Did you know that policies to blend the PE license with other types of professional work, such as hairstylists, have been going around?! 😲 Today’s guest is Jennifer Ziegler, a civil engineer who’s been on the policy side of the profession, including on Capitol Hill. She dives into how these laws and acts affect your day-to-day, the current actions to make sure they serve the profession, and how you can — and why you should — help shape them as well.
Tune in to Learn:
- How public policy impacts civil engineering — more than most civil engineers realize
- How to get involved in shaping civil engineering policies…without being a politician
- Jennifer's education journey into the policy side of the profession on Capitol Hill
- What she does today for her water and environmental engineering work
- Becoming the Vice-President of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute
- 6 mind-blowing, career-boosting reasons why you should become an ASCE member
The Ultimate Civil PE Exam Startup Guide
Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI)
Connect With Jennifer:
Transcript of Show
You can get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's up everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy. Thanks for joining me today on another awesome podcast episode. I'm excited for this one. I bring on a guest who was a student of our course, The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course, Brett Ben Hazel. He jumps on to talk about his journey to pass his on PE exam, which is a fascinating journey because he graduated in mechanical engineering, found his way working for the government and working as a project manager, and that's what he does today.
Isaac Oakeson: But when it came time to take the PE exam, he attempted to try to take the Mechanical, wasn't able to get over the hump of passing that one. Started looking into what he's doing in his career and realized that he probably should be gearing his PE studies towards the Civil PE.
Isaac Oakeson: And so, here's a mechanical engineer that ended up taking the Civil PE Exam, and he was able to pass his exam. So he talks about how he passed, the journey that he went through, how he discovered our course, and all of those fun details and how the PE is gonna be a springboard to the rest of his career and opportunities that will present themselves to him.
Isaac Oakeson: So anyway, Brett does an awesome job. I'm thankful that he jumped on and shared his journey with me. I think you'll be inspired if you're preparing for your own PE exam or in a similar situation. So, all of this good stuff is gonna be coming up right after this. See you in a minute.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, I wanted to jump on real quick and let you know about a free resource we developed for you. You can find it at civilengineeringacademy.com/peguide and this will help you to jumpstart your studies for your PE exam. So, if you're in the hunt and you're just thinking about the PE exam, this guide will help you get through the process of figuring out everything you need to do, from the PE exam's prerequisites that you gotta figure out, the must have materials that you're gonna need for the exam, any approved calculators, what groups you should join, exam secrets, and much more. It's all in this guide that we've got developed for you. It's completely free. You can go check it out at civilengineeringacademy.com/peguide. Just put in your email, we'll get you that information as soon as the email comes to your inbox. So go check it out: civilengineeringacademy.com/peguide.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. We are running. Brett, thank you for joining me on the Civil Engineering Academy podcast. I appreciate you jumping on.
Brett Van Hazel: Yeah, great. Thanks for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, I'm excited to get to know your story a little bit more about your journey in passing your own PE exam. I know it's a good story, and I know it'll be inspirational for others that are walking in your footsteps or in similar situations.
Isaac Oakeson: I guess before we jump into that though, I always like to ask, you know, what's your background, what are you doing for a living right now, and why did you choose this field?
Brett Van Hazel: Yeah. So, I'm a mechanical engineer. Graduated 2002 and -- Oh sorry, 2007. And when I got out of school, I started working for the federal government doing project management and I did that for about, I don't know, I think I did that for about seven, eight years, and then I started working for municipalities. First in the city of San Antonio, and then second with the City of Corpus Christi, again, doing project management.
Brett Van Hazel: So, I've been putting off the PE exam for a very long time. I let all the little things get in the way. Family, marriage, you know, job. And, you know, eventually I had to settle down and pull the trigger to take the exam. So I decided finally to take the Civil Construction exama and I was successful using your program.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, let's back up a little bit because I think most people are gonna hear that you're a mechanical engineer and you took the Civil PE exam. So could you walk through a little bit about how you made that decision to take the Civil PE exam? Why not the Mechanical?
