Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Thomas Shay

ShayName: Thomas Shay ’06

Education (UR and additional): BS (Geomechanics), University of Rochester, 2006; MBA (Strategic Management), Pace University, 2011

Current city/state of residence: Norwalk, CT

Job Title: Civil Engineer/Project Technical Specialist

Employer: Woodard & Curran

Family: Krista (wife) and Finley (dog)


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?  

I originally learned about the University of Rochester when I was being recruited to play football. I had attended a couple other college visits but when I got to the University of Rochester it just felt like the right place for me. The Campus was beautiful, just the right size, exceptional academics, and the opportunity to play football…a recipe for success.

When and how did you choose your major?  

I decided sometime later on in high school that being a doctor was way too much school. I was always competent and interested in math and science so I ultimately decided on engineering. I narrowed that down to mechanical engineering prior to arriving at the University of Rochester and then stumbled upon the geomechanics major once I decided that I was most interested in civil, geotechnical, and environmental engineering (all programs that were not actually offered by the University of Rochester). I had no interest in transferring so I was hopeful that the geomechanics degree program would lead me to a job in civil, geotechnical, or environmental engineering, which it ultimately did.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved with the football program over the course of my four years at Rochester. This was a very enlightening and rewarding experience for me. A few things that my college football experience taught me were how to manage my time effectively, that I had to have confidence in myself, the importance of sacrifice, and that what you get out of something depends on what you put in.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

I decided that I was ready to take the next step in my life and get a job after graduating. I figured that this is what I had gone to college for and now it was time to get a return on my investment. In January or February of my senior year, I successfully interviewed for and was offered a position as an engineer with an engineering consulting firm in White Plains, NY. I started working in June as an entry level civil/environmental engineer and later specialized in site/civil engineering which is what I currently do today. I am currently involved with the planning, permitting, design, and construction oversight of various private and municipal site development projects.

How do you balance your work and personal life?

Balancing work and my personal life is certainly a challenge, especially when you begin to develop a family, in my case a wife and a dog. I like to think of engineering consulting, or any profession for that matter, as a lifestyle decision. It is important to understand as best as possible the different demands that your profession will put on your life. In my case, I may have to attend public meeting in the evenings, work over the weekend to finish a project to meet a deadline, or travel long distance for projects for an extended period of time. At times this makes it a challenge to keep a routine for things such as recreational activities or to simply get home in time for dinner. It is important to maintain a flexible schedule and to take advantage of free time when it becomes available.

What advice do you have for current students?

Take the decision of choosing a major very seriously. Think about the types of jobs that are available for that specific major, whether those jobs will be around in the future, and if you can see yourself doing that job for the next thirty or fourty years of your life.

The Elusive Geomechanics Major

By Dan Wang ’14
Univ. Communications

Out of the more than 4,500 full-time undergrads at the University of Rochester, exactly three are pursuing a major in geomechanics. Just who are these brave few?

The trio is made up of very different students: a freshman from Kingston, Jamaica who emphasizes her environmentalism; a junior who went to high school in Rochester and would like to work on an oil platform or for an oilfield services company; and a Take 5 scholar from outside of New York City who would like to do fieldwork to study seismology and geothermal energy.

But first, what kind of degree are they pursuing? The bachelor of science degree in geomechanics is a program run jointly between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department. An interdisciplinary major, completing geomechanics also means taking classes in math, physics, and chemistry.  Lisa Norwood ’86, ’95, assistant dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and a former geomechenics major, describes the program this way, “The curriculum emphasizes the application of the principles of mechanics to problems associated with the atmosphere, the oceans, and the solid earth.”

Kayon Ellis ’16 has not yet declared her geomechanics (geomech) major, but she’s quite set on pursuing it. Ellis comes by way of Jamaica, and this is her first year living in the United States. A commitment to environmentalism and an analysis of basin sediments in streams prior to coming to Rochester propelled her to study geomechanics. “I find the study of the earth fascinating,” says Ellis. “You just can’t study anything in isolation; you have to analyze the whole system.”

Two years ahead, Michael Grotke ’14 has different goals in mind. Grotke grew up in Tucson, Arizona and attended high school in Rochester. On campus, he works part-time for the Earth and Environmental Science Lab, and is a member of the SA Appropriations Committee. What does he see himself doing? “I hope to use this degree towards a career in the oil and natural gas industry, most likely shale-gas and crude oil exploration.” The companies he’d like to apply his geomech training to include Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and Halliburton.

Skipping two more years ahead, the final geomech major is Brian Castro ’12 (T5). Though he had a hard time deciding between studying physics and mechanical engineering, he has embraced the geomech major with vigor. Castro also has extensive experience in fieldwork. Research on geothermal energy took him to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and, as part of an NSF-sponsored program, to work at a geosciences research company in New Zealand. He also conducted seismic research at the University, in Professor Cynthia Ebinger’s lab. Castro’s interests are more academic, and he’d like to further study seismology, geothermal energy, and planetary science.

The major is robust enough to accommodate all of these interests. Dean Norwood sees no shortage of ways to use the geomech major. “Career opportunities include work with the U.S. Geological Survey and with departments of natural resources or environmental protection at the federal, state, and county levels; with the oil and mineral resources industries; and in multidisciplinary private consulting firms engaged in geological engineering.”