Mitchell Burnaugh describes his younger self as a “nerdy” kid whose fixation on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel led him to engineering.
“As a child I knew I wanted to be an engineer from watching television shows like Mythbusters, American Muscle and American Chopper,” Mitchell said. “I was always watching something that was engineering-related or something that was being built.”
Mitchell was also inspired by his father who was a self-employed general contractor in the construction industry for 35 years. In fact, Mitchell’s first job was working for his father as a contractor, which he did for 10 years before joining Freese and Nichols.
“I’ve always been hands on and always wanted to build things,” he said. “It was a natural career path to go into something engineering-related. In the beginning, I didn’t know what aspect of the engineering field I would end up in. I just knew I wanted to be involved with engineering and that’s how I landed at Freese and Nichols.”
After earning his CADD Certification from a community college, he was ready to transition out of the contracting field. He applied at Freese and Nichols and the rest is history.
Mitchell joined Freese and Nichols nine years ago as a CADD Technician and progressed to Designer I. He designs sanitary waste, domestic water, and fire suppression systems.
Mitchell decided to go back to school a few years ago, and in May he graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His next steps will be to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and then the PE exam after completing the experience requirements to become a licensed professional engineer.
Tell us about your work. What kinds of projects do you typically work on?
I’m considered a plumbing designer. Our team designs sanitary waste, domestic water, and fire suppression systems for pump station projects and facility projects. We work with both municipal and federal clients designing plumbing for administration and dorm buildings. I really enjoy the larger dorm or administration building projects because they’re more complex. A two- or three-story building will often require five or six restrooms on each story. I like a challenge.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
After spending hours designing something on paper, I love seeing our hard work come to life. When we go out on a site inspection, it’s rewarding to see what we’ve designed in person. Of course, the plumbing work eventually gets covered up, but to be able to see the final product is exciting to me.
What is your favorite part about working at Freese and Nichols?
The culture at Freese and Nichols is one of my favorite things about working here. The work environment is easy-going. With that being said, there are still stressful days and projects that require extra attention, but that doesn’t define my work experience. Above everything, I really enjoy the people I work with in my group and in my office. They make all the difference.
How does Freese and Nichols compare to other firms?
I was president of one of our local plumbing engineering groups and made connections with a lot of other firms, so, I have a good idea of how other firms work. Some of them only care about getting the work done. It doesn’t matter how many hours you’re working, whether you’re happy or not, the projects must get done. While Freese and Nichols cares equally about putting out a quality product and taking care of our clients, the firm also places a high priority on the well-being of its employees. That’s why I appreciate the work culture at Freese and Nichols.
What’s your advice for young professionals trying to get into the industry?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’d rather someone spend two hours asking me questions, than spend the whole day sitting there getting frustrated. I probably should’ve asked more questions when I was younger and now, I’m a little wiser. I still ask a ton of questions of my senior designers and engineers.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I build hot rods in my spare time. I have three air-cooled Volkswagens and two Ford trucks. My love for cars came from working with my dad as well. He had an old air-cooled Volkswagen Dune Buggy that I grew up riding in, and we restored that vehicle. Then I got my own and moved up to bigger and better hot rods. I have a 1962 Ford F-100 that’s been on the road for a year now. It took four years to build. I have another 1950 Ford truck that I plan to work on in the future.
What are your some of your favorite times spent with your colleagues?
Anytime I have a long-distance site visit with other members of my group, it’s a fun time. When we go out on site visits and we’re looking at pump stations or other facilities, it’s a little more interesting than just sitting in the office. We typically have fun conversations on the way to the site. When we’re done with the project for the day, we’ll go to dinner and maybe find a place that has some beers. We’ll just hang out casually after work, and I think those are good times.
What do you do for fun?
My daughter is only five months old right now, and this is my first child. We’re hitting a steep learning curve with her, and I’m watching her grow and seeing her change daily. She’s now starting to reach out and grab for stuff. It just happened overnight. That’s something fun that we’re watching. We recently started feeding her baby food, and that’s something new. If I’m not working on the cars, I’m taking care of my daughter, which is a whole new experience.
What opportunities have you had for continuous learning?
I’m thankful to Freese and Nichols for giving me the opportunity to go back to school. I didn’t intend on going back to school when I started at Freese and Nichols. It just so happened that my wife started a job at the University of North Texas. She gets a very good spousal scholarship, which essentially cut my class cost to 10% of the actual tuition cost. Freese and Nichols also has a tuition reimbursement program, which helped cover the remainder of the cost. It was a no brainer to go back to school and get my degree. Freese and Nichols worked with me to flex my schedule to allow me to go to class and ultimately get my degree in Mechanical Engineering.
What’s your big picture goal for your career?
World domination! Just kidding…maybe…
My big picture goal is to help grow and diversify the plumbing group workload. I hope that one day we will have a self-sustaining plumbing group that works closely with our internal clients and brings in new external clients.