Instructor Spotlight: George A. Stankiewicz PE.
At School of PE, we employ multiple instructors to teach the material in their areas of expertise-this sets us apart from our competitors. We have received a great deal of positive feedback from our students, and we believe that learning from experts in their respective areas provides the most comprehensive learning experience.
Our Instructor/Author Spotlight series gives you a peek behind the scenes with some of School of PE's highly acclaimed instructors. Read on to find out more about our very own George A. Stankiewicz, PE.
With more than 14 years of providing instruction to 10,000 candidates at School of PE, Mr. Stankiewicz has two undergraduate degrees and a master's degree in management with more than 35 years of experience in the construction industry. Specializing in general building construction, he has played an active executive role in the construction of nearly $1 billion in total projects within the public and private sectors. His broad background in projects engaged with the federal, state, and local governments, universities, and major corporate clients have strengthened his skills as a leader.
As an adjunct instructor for the graduate school of engineering at a major East Coast technology institute, he taught courses in Construction Management, Systems in Building Design (Civil-M/E/P/F), and Project Scheduling. Mr. Stankiewicz has proven teaching experience with School of PE with courses in Surveying, Construction, Materials, Engineering Economics, Statistics and Probability Refresher, California Surveying Refresher, and Project Management.
He has authored chapters for School of PE's FE Civil Exam Review Guide and both volumes of the new PE Civil Exam Review Guide: Construction.
What attracted you to your chosen field/area of expertise?
Construction engineering became my career choice as a consequence of my interests growing up. I enjoyed working with my dad, an auto mechanic, which led to my curiosity in learning how things work and are put together. My focus on building construction came from an interest in understanding the mechanics required and envisioned in the physical world.
As an undergraduate, it was easy to understand the mathematics of engineering principles and immediately apply them to the things I was working with. Newton's laws were quickly applied to static equilibrium, as were Bernoulli's equations for fluid flow. I began to master the principles and reached an expert level with structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The interpretation and application of the International Building Code (IBC) to building construction is an ever-present challenge, as each building project is a unique standalone product.
My career started with projects within the public sector. Municipal, county, state, university, federal, and major corporate projects varied. I worked on many projects, such as municipal schools, county courthouses, US foreign embassies, and with several corporate clients, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Disney. Additionally, I was an adjunct instructor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Graduate School of Civil Engineering, teaching subjects in construction management, systems in building construction, and project scheduling for nearly 10 years.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during your career as a professional engineer?
Working with people in various engineering disciplines and construction trades while learning from their diverse ways of thinking is a daily accomplishment that seeks no praise. Knowing the engineering behind the assembly of a building and coordinating everyone's effort for the project's success is the reward the team works toward. The tasks are indeed repetitive, but their application varies in many ways.
Applying engineering principles and teaching is a rewarding experience and a career accomplishment I value.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an instructor for School of PE?
The reward for an instructor comes from an engagement with like-minded individuals and connecting the many ways of solving problems. School of PE offers the candidate a knowledge refresher of the basic concepts learned as an undergraduate and advancing the concepts to engineering work.
For example, the equations for solving force vector's magnitude and orientation are very academic, but adapting the principles when working with the forces to assemble a building requires factors of safety to be accommodated. The building code relies on a safety orientation to assure the health and safety of the workers during construction and the general public when the permanent building is complete. Organizing the information and helping to find the solution steps is the goal of success.
What is your approach to teaching exam prep?
The approach to teaching is having students go back to the early years of their education and remind them of the elementary knowledge they possess and bring it forward into the world of applied engineering. Knowledge of geometry transfers to land surveying, simple leverage mechanics apply to know how a crane works safely, simple beam analysis transfers to be able to design bridges, and so on.
The exam review course stresses the three tenets of learning. First, the concept or fundamental building blocks behind engineering principles. Second, terminology or language-specific terms belonging to engineering principles. And third, the application of math equations that finds the solution to the question. Each concept reviewed in the refresher course is on the exam.
My focus is to teach candidates how to understand an NCEES exam question and ask which words are relevant to the solution steps and which are distractors. The exam question tells a story-the premise for an engineering problem-and requires either a quantitative or nonquantitative solution. Each word in the question is a clue to arrive at the correct solution steps.
It is highly unlikely that anyone would be able to successfully answer 80 engineering questions on an 8-hour exam without some kind of prior exam prep. Therefore, the course uses the question/solution learning basics and continually explains the story of the question and the solution steps to avoid distractors and find the "most nearly" answer.
Knowing how to read a question and understand the purpose of all the words in the question is the most important learning the candidates are taught.
What is your advice for someone preparing for the FE/PE exam after a gap period?
My advice is to look deep inside your knowledge base toward all the things learned during the elementary and undergraduate years and transfer that knowledge to what engineers do every day, no matter which area of practice you've chosen. Often, candidates regret being 10 to 20 years from their undergraduate days when facing an exam that may advance their career or achieve a personal goal. That's a good thing. Your learned skillsets as an engineer post-graduation will help you achieve your goal.
The licensure application for each state's Board of Professional Engineers requires a minimum of 4 years of working experience. All exam candidates must be graduates of an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) program, which assures that the undergraduate curriculum matches the NCEES exam standards.
