Charlestown resident continues family legacy with engineering degree at URI

Posted on
KINGSTON, R.I. – May 13, 2009 – Mark Dowdell knew from an early age that he wanted to be an engineer. His father owns an engineering business, and his brother is an engineer as well. As Dowdell prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island’s International Engineering Program, he looks forward to continuing his family’s engineering legacy.

“I just think that I have the right mind for engineering,” said Dowdell, a resident of Charlestown. “And a high percentage of people with engineering degrees get good jobs; they’re always in demand.”

The URI student chose to pursue a degree in civil engineering because he considers it to be the most practical of the engineering disciplines.

“Everything in the world is civil engineering,” he explained. “The buildings, the roads, everything below the ground, everything is designed by civil engineers. So I thought it would be a cool field to get into, and a very secure field at the same time. Plus, I ended up enjoying the curriculum.”

His enthusiasm for engineering even carried over to his choice of a foreign language to study. He chose German, in part because “Germany has a very engineering-type of culture. The way they hold themselves, they’re always very orderly.”

As part of his education, Dowdell spent five months studying at the Technical University of Braunschweig, in Germany, and six months interning at the structural engineering firm Zublin in Stuttgart.

“Most of the time I got really interesting jobs to do,” he said. “I worked with a doctor on a book he was writing about prefabricated concrete structures; I worked on the reconstruction of a mall that had been damaged; and I did a lot of design work. My main project was as a plan manager for a skyscraper they were building in Frankfurt.”

Dowdell’s biggest challenge came in feeling confident in his German language skills.

“It wasn’t as hard as everyone thinks, but it was definitely difficult,” he said. “The biggest advice I could give is to just jump into it. Forget the fact that you sound like an idiot when you’re speaking, forget that the Germans are saying to themselves, ‘Oh, man, we’ve got another American.’ Everybody was great, they helped us learn, they were very patient, and I ended up making a lot of friends there.”

Upon his return from Germany, Dowdell became an ambassador for the URI International Engineering Program, assisting at open houses and other events and spreading the word about the value of the University’s most notable engineering program.

Next up for the new URI graduate will be a full-time job at Pare Engineering Corp. in Lincoln. Dowdell recently accepted a position there as an environmental engineer, a job that will find him helping the company address water run-off and other environmental issues at the Johnston landfill, among other projects.

He hopes to someday earn his professional engineering certification and go to graduate school, but for now he said he’s just happy to have a job. Eventually, though, he may join his father’s engineering business.

“Or maybe not,” Dowdell said. “Who knows where my current job will take me. One thing I do know is that some day I’d like to start a business and run my own company.”