Brett Van Hazel: Right. So, I think, you know, ever since I passed the Fundamentals of Engineering exam back in 2010, my plan was always to take the Mechanical PE exam. And I even attempted that a couple years ago and I was unsuccessful. And partially, it was a result of me not practicing in that field. So, my job has always been project management and the majority of my day-to-day job has been in civil type construction.
Brett Van Hazel: But I decided, "Hey, I'm gonna go try the mechanical," you know? I feel like I had a strong, you know, knowledge base and I felt like I could pull it off. And I did take the exam and I did okay, but I didn't do well enough to pass. And then after I took the exam, I took a step back and I said, "Well, let me look at the options out there for the different PEs."
Brett Van Hazel: And I actually started looking at Civil Construction because I said, "Well, what do I do every day?" And I reviewed the different Civil PE options and I finally said, "Well, you know, civil construction sounds a lot like what I do." And I felt like it would be easier for me to jump into that, even though civil is not my background. I felt like I could jump into that and take it on. And I did and I pulled the trigger, you know, taking your course and the material.
Brett Van Hazel: I found, like, the material, the way you taught it, the way it was presented, it wasn't too difficult. I was able to just catch up. You know, there were some areas where I was weak and I was able to use the program, get more acclimated with the material and learn, and the areas that, again, I do on a day-to-day basis, it was just like, you know, it's like being back at the office. So, anyway, I kind of make that transition just because it kind of fit where I was in my job.
Isaac Oakeson: No, that makes sense. I discussed this a little earlier, but I have a friend that also did the same thing. He's a mechanical engineer all through college, but the majority of his work was a little more civil-related, and so he ended up going that route too. So, it's awesome that you were able to do that.
Isaac Oakeson: You mentioned there was some gaps, obviously, in some of the exam prep or maybe just knowledge in topics that maybe you didn't feel like were covered through a degree or work experience. Could you touch on, maybe -- If there's other mechanical engineers that are considering taking the Civil PE, like, which areas of focus were you just like, "I have no knowledge about this" or "I'm gonna have to brush up on this one quite a bit"?
Brett Van Hazel: Well, I know for the civil side, I felt like all the Mechanics of Materials and Statics type problems weren't too much of an issue because even when I studied Mechanical Engineering in school, we actually touched base on a lot of that and I felt comfortable in that. But when I started diving into, like, you know, Water Resources type items or any type of -- Think you got me trying to think back of all the material.
Isaac Oakeson: There's, like, Geotech areas. There's transportation areas.
Brett Van Hazel: Transportaton was definitely new for me. I'd never actually -- You know, I do traffic control plan reviews all the time, but actually coming up with how to do them, looking at stop distances and, you know, looking at the different radiuses, that was new to me. So I had to go in and really learn that.
Isaac Oakeson: But it's definitely doable. So, I mean, if you're out there and you're mechanical and you're working more in a civil environment, you're feeling like, you know, it can be done. I guess, don't feel like you're stuck taking the Mechanical. You're a great example of doing that. So, I think that that's awesome. That's a huge achievement in itself. I don't think I could go back and study for the Mechanical PE. I think that would be a huge challenge. So that's awesome you were able to switch.
Brett Van Hazel: Yeah. I think one of the biggest challenges -- I'm sorry, Isaac. I was just gonna say one of the bigger challenges for me through the process was just squeezing the time in, you know, having a family. Because I have two kids. So, finding that time where I put them to bed and then I go study for two hours every single night was really the key.
Brett Van Hazel: But, you know, the flexibility of your program kind of gives you that because you could do it at your own pace. So, you know, those nights I spent a lot of time on Transportation, I spent a lot of time on Water Resources, trying to figure those things out. Being a mechanical, that stuff was kind of new to me. So I had to just squeeze it in there where I could.
