Edward Schmeltz, a Senior VP at AECOM, is Named an NCE Outstanding Alumnus

Edward Schmeltz is one of the foremost marine civil engineers in the U.S.

Edward Schmeltz is one of the foremost marine civil engineers in the nation as well as a senior executive at the largest transportation engineering company in the U.S.

Currently he serves as a senior vice president and director of maritime and special projects at AECOM.  Headquartered in Los Angeles and New York, AECOM is a leading provider of professional technical and management support services for public and private clients in more than 150 countries.  It’s a Fortune 500 company with 45,000 employees and revenue last year of $8.1 billion. 

Schmeltz graduated from NJIT in 1971 with a degree in mechanical engineering.  In those days, he was a bit of a car freak, which explains his major, but he also loved the ocean and loved to scuba dive. So after NJIT, he went to Texas A&M to do a master’s degree in coastal and ocean engineering.  He later rose through the ranks of AECOM and its legacy companies during the course of his career. He has more than 35 years of experience in coastal engineering, the planning and design of ports, harbors and marine facilities as well as breakwaters and other coastal structures.

During his years at AECOM, he’s accumulated a portfolio of marine civil engineering projects matched by few others in the profession: He has been responsible for the design of some of the world’s major marine projects, such as the Pier 400 Development at the Port of Los Angeles, one of the largest landfill projects ever undertaken in the United States. He was also involved in the design for the Breakwater Reconstruction at the Port of Sines in Portugal, and is currently involved in the design of a $7.5 Billion greenfield port development in Doha, Qatar. 

But it’s been his work to bolster national security that has distinguished his career. His work with the U.S. Navy has been especially noteworthy. He was responsible for the design of berthing and support facilities for the battleships U.S.S. Iowa in New York Harbor and the U.S.S. Missouri in Pearl Harbor.

Additionally, he led the design of channel improvements for nuclear aircraft carriers in San Diego; berthing and support facilities for Trident nuclear submarines in Kings Bay, Georgia, and magnetic silencing facilities in classified locations that improved security for U.S. Naval vessels deployed around the world.  He also oversaw design for the restoration of Whiskey Island, a barrier island that buttresses New Orleans. The restoration is helping to ensure that New Orleans is never again devastated by a Katrina-like disaster.

Yet despite his myriad achievements, Schmeltz is humble -- quick to heap praise on his profession – not himself.

“Engineering is a noble profession and a wonderful job to have,” he says. “We leave things behind us that are of value. We make the world a better place when we finish projects -- that’s what we do for a living.  Engineers make people’s lives better.”

In this interview, Schmeltz, who was recently named an Outstanding Alumnus by the Newark College of Engineering (NCE), discusses his distinguished career and how the college prepared him to succeed.

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What was NCE like when you were a student?

NJIT was a good value in those days, and I was first in my family to go to college.  I commuted for a while from Chatham, and then lived in a fraternity, Kappa Xi Kappa. I also had a few part-time jobs to help pay my way through.  One of the jobs I had was working on the old loading docks in Secaucus with the Teamsters. I worked the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift. It wasn’t glamorous work but I made more money at that job than I did at my first engineering job.

What about the academics at NJIT?

I studied very hard, harder than I ever did before or after. Frankly, when I went to grad school at Texas A&M the work-load there was somewhat lighter than what it was at NJIT.  So I was more than prepared for graduate studies. 

Did your education here help you do well in your career?

NJIT produces some of the best engineers I know. They are practical, nuts-and-bolts engineers, and I’m one of them. The training and education I received at NJIT has been extremely useful to me during my entire career. 

How did you ascend to be senior vice president of a major international company?

I think if anything it’s my technical capability, maybe mixed with some persistence. NJIT helped me develop those characteristics. These days I do a lot of marketing, and working with clients and managing projects. But at the end of the day, I’m a technical guy. All of us at AECOM, if asked, will say we are first and foremost engineers, architects or planners. Even Albert Dorman, the founding chairman of AECOM, and the man who endowed the Honors College at NJIT, will tell you he’s an engineer. 

Speaking of which, you are a member of the Albert Dorman Honors College Board of Visitors. What do you think of the students in the college?

I’m just glad I don’t have to compete with them. I don’t think I’d make it into the college or out of it.  I work in Manhattan and live in Connecticut, so I come to campus for board meetings. I’m very impressed with the students, who often give us presentations of their research projects. They have technical skills and communication skills and many are working on research that could one day be commercialized.  We have hired some of them as interns and employees at AECOM, and they’ve been great employees.

How do you feel about being named an NCE Outstanding Alumnus?

I’m flattered.  I’m aghast they couldn’t find someone more deserving than me.  Joking aside, I’ve been lucky to have worked in 37 countries and 21 states, and I think my work has done some good. I’ve designed hurricane protection systems on the southern shore of Long Island, and done flood insurance studies all over the northeast, both before Sandy and after. I’ve worked on dozens of ports around the world, either designing new ones or rehabbing others.  It’s work that boosts economic development and helps people.  In the end, that’s what engineers do: Make people’s lives better. 

By Robert Florida