem solving, and solving problems are what drive engineers.

“I see difficulties not so much as an obstacle to be endured, but more as a challenge to excel. When I am working with my personnel, I like pulling all their strengths together to solve the problem at hand, to mitigate any weaknesses that are in the group. I find the end result to be as rewarding as the process itself of putting together a product or deliver a service to a supported Command or person.”

For young people considering a career in engineering, Schoen’s advice is to look back to history in order to glimpse the future.

“If you look back across world history, you can see the great advances in human life, both quality and expectancy, and at the forefront of a lot of it is engineering. Beginning with the first adaptation of sharpened rocks into hunting tools, the accidental smelting of malachite into copper in a cave somewhere, to the great Roman aqueducts, to the digital age, all of this was done through an application of engineering.”
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