Isaac Oakeson: You bring up a good point. What advice would you give to those that are studying with kids or trying to figure out how the heck they're gonna do this because they do have a family and everybody's time is, you know, eaten up by those things. But, you know, what was your study schedule like? What advice would you give for anybody that has kids or family?
Brett Van Hazel: Well, I'll say the first thing is my wife is very forgiving because, you know, my kind of game plan was come home, dedicate the, you know, one and a half to two hours that I had available with the kids and the wife, and then I put my kids down around 8:30 and by nine o'clock I was in here in front of the computer studying from nine until 11. And, you know, between 11 and 12 I was getting ready for the next day. So, you know, you just have to make the time and put in the effort. And, again, fortunately my wife was very forgiving and was willing to let me do this because, if she made it hard on me, it would be hard on me.
Brett Van Hazel: And then on weekends I would dedicate, you know, at least two to three hours on Saturday or Sunday where I just sat down, tried to do what I could. And then on occasion, even at work, during lunchtime, I may try to just look through some material and learn what I could. Sometimes I would even spend lunch just trying to research maybe some material that I wasn't the strongest on and I would just be compiling the information so that I could look at it at a later time.
Isaac Oakeson: How much time in total -- Or, how many months do you think it took to prep? Because it sounds like you took mechanical, you switched. But how much time, in terms of months, how much time did you prepare for this exam?
Brett Van Hazel: On this exam, I used the full six months. I could have taken it -- I may have been able to take it after month four or fives, but I didn't wanna rush it. So I took the full six months just to study, because I think by month four I had gone through all the material and then, really, between months four and five, I went back through almost every single episode or video, watched it again and then I started going through all the practice problems and taking all the tests.
Brett Van Hazel: So, month six was dedicated to test. Month five was really just rewatching the areas that I thought I was weak on. I would skip through some of the material that I felt good about, but I would still watch. I think you can fast forward through some of the videos, two to three times speed, you know? So sometimes I would just go through them faster just to, you know, just kind of re-acclimate it. I just listened to it. I took the full six months, you know?Just to be safe.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. And remind those listening, what depth exam did you take?
Brett Van Hazel: The depth exam -- You're asking good questions. So I took the civil construction management on the depth.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. So you took the Construction Depth Exam on the PE.
Brett Van Hazel: Right.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome.
Brett Van Hazel: Right.
Isaac Oakeson: I'll have some questions for you about that, but let's start with -- I wanted to ask, how did you even discover Civil Engineering Academy? How did we cross your path?
Brett Van Hazel: So, when I first took the mechanical engineering PE, I was doing a lot of research on Google, trying to find courses that would help me prepare for that exam. And you know, I didn't pass that exam, right? And then afterwards when I started looking at doing civil, I did the same thing. I got on Google, started searching every way I could possibly think of to write, you know, "civil engineering prep." And started looking at different forums, looking at different sites that had recommendations, and I looked through probably six or seven different programs and just kind of compared the feedback across the board, you know?
Brett Van Hazel: I kind of circled back to this one and, honestly, one of the reasons why I picked this one was because I felt like it wasn't as popular as some of the other ones, and I felt like the experience would be more intimate. And that was some of the feedback that I had saw, that you were very responsive, that your team was responsive, and that it would be a little bit easier to work through issues with you. And that's why I ended up selecting this. And I felt like you and your team were easier to get ahold of, get feedback. So it was more of an intimate experience.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. That's good to know. You'll have to point me to some of those forums so I can thank them for some good feedback about course or our site. But yeah, I think you're spot on. I mean, one of the biggest reasons why I've even started this thing is because I wanted to be someone in the trenches that could relate to others going through either the challenges of retaking the exam, or if you're a first-time taker, just trying to wrap your head around everything involved.
