Instructor Spotlight: Sidney H. May, 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 Sidney H. May, PE.
Ms. May is a multi-state licensed professional civil engineer with more than 15 years of work experience in transportation design & construction, civil site design, and environmental planning & compliance. She is the owner of a WOSB engineering firm. Ms. May attended the University of Alabama and holds a BS in civil engineering. Her areas of expertise include public works processes for local, state, and federal projects; designing and managing capital improvements projects; developing project scope documents; creating project estimates and budgets; preparing design drawings; developing specifications for bidding purposes; and managing projects during construction. She develops course curriculums and instructs PDH seminars and professional engineering exam review courses. She also coauthored School of PE's PE Civil Exam Review Guide: Transportation.
She volunteers with local engineering academies and S.T.E.A.M programs and serves as a professional mentor for civil engineering students at the University of Alabama. She recently served as the Birmingham branch director of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and is on the National Policy Committee for Professional Licensure.
What attracted you to your chosen field/area of expertise?
I really was not sure which career path to choose in high school because of my limited exposure to other careers besides law or medicine. Medical practice did not interest me, so when asked, I said I would be studying law. When I was tapped into Mu Alpha Theta, a national math honor society, in my junior year of high school and recruited into conversations about engineering, I truly shifted my focus. I then began participating in programs geared toward the engineering field. I attended my first E-day open house at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!!) and saw the civil engineering students showcasing the infamous concrete canoe that was built for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student conference. A magical moment happened that day, and I absolutely knew for sure that's what I wanted to do. It was so fascinating to see this strong, hard material that I thought could only sink would be able to float. It sparked my curiosity to learn more and pursue civil engineering. From that moment, I've been inseparable from it and have loved almost every minute of it.
If you could choose any other area of engineering to specialize in, what would it be?
I'm partial to civil engineering because it offers multifaceted ways to practice. I love the versatility that the career offers and how interwoven into society it actually is. Being able to design and one day see these monumental structures, such as buildings, bridges, roads, and dams, come to life still excites me. But, if I absolutely had to choose, I would choose aerospace engineering. I must admit that I'm also in awe of the accomplishments in aviation and aerospace just as much as I am enamored with these major structures that we use every day.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
Math did not come easy for me for most of my life. I had to work really hard to understand it. I often sought tutoring and other outside help throughout high school in courses such as algebra II and geometry. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but I think my determination to understand the concepts and application of math actually paid off. My drive translated into something that I could actually do, excel at, and have a great passion for. So much so that I tutor kids in math when I have the time.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out in engineering?
Take one day at a time, try not to be such a perfectionist, seek to always understand the things that you do not know, and remain curious about the world we live in.
What is your advice for someone preparing for the FE Civil exam after a gap period?
Evaluate yourself initially prior to studying any FE materials to determine what you know, what you may have forgotten, and what you really don't know. Seek to sharpen your skill on the material you know and take a refresher course to help familiarize yourself with material that you've either forgotten or don't know. I find that the SoPE refresher courses really help pinpoint what's necessary rather than becoming overwhelmed with all the information that is available to FE Civil exam candidates.
What is the most rewarding thing about being an instructor for School of PE?
Knowing that there is at least one student who took my class and was successful on the FE or PE exam. I have received several LinkedIn messages over the years from students who thanked me for their success on exams, which makes me very happy considering some of the less positive feedback that I've received.
Why would you recommend taking an exam review course to prepare for the PE Civil exam?
There is a lot of exam preparation material and information available, and studying can become very overwhelming. A review course helps you pinpoint exactly what you need to study and provides you with criteria, theoretical practice, and techniques to solve exam-related problems.
What advice do you have for someone who is undecided regarding their specific area of expertise?
There's no better way to decide on your specific area of expertise than to get experience to see if this is something you really want to do. My recommendation would be to get some on-the-job experience if you're able to before committing to a specialty unless you absolutely know that it's something you want to do. Most of the time, undergrad classes help people find their place in the specific area of expertise that they want to go into but, if it is not found at that time, work experience is the best teacher.
In your opinion, what is the most important attribute of a successful engineer?
Realizing engineering is a team sport and is a practice field. The most successful engineers know that it takes a team to make a project successful. No two people see the world exactly the same, and undoubtedly no two engineers will see it the same either, even with the same standards and specifications.
What's one lesson your job has taught you that you think everyone should learn at some point in their career?
Things don't always go the way we planned them to. There will be changes, so flexibility in this industry is a must-it's an interactive and iterative field. The world we live in is constantly evolving and changing, and new concepts, technology, and innovation are always being developed. New information or technology can often translate into changes in design and oftentimes better ways of achieving a successful outcome on projects.