Instructor Spotlight: Gregory Nicosia, 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 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 Gregory Nicosia, PE.
Mr. Nicosia is an engineer who has been practicing in the industry for eight years. His background includes natural gas, utilities, mechanical, and civil engineering. He earned his chemical engineering undergraduate degree at Drexel University in 2014 and his master's degree in business administration (MBA) from Penn State Harrisburg (2018). He received his EIT designation in 2014 and PE license in 2018. Mr. Nicosia firmly believes in continuing to grow his skillset to become a more well-rounded engineer and adapt to an ever-changing world.
He has been a blog writer and tutor with School of PE for approximately one year. Although he has not formally taught for School of PE, he has served as a subject-matter expert for two years. He is also a technical reviewer on School of PE's upcoming FE Mechanical Exam Review Guide.
What attracted you to your chosen field/area of expertise?
I was attracted to engineering because of the practical applications. The knowledge I have gained has not only helped with my professional career but has also helped me in my everyday life. I started my career as an entry-level engineer with my EIT certification, but now I am a licensed professional engineer and am continuously growing in my field. For instance, I have taken on other roles with blogging and tutoring, courtesy of School of PE. My background in utility engineering is applicable to all aspects of life, from reviewing design plans in the office to understanding my personal electric bill.
I specifically work in the energy (oil and gas) field. Energy is an ongoing topic worldwide; in high school, I enrolled primarily in mathematics and science courses and even completed my senior project on nuclear energy.
What has been your favorite engineering project?
My favorite engineering project was the Future City project. I had the opportunity to serve as an engineer mentor to middle school students as they developed a futuristic city that would be powered by a fuel source of their choice. This provided me with the chance to become better with tutoring, leadership, and technical skills. I led a few classroom discussions and helped build relations with the school district. The topic was power generation, so this also encouraged me to improve my electrical engineering knowledge. The project was multidisciplinary because it also involved designing and planning the city layout complete with stores, restaurants, and hospitals, among other features.
What was your most challenging project?
My most challenging project was designing a large industrial gas turbo meter set for a food production plant. This was a comprehensive project that involved collaboration amongst multiple departments, including new business, engineering services, system planning, operations, contract construction, and the meter set team. The food plant needed to enlarge both their gas service and their meter to accommodate additional production capacity. I reviewed the system capacity to ensure pressures in the area could handle the new gas load. Specialized materials had to be identified and ordered from different manufacturing vendors to meet project needs.
I met with the site inspector, construction team, and plant manager multiple times at the project site to review the scope and discuss the gas service and meter set installation. The project was ultimately a success because the food plant is currently using natural gas for powering their production.
How do you make sure to stay up to date on skills and technology in your field?
I stay updated through my PE continuing education hours, blogging, subject-matter expert (SME) question reviews, tutoring sessions, and my own reading. The continuing education hours are beneficial because they can be applied to all engineering disciplines (chemical, mechanical, civil, etc.). I passed the FE Chemical and PE Mechanical (Thermal & Fluids Systems) exams, but with different seminars and online courses, I can foray into other engineering topics. Serving as an SME and tutor with School of PE has also helped me stay fresh with the current exam format and industry trends because I can collaborate with other students to achieve their goal of attaining PE licensure.
I am primarily involved with utility engineering, so I am always exploring new technologies (e.g., trenchless installation techniques) to better meet project and municipal needs. I also learn a lot through industry magazines, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, and other online news outlets. The world is a dynamic place, as there is always an interesting news story somewhere.
What do you think is the most important skill for an engineer?
I believe the most important skill for an engineer is to question everything. Before starting a project or task, you want to ensure that you fully understand the scope and have completed some preliminary research to better your chances of success. I always review records and noteworthy items before visiting a jobsite; sometimes I will even communicate with the municipality if there is any planned road work or upcoming paving projects. I conduct my own site visit prior to meeting with a contractor to ensure that I am better prepared for the contractor meeting.
For example, I had a recent project where old steel piping was identified as aging infrastructure with leaks that needed replacement. This steel line was running along a side street (not within the original project scope), so after some further investigation, it was determined that this pipe was critical infrastructure that required new plastic pipe. This side street was added to the project scope and the authorization was updated accordingly to save the trouble of needing to mobilize twice at two separate dates. It is always good to peer review your coworkers as you may discover projects that include regions that have either been overlooked or already completed.
What is the best way to prepare for the PE Civil exam?
The best way to prepare for the PE Civil exam is to start with an online review course (I would recommend School of PE!). This can help to define the exam scope and expectations more clearly. When I first began studying for the PE exam, I started with my own self-study but found this to be ineffective because I was unsure where to begin and was only studying certain topics in a textbook. A review course is more widely accepted and standard for exam preparation.
I would also recommend becoming more familiar with the NCEES PE Civil Reference Handbook. You will be provided with other design standards according to your civil discipline, but otherwise the NCEES reference handbook is the only reference material that can be used during the exam. Exercising questions and reviewing solutions will help you gain more repetition as well as grow your memory on where to look up certain information (you do not want to lose time during the exam continuously browsing the handbook looking for specific equations).
In your opinion, what is the most important trait someone would need to be a successful engineer?
Always keep learning. I have passed both the FE and PE exams, but I will certainly admit I did not know the answer to every question on both exam days. Passing the exams was exciting but also a humbling experience. There is always more to learn. Even if you have done the same task repeatedly, it is still exercise for your mind (like working out your "brain muscle"). This also aligns with my view of questioning everything and staying proactive with both your work and the industry. My background is mostly chemical and mechanical, but recently I have been learning more civil and electrical (telecommunications) disciplines.
Why would you recommend taking an exam review course to prepare for the PE Civil exam?
An exam review course is the best way to prepare for the PE Civil exam. As mentioned earlier, a review course has more structure compared to attempting self-study. The instructor will also likely be a licensed professional engineer who is familiar with the content so you can ask questions for good discussion. The instructor can also provide exam tips from their own experiences, as well as other students who may be retaking the exam or have colleagues who also passed the exam. For instance, I first learned about School of PE through a friend.
What is your approach to tutoring School of PE students?
As a tutor, I first ask the student if there are any particular exam topics that they want to review during the session. School of PE provides good refresher notes and example questions, but I have found that the sessions are more productive when focusing on student concerns. This shows more care toward the student and also helps cover specific topics within a limited timeframe.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone who didn't pass their exam on the first try?
My advice is to draft your own list of reasons why you did not pass. NCEES sends a diagnostic report for areas of improvement, but you must also be honest with yourself-consider Socrates, who famously said, "Know thyself." You may have been too busy with other commitments and may not have been able to set aside the study time. It can be difficult to balance your career as a practicing engineer with exam studying and other obligations. Many exam review courses are offered on weekends for this reason because instructors are aware that most students are in the workplace during weekdays.
The diagnostic report is a good place to start but I would also recommend trying to make mental notes during the exam of which questions/topics may have stumped you or used up too much time. Both the FE and PE exams follow the formats outlined on the NCEES website, so you should also refer back to the exam format to identify areas of deficiency. But remember too, not passing the exam could stem from other personal commitments; so you may need to rearrange your own priorities for proper study time.