Isaac Oakeson: And giving you kind of just what you need in order to pass this; nothing extra. No extra filler. You know, it's not gonna be a college-level course. Everything that we've tried to cram in here is gonna be just what you need to pass this exam. And yeah, you know, sometimes as you get bigger and bigger, you get a little bit out of touch with being relatable to people and answering questions, kind of that at that level. So, I'm glad you mentioned that.
Isaac Oakeson: So, you did some homework, it sounds like, on a lot of other courses. Was that kind of the biggest distinction then in choosing us? Is that you kind of felt like you could get a little better one-on-one attention? Is there anything else that you discovered after you took the course you thought was an interesting thing?
Brett Van Hazel: No, really. I mean, it was the intimacy but also the feedback. A lot of people that I had seen reviews on said that the program was very good and it hit all the marks. And like I said, I honestly could not believe how spot on the material was as compared to the exam. Like, I couldn't believe how close it was. I actually didn't believe it, and when I was taking the exam, I kind of chuckled a couple times. "This is crazy, I can't believe it." Because, you know, when I took the PE --
Isaac Oakeson: Cheat code.
Brett Van Hazel: I had a cheat code, yeah. I took two other programs for the PE exam where I did the Mechanical, and I gotta tell you, they were not very spot on. You know, it was difficult. I got to certain problems on the exam and I was just like, "We never even covered this material." I wasn't prepared and I didn't do as well. But, like I said, your program was, very spot on for the Construction depth.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great to hear.
Brett Van Hazel: So that felt like -- It was one of those where you take the exam and then you finish and you look at the clock and then you're like, "There's gotta be something wrong."
Isaac Oakeson: "I screwed up somewhere."
Brett Van Hazel: "I screwed up. Something's not right." But no, it was good.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome to hear. Well, I love hearing that.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, I'm curious. You know, when you took the exam, for you or for anyone else that may be preparing for the exam, were there any surprises that came across your way or do you feel like we, you know, our course helped prepare you for, I guess, what those surprises may be? Did you feel like you were surprised by anything as you were going through your exam?
Brett Van Hazel: I was actually surprised at the amount of questions they asked from the various reference manuals. I mean, they asked a ton of questions from OSHA that I was surprised about. And admittedly, when I was going through the prep, I didn't really skim through the different manuals to get familiarized with it. I just assumed, "Hey, once I get a question, I'll go to CTRL+F and I'll try to search words and try to isolate the answer."
Brett Van Hazel: But I gotta tell you, when you get into that manual and you look, you're gonna find like a thousand hits on a word. You know, so I had to get really creative in how I search for certain items, and some of them I just couldn't -- You know, because you have a certain amount of time to look at these questions, and if you can't answer, you need to just move on, right?
Brett Van Hazel: So I felt like I spent more time trying to find the right answer on those than I did the actual work problems related to the other topics. So I would just say to someone going to do it, they need to make sure that they're creative on how they search for stuff and be a quick reader.
Isaac Oakeson: You bring up a good point. I wanted to bug you a little bit about this. You bring up the codes and standards that you needed to know for this. Were those things that you studied right along with as you were solving problems? How did you get used to using so many codes and standards? Because the Construction depth exam does have quite a few of them, it seems, that you need for the exam. I'm just curious how you were able to navigate that and was that a challenge knowing you came from mechanical? Or was it just easy to jump into as you were kind of getting familiar with practicing problems and looking through all the standards?
Brett Van Hazel: So, you know, the codes and standards part, I feel like, regardless of what field you are, it could be electrical, civil, mechanical, a lot of those things you can navigate relatively easily regardless of your knowledge base. Now, admittedly, some of them I looked at and I tried to interpret because they would ask questions and I'm like, "Man, I have no idea." They were about a type of bold or a type of bracket, and I was like, "I'm just gonna skip this problem and I'll come back to it." Because some of them referenced to, you know, those codes and standards and I already knew. Right away I was like, "There's no way I'm gonna find this." You know, "I've never even dealt with this." So I just moved past it.
