Faces of Freese and Nichols: Heather Keister, PE
This is the next part in a series spotlighting the people who make Freese and Nichols what it is today.
Lubbock Engineer Heather Keister, PE, knows West Texas well, but more importantly she knows the people.
Growing up in San Angelo, graduating from Texas Tech and spending all of her 16-year career in West Texas, she knows firsthand the importance of relationships.
“West Texas is very relationship-focused. I enjoy getting to know clients and their families,” she said. “This region can feel very removed from other parts of the state, leading many to think that we’re out here on our own. We have an independent spirit and help one another. This makes working here very fulfilling and enjoyable in that we get the opportunity to make an impact on communities with people we not only work with but are closely tied to.”
She’s involved in her community with the Texas Society of Professional Engineers and the Texas Floodplain Management Association. She currently volunteers with United Way and is on the Women United steering committee, raising awareness about child abuse and neglect in the Lubbock area. She also enjoys volunteering with her daughter as part of National Charity League. She graduated from Leadership Lubbock and was recognized by Texas Legislature as TSPE South Plains Chapter Young Engineer of the Year in 2013.
How would you sum up what you do?
I help communities meet their needs through infrastructure-related projects. My goal is to not only help them function better but also to thrive and grow.
What kind of projects do you work on?
I have the great opportunity to work on and manage projects in a wide range of disciplines – planning, treatment, utilities, stormwater, transportation and construction management. I love working in and leading multidiscipline teams and interacting with clients in all these different areas.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m a terrible cook, but love to watch cooking shows, I love cheesy rap music from the ‘90s (I sing along in my car on the way to work), and I was a dancer for 10 years before trading that in for soccer cleats.
How does Freese and Nichols compare to other firms in West Texas?
Although some may think of Freese and Nichols as a “big Dallas firm” we have been working in West Texas for most of our 125 year history. We understand clients want to work with people they trust, enjoy, and know understand them. This reinforces why Freese and Nichols works hard to develop regional expertise and relationships. We are building our office with people who love and understand West Texas. Because we also work in other places and we focus internally on relationships, we commonly match up national quality expertise with unique local challenges through the project teams we assemble for the benefit of our clients, because that is what it is about.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
To me, the engineering is relatively straightforward most of the time. It’s how you work with different people to get things done, solve challenges and conflicts and get things built. My absolute favorite part is working in groups who at first glance appear to have very little in common, to find connections and making improvements, and to get things done.
How do you handle adversity?
I love this quote from Jim Watkins, I think when encountering adversity it is most important to remember why you started and to never quit. “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” As engineers we can see the power of water in what we do, so I think this is a great visual.
What’s your favorite part about working at Freese and Nichols?
People. People are the best part of Freese and Nichols. Similar to West Texans we treat each other well, from the bottom to the top. We work together and on occasion play together. If you are somewhere that the people you are working with aren’t your favorite part, then you are at the wrong place. Just like Freese and Nichols, West Texas people are the best people. I truly am honored to have the opportunity to serve our clients.
What’s your advice for young professionals trying to get into the industry?
I’m passionate about being involved in your community. So much of what we do is funded, decided and discussed at the city/grassroots level and not many people pay attention.
I once compiled a list of the things I would have loved to have been told as a student for a presentation to young women at Texas Tech:
- A workplace culture is what unites people
- Make yourself irreplaceable – don’t focus on getting a position; instead, focus on becoming a vital member of the team
- Identify someone you want to learn from and do it intentionally
- Your boss, mentor, and confidant can each provide unique and important help as you grow
- Identify and use an outlet in a healthy way
- Being well-rounded is important – my engineer traits help make me a better wife/mom/volunteer/citizen and my wife/mom/volunteer/citizen traits make me a better engineer; develop as a whole person
- Recognizing stereotypical habits – barriers to growth
- Be an encourager, the world has enough critics – this is especially true for women as we need to be better to one another
- Timing is a factor to opportunity – work hard to put yourself in a position to be lucky
- Own your path