Engineering The Future
ARCADIS’ Wassim Selman draws on past service to solve tomorrow’s problems
Had it not been for a Georgia Tech engineer working in his father’s mechanical engineering firm in Lebanon, Wassim Selman might never have come to Georgia.
“My father hired many engineers and once hired a Georgia Tech grad whom he said was the best engineer he ever hired,” Selman says. “When I was going to college to become an engineer, it made sense to go to Georgia Tech.”
The 47-year-old Tech grad, who holds three degrees including a doctorate in civil engineering, is now a senior vice president with ARCADIS, a 50-year-old worldwide project management, consultancy and engineering services firm developing projects in the public and private sectors. Headquartered in Colorado, ARCADIS has three offices in Georgia – two in Atlanta and one in Augusta.
“My role with ARCADIS is to manage all our work here in Georgia,” Selman says. “Everything from business development to recruiting to managing resources.”
Though he considered teaching after earning his degrees, Selman knew he needed practical experience. In 1986, he dove into the public sector as Clayton County’s transportation officer.
“It was great experience being in the trenches,” he says. “I was working with citizens, governments, developers, learning about the community’s needs and solving problems.”
Selman oversaw all traffic engineering and transportation issues, from planning to operations. Working on a county level gave him a strong foundation, but his focus shifted to the bigger picture, when he moved to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).
“I wanted to see where this community fit into the larger picture and that needed to be done on the regional level,” he says. “I learned about funding and the roles and relationships between different agencies whether federal, state, regional or county. I learned about the processes of getting things done and who does what.”
While with the ARC, Selman chaired the Regional Incident Management Task Force, the group whose recommendations developed the Incident Management Handbook used by state and local transportation officials. Ideas generated by the task force led to such services as the Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) units and the NaviGAtor system.
Selman remained with the ARC until 1994. He consulted for two years before joining ARCADIS in 1996. “Most of our work is with the public sector,” he says. “Because of my experience in the public sector, I felt I could really help each side understand what the other was saying. Anytime two entities, whether individuals or companies or governments, are dealing with each other they have their own agenda. It helps to have someone along who understands the agenda of the other entity.”
ARCADIS currently has more than 200 projects in Georgia, ranging from transportation planning and watershed management to storm water infrastructure inventory and environmental remediation. “We are managing a project titled ‘Revive 285 top end’ where we are helping the Georgia DOT evaluate and select a preferred solution to congestion along the top end of I-285 [between I-85 and I-75],” he says.
Although ARCADIS is involved in developing land and creating infrastructure, the corporate philosophy is considered eco-friendly. Sustainability and quality of life are more than buzzwords here. “The name ARCADIS comes from the Arcadia, which in Greek mythology is the nicest or best place to live,” Selman says. “The company’s logo is the salamander, which lives only in a clean environment on land and in water.”
Communication is vital to ARCA-DIS. “We ask a lot of questions [of a community],” he says. “‘Why do you need this?’ ‘What do you want to accomplish with this transportation or water system?’ We listen to what they want and provide our expertise to their long term needs. We’re in the people business. What we deliver to the client isn’t a product that is manufactured but a need which is fulfilled.”
Selman holds definite opinions about how Metro Atlanta might address regional transportation issues. “Infrastructure should be built before it’s needed,” he says, adding that the traditional “building horizon” of 20 years out should be extended to what he calls the “ultimate horizon.”
“And we ought to identify needs for people of the future, not those of today,” he says.