NCEES encourages examinees to take a review course to refresh their knowledge base on topics that may not have been used since their undergraduate education.
What do you feel is the most important skill for an engineer?
Flexibility! There are many written opinions by the best minds in the world as to what makes an engineer. Good, bad, or indifferent, actually being on the job trains you to stay focused on the task at hand. However, we are creatures of habit and, at times, lazy, which can make us do the same thing time after time.
Flexibility in how you think, work with people, and solve problems allows these valuable skillsets to produce and find viable solutions.
Habitually, candidates compute a solution that is, for example, 52.0089001. However, the closest answer choices to the problem only include 50 or 55. Depending on the content of the question, good engineering judgment comes into play, as many of the answers on the exam are "most nearly." Therefore, if the question asks for the amp rating of an electrical circuit breaker, the answer is 55 amps - thereby addressing the need for safety. However, if the question asks about the factor of safety for a retaining wall, the answer is 50, as 55 is not achieved.
What study strategies would you suggest for someone taking the PE Civil exam?
Focus on the basics! Basic meaning math (PEMDAS), algebra, geometry, trigonometry (SOH, CAH, TOA), Pythagorean theorem, Cartesian coordinate system, conversion factors, simple beam analysis, shear, moment (M = F ? D), centroid, the center of gravity, tributary area, load paths, ratios, and proportions.
Focus on reading the question and highlight the content of what the question is asking. Solve for the actual question versus what you may believe is the question.
A few strategies are:
- Break up the original question into simpler segments and solve each piece individually.
- Visualize the problem by drawing a picture.
- Work backward, review the answers, and note the spread among the solution and the level of precision (that is, significant digits).
- Apply strategies of common sense and good engineering judgment.
- Manage your time during the exam and answer questions from the perceived easiest to the harder. This is an important strategy. Skip questions. Do not start at one and move to the next. You need to build confidence, and it is very easy to lose 20 minutes on one question.
- Prepare all the reference materials the NCEES will provide during the exam. A common misconception is that the NCEES-provided PE Civil Reference Handbook has all the answers in it and that it is just a matter of finding them. Just like the FE Civil exam, the reference material provides a guide for a solution but not an answer.
- Use the NCEES design standards as most of the effort during the depth part of the exam will be to find the information. Become familiar with the structure and organization of the design standards to avoid being surprised during exam day.
- Use the NCEES Examinee Guide, which is the official guide to policies and procedures for all NCEES exams found on their website. Visit the NCEES website to view YouTube videos to help you become familiar with the exam structure and processes. Use the NCEES resources available to you.
- Follow the guidance of your School of PE instructors, as they have the experience and depth of knowledge to share for your preparation.
- Don't be surprised. There will be topics on the exam that you may never have encountered. Move on and let them not become distractors.
What advice do you have for someone who is undecided regarding their specific area of expertise?
Always lead with "what you know." Candidates are often in jobs or have work experiences that do not exactly fit the civil engineering discipline and the five areas of practice, namely: construction, geotechnical, structural, transportation, and water resources.
Often, they explore unsubstantiated theories that one exam area of practice is easier than another or select an area of practice that is a close match to their job. The best approach is to take an inventory using the NCEES' exam specification, check off the topics that they perceive they are best at, and select the area of practice that prevails in their inventory.
What are the biggest challenges with obtaining PE licensure/certification?
Year after year, candidates comment that there is just too much information to study, or they do not have the time for self-study to complete all the workshop questions, etc. The exam is similar to your job-it's hard work, but nobody ever said it would be easy.
Therefore, make the commitment and stick with it.
Why would you recommend taking an exam review course to prepare for the PE Civil exam?
Take the advice of NCEES. They say on their website to prepare for the exam, use the NCEES exam specifications, and study the topics that relate to each of the 5 depth areas of practice. The exam is very broad in its area of practice, and 70% (or 57) of the questions must be answered correctly.
Oftentimes, candidates believe that, for example, they are perfect in the area of Transportation since they repeatedly perform tasks related to Transportation, likely successfully, on a daily basis while on the job. They are confident they will score 100% on their exam topic. However, this logic only earns 60% for the passing grade (48 correct/80 questions). This also assumes that the transportation skillset is answering every question correctly.
That's why a good strategy is to study everything you do not know. Why? If you perceive yourself as being perfect at one topic, then do not study what you already know, the probability is that you will achieve the greatest point score for that topic. Study and increase your skillset with the topics that you do not know to mitigate the probability of any missed questions or shortfalls within your most comfortable topic.
Remember that the PE Civil exam is a skills level exam. Aim to increase your skillset for success. It is based on what every engineer should know with 4 years of experience on the job. The repeatedly learned skills alone you have developed on the job will help you pass the exam.
If you are a repeat taker, use the NCEES' results score and improve your understanding of the areas of practice where you received a low score. School of PE offers personal guidance to help understand the shortfalls and increase your skills.
Taking the School of PE exam review course allows you to build confidence, motivates you to set goals, teaches you how to be flexible, and brings out the enthusiasm and inner passion to succeed, as well as having fun while sharing strengths with your online cohorts.