Developing a Unique Training Approach for Long-Term Success

05 February, 2020
Emily Pate Bohler Senior Design Engineer Towson, MD
  • As a new grad just starting out in her engineering career, Emily experienced an unfamiliar feeling of frustration and discouragement in tackling a challenging new engineering skill.
  • Determined to be successful, Emily drew from the support and knowledge of her colleagues to improve her grading and Civil 3D skills.
  • Years later, she rallied her teammates to help her in creating a training program that enables junior engineers to overcome the same challenges she faced early on.


Emily Pate, a Senior Design Engineer in Bohler’s Towson office, is turning the personal challenges she faced in the beginning of her career into development opportunities for others. An exceptional student at the University of Delaware and an accomplished collegiate swimmer, most things came naturally for Emily. It wasn’t until she arrived at Bohler as a fresh graduate that she encountered her first significant challenge in her professional development: grading.

It was a skill her formal education had not prepared her for, and she was frustrated when it didn’t come to her easily. Despite a robust on-the-job training program, her lack of formal grading education in college left her learning both Civil 3D (a civil engineering design software) and grading design at the same time, without understanding the fundamentals of grading first. While Civil 3D offered significant time saving and efficiency value, the technology only worked when users understood the foundational concepts of what they entered into the computer.

Rather than get discouraged, Emily sought help from those around her. She also put the technology temporarily on hold, getting back to basics and learning to grade by hand with just a pencil, calculator, and paper.

Supported by her office leaders and colleagues, she spent many hours learning to hand grade from senior designers. Through practice, repetition, patience, and asking questions, she began to feel comfortable grading by hand and came to understand grading concepts.

Several years later, as she began working more frequently with junior staff, Emily noticed that many had a similar issue with grading and Civil 3D: They didn’t understand the purpose behind what they were doing because they, too, hadn’t been formally taught the practice in school.

When she saw younger engineers struggling the same way she did, she had a bold idea to once again temporarily put technology aside to get back to pencil and paper. Emily rallied her peers and leadership to develop a six-month hand grading program to teach the complex skills, so staff could thoroughly understand the foundational concepts behind the design. The program guided staff through the process of completing a Conceptual Grading and Utility Plan (CGU) by hand in a series of lessons three times a month, from June through December.

The entire grading training was to be done by hand with just a calculator, scale, and a pencil. Emily and other senior designers led lessons and activities to guide staff through individual elements of a CGU and had work sessions as they calculated each spot manually and drew contours by hand.

Upon completion of the training program, the participants learned the fundamentals of grading design, which allowed them to use Civil 3D more efficiently, and more importantly, were empowered to make an important investment in their career. In participating in Emily’s program, they learned the skills needed to make smarter, more effective design decisions that would serve them for years to come.

On why she felt so passionate about creating the training program, Emily shared, “I wasn’t too far into my career that I forgot what it was like. I remember feeling frustrated, and I wanted to help someone not feel like that someday.”

This program succeeded in helping staff engineers understand the basics of what they were really doing when grading using the Civil 3D software. It was so well received that the Towson office has every intention of carrying the program into 2020 and beyond, covering more aspects of grading and common challenges encountered with specific kinds of sites. “My thought is that younger staff can learn, master the skill, and then teach new hires. They will pay it forward in an ongoing cycle of learning and development,” she said.

Emily joins a larger movement throughout Bohler’s 26 offices that empowers team members to be smarter engineers and become more accomplished. Programs like this are making a lasting impact on Bohler’s ability to create opportunities for our staff and in the work we do.

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