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A “SHARED” vision leads to uncharted territory

Being open to and sharing new ideas is helping our environmental team think outside the box

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Submitted by Mike Vukman (Walnut Creek, CA)

Life is short. As such, I have always tried to align my personal and professional interests to better understand the complex time and space I find myself living in. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the way water moved. Water is fluid, soft, and yielding, yet it will wear away rock, which is rigid. Naturally, I wanted to learn more about this “soft is strong” paradox. As a result, since 2002, I have been trying to further understand this through my personal (fly fishing and martial arts) and my professional (fluvial geomorphology and applied river restoration) endeavors.
 
On a professional level, for the past three years, I have had an invaluable opportunity to work with some of the leading river restoration practitioners in the world. Internally, as a group within Stantec, we attempt to transcend the typical boundaries that often serve as barriers (i.e., international borders, geographies, disciplines, etc.) while attempting to follow traditional growth and expansion. Within the larger engineering field, we find ourselves precariously perched on the edge of an inherent contradiction: we want to remain on the cutting edge of a newly emerging science, but we’re simultaneously working to establish engineering standards within a relatively new field. It’s a paradox similar to that of the power and resiliency of water.  
 
With that practical awareness of the lessons water provides all of us on a daily basis, our stream restoration group has adopted what we think is a pretty unique and unconventional mindset to our work – one that we embrace as a core value. We call it our “SHARED” philosophy:

Share knowledge with humility.
Have patience and discernment for innovation.
Advocate for excellence.
Respect the risk and uncertainty found within river systems.
Empower, challenge, and question.
Document and learn from unexpected results.

I’ve particularly seen this philosophy come to life in our expanding work in the Oil & Gas market. To “share knowledge with humility”, one of my colleagues was helping teach a class on river restoration that included various oil and gas industry staff. Although he was solely teaching the class to “advocate for excellence” within this field, he ended up being eagerly pursued by one of the students, a pipeline integrity coordinator, to see how our group could help his company with a few of their exposed pipeline stream crossings. While discussing their current approach to streambeds and streambed erosion rates and how they impact their pipeline crossings, my colleague and I had to “have patience and discernment for innovation” as we explained how our unconventional geomorphic-based approach to their issues would greatly reduce their collective risks.

Since a geomorphic-based approach to such a complex suite of issues is not the traditional way this industry would tackle them, my colleague and I have been continually “empowering, challenging, and questioning” each step to help ourselves and our client think outside of the box and deploy the best available science to solve their issues without forgetting to “respect the risk and uncertainty found within river systems.” Throughout this entire process, I intend to “document and learn from unexpected results” so we can apply our lessons learned to our continued work with oil and gas clients. Thanks to our SHARED philosophy, we’re helping lead a revolutionary approach for addressing the risks associated with exposed pipeline stream crossings throughout North America and beyond.

Taking our lessons from water, we continue to yield and remain flexible to our circumstances. By maintaining transparency with our clients and ourselves and practicing a “SHARED” philosophy, our group will humbly remain on the cutting edge of this growing field while continuing to develop a successful business practice within Stantec. Our passion and dedication will continue to guide us into the future of this new and emerging science.

Mike Vukman is a senior environmental scientist and project manager based in Walnut Creek, CA.

Thanks to our SHARED philosophy, we’re helping lead a revolutionary approach for addressing risks associated with pipeline stream crossings.

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