Brett Van Hazel: For the ones that were more of, you know, you're just looking up an answer in the book, those are the ones that I attacked. And like I said, you don't really have to have any history dealing with that in order to find it. You just have to be creative on how you try to find these things. And when I was going through the prep, getting ahead of the exam -- I didn't have to deal with that too much. Again, your study material captured everything I really needed to know. But I did familiarize myself with the setup ahead of the exam.
Brett Van Hazel: So like, I actually went to the website they have it where you, you know, you can set up, you can actually see what the exam's gonna be like. I think even your practice exam that you provide, the configuration is the same, you can kind of play with it and get familiarized. So, all that I was ready for. I think I just wasn't prepared for the amount of questions. It was probably up to 15 that I had to deal with.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. We try to help people understand that. You know, you're gonna get thrown quite a few of those theory kind of problems where you're gonna have to use your engineering judgment, or if you can find anything in your codes or references, you know, how to quickly find those. Because they can be really easy to solve if you can reason them out. But they can also be quite a headache if you're gonna miss them.
Isaac Oakeson: But yeah, there's quite a bit of them, right. There's probably 12 to 15 in the morning and probably the same amount in the afternoon, and sometimes they're a challenge. I always hear feedback that that wasn't usually engineers' favorite parts about the exam.
Isaac Oakeson: Could you tell me about the day you got your results? What was that day like for you?
Brett Van Hazel: Oh! I literally check my email every single day waiting to see that email come in. And the day I got the results, I was actually in a meeting and I was checking my email. I felt my phone vibrate, right? I had a look in my email and I see the headline and I just immediately was anxious. You know, it was hard for me to stay focused for the rest of that meeting.
Brett Van Hazel: But when I did go open it up, I was just extremely relieved. I gotta be honest, I was burned out. You know, I studied probably about a year when I took the PE the first time for the ME. For various reasons, I ended up studying for almost a year to take it. And doing that every night for a year, it completely burnt me out.
Brett Van Hazel: And I had just finished my master's degree before that. So, for a year and a half, I had been studying every night doing that. So, I took a little break. I started studying for this again and I was just like, "If I don't pass this, I don't know what I'm gonna do," you know? Because I'm just so exhausted. So, it was a huge relief to see that email and see that I had passed and it was just like a weight lifted it off my shoulders.
Isaac Oakeson: I know we love hearing about it when you share with us.
Brett Van Hazel: And it was even better too because I had such -- You know, my work family is my work family. I have, you know, 40 plus employees that work for me and they were all super supportive as soon as they found out that I had passed, you know? I mean, literally everybody was coming up to congratulate me and it was just nice to have that support, and the wife and family. So it was a long road; I took the long one. I waited 15 years to get my PE and it doesn't get easier trying to learn this after you get out of school.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. How do you see -- I mean, for those considering getting the PE, for Civils, it's almost like a must, you know? But how do you see that helping you in your career or your goals?
Brett Van Hazel: Yeah. So, I think for me, for a long time, having my PE, because I'm not a practicing engineer, I'm not out there doing any type of design work, it wasn't as critical. So I was able to just continue with the on the job experience and work on some of my other certifications. Like, I have my Project Manager Professional certification, I got my SE. But because I was working in the government, my track was really just kind of work my way up the ladder. And again, the PE wasn't a requirement.
Brett Van Hazel: But now, I'm at that point in my life that, if I want to go to the next level, I do need my `PE. It's another box I have to check. So it was really important for me now, even though I should have gotten it a long time ago. It's really important for me now to have it so that I can continue my progression. And, you know, years down the road, if I ever try to [inaudible] leave the government, having the PE is gonna be, like, a requirement. I'm not gonna be able to get those important critical jobs without having it. I mean, it's not even an option.
Brett Van Hazel: Like, for example, with the municipalities, in order for you to be, like, a Director of Engineering, you have to have your PE because you have other PEs working under you. So it's a condition of the job. So that's kind of, you know, my current track is to work up to that level and beyond.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, yeah. It's definitely a good thing to get. I think it'll be a springboard to launching your career to areas maybe you haven't been to, and hopefully with that, you get more raises and all of that fun stuff too. So it comes along with it.
