George Nechwort Sr.
George Nechwort Sr., of Sangerfield, NY, has helped to maintain the Panama Canal, supervise construction of pipelines, power plants and refinery process units, and direct major bridge and highway projects. His long and varied career in civil engineering has taken him to Liberia, the Dominican Republic and Argentina. Nechwort, who graduated in 1941 from what is now NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering (NCE), was the recent recipient of one of six annual NJIT Alumni Achievement Awards.His career began in a cooking class at Newark’s Barringer High School.
Although Nechwort’s father had his own business building truck bodies and painting cars, it was the Great Depression, and the family faced financial hardships like many other Americans. The prospect of access to the ingredients for some good meals and an interest in the culinary skills needed to enjoy them prompted Nechwort and several friends to propose the creation of a Boys’ Cooking Class at Barringer. The class was approved, and being the first of its kind in New Jersey, it garnered attention that included a story in one of the area’s leading newspapers, The Newark Star-Ledger.
“Each month, we were also expected to prepare and serve a special meal, with teachers invited as guests of honor and one boy acting as host,” Nechwort says. “By chance, I was the host when the school’s principal was a guest. He asked me about my plans after graduation, and I said I had thought about studying civil engineering but that my family couldn’t afford to send me to college. He then told me about a program at nearby Newark College of Engineering that provided loans and part-time jobs to help students such as myself continue their education.”
This advice led Nechwort to enroll at Newark College of Engineering, the predecessor institution at NJIT. His tuition and other expenses were covered by working a few hours three days a week managing the use of lab equipment for evening chemistry students and by a loan from the owner of the service station where he worked on weekends. A highlight of Nechwort’s NCE years was the scholarship he won that allowed him to travel to Maine for a summer program in advanced surveying organized by MIT. The skills he acquired would serve him very well in the years to come.
World War II was already raging in Europe when Nechwort graduated in 1941, and he quickly found work as a quality supervisor at a company producing aircraft parts in East Orange. Through a college friend, he learned of a more attractive opportunity — a position with the Special Engineering Division of the Panama Canal Company. For the duration of the war, Nechwort had a wide range of surveying and dredging assignments essential for ensuring that this vital transportation artery would serve the U.S. and its allies with maximum efficiency.
After the war, Nechwort embarked on a succession of increasingly responsible assignments at various firms. These would involve him with infrastructure development in this country and abroad, beginning with bridge and highway projects in Liberia. Over the years, he gained certification as a Professional Engineer in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. His expertise also earned recognition as a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Nechwort can look back with pride on projects that include surveying the route of a natural gas pipeline across New Jersey, completing construction of the Second Delaware Memorial Bridge and reconstruction of the First Delaware Memorial Bridge. Argentina’s first highway project under the U.S. Alliance for Progress program was completed with his supervision. He has also improved daily life for millions of people through upgrades to highways in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Nechwort attributes much of his success as an engineer to his willingness to learn from talented people working at every level, in every craft. To students and recent graduates, he says: “Be willing to listen to everyone you work with, no matter what their job may be. Their ideas will surprise you.”