Isaac Oakeson: Do you have any other advice for anybody who's currently preparing for the PE exam?
Brett Van Hazel: Oh, I would say just hang in there and, you know, don't get discouraged. I can't tell you how many times that I wanted to do anything other than study some nights. But the best thing you can do is just bunker down and hit it. And also too, for me I used motivation. Like, I knew that this is something I had to do not only for me but for my family, and there was other people around me that were waiting for me to get my PE license because they have plans for me too. You know, some of my bosses and their bosses, I didn't wanna let them down.
Brett Van Hazel: So, I'd say find whatever motivation you have to find to keep you going. It's not easy, but -- It's so much easier once it's done. [Inaudible], you can actually relax. You know, it's funny, Isaac. Now, it's like, I don't even know what to do with myself. Like, I come home, the kids go to sleep and it's like, "what do I do?" Like, "I don't even know how to live."
Isaac Oakeson: Well, you don't have to study. You get to do something else for a little while, ok? Do relax. That's awesome. Well, good tips, great advice for anybody going through this. Any mechanicals that are out there, and even civils, you know? If you're hitting the wall, you're taking this multiple times, don't get off the train. You know, once it's done, it's done and you just need to get your continuing ed up. But it can be done. Just keep going forward. So great motivation there.
Isaac Oakeson: I wanted to ask you what was maybe your favorite part about the course, The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course?
Brett Van Hazel: Well, favorite part? Probably the video questions. I've always been a fan of doing problems. I don't know why. I've always loved doing problems because I feel like that's how I learned better sometimes than just actually watching like one of the webinars. So, going through the problems helps me way better. So I actually went through those so many times, printed them out and did them on my own, and then checked the answers. I feel like that's probably one of the main reasons I passed, was going through the problem questions and just working them out.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. Well, the course is The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course. You can find it on our website, civilengineeringacademy.com. You can also go straight to the site. It's called civilpereviewcourse.com. You know, it comes with all the lectures. We've got tons of video practice problems in there. We try to prepare you with plenty of exams, too. We give you a couple breath exams, we give you your depth exam, we also give you that CBT exam simulator, and lots of other goodies.
Isaac Oakeson: You know, homework schedule to try to hold you by the hand and kind of create a schedule for you. We do workshops, live workshops there. I don't know if you were able to join those, but we do those too. And then, obviously the support. So it's got a private community tagged onto that, and you can blast away. It's very supportive. I don't know if you noticed that, but it's very active with people that are in the same boat taking the exam. You celebrate with people, people that maybe haven't passed, you know, you're able to talk to them and keep encouraging them to keep going. Anyway, it's good stuff. So check it out: civilengineeringacademy.com.
Isaac Oakeson: Brett, anything else you wanted to add to this? Any last second tips? And if anybody else had any questions, is there a good way they could reach out to you?
Brett Van Hazel: Yeah. So first off, just good luck everyone. I know you can do it. Isaac and his team are phenomenal. Just stick with it. You guys will get it. And, Isaac, I appreciate you and your team. It was great experience. I wouldn't have done it without you guys, and extremely appreciate it. That's why I'm here today. I can't say thank you enough, so I appreciate this.
Brett Van Hazel: And if anybody wanted to reach out to me, email is [email protected], and you can also find me on LinkedIn. My full name is Brett Van Hazel. Thanks, Isaac, I appreciate it!
Isaac Oakeson: Thank you so much for doing this. I can't wait to hear more about your career. This PE will launch you into different areas, but excited for your future. Thanks for jumping on with me today, and have a good weekend.
Brett Van Hazel: Thanks, Isaac, I appreciate it.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. See you.
Brett Van Hazel: Thank you. Thank you. Bye-bye.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Other Great Content