National Engineers Week is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing the understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. While we recognize the outstanding contributions that our Fossil Energy engineers make to the industry every day, we met with Patrick Shepherd last week to take part in the celebrations.
Patrick, the Deputy Federal Project Director for Life Extension 2 (LE2) in the Office of Petroleum Reserves, is responsible for providing technical management and coordination of design and construction activities for the LE2 program.
In his own words, learn about Patrick’s role, innovations, and the importance of STEM professionals.
Can you tell us about the LE2 project and why this program is important to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s (SPR) mission?
“The purpose of the SPR is to ‘protect the U.S. economy from severe petroleum supply interruptions through the acquisition, storage, distribution, and management of emergency petroleum stocks and to carry out U.S. obligations under the International Energy Program’.
The LE2 Project will modernize aging SPR infrastructure through systems upgrades and associated equipment replacement. LE2 is estimated to cost $1.42 billion and is scheduled to be completed in fiscal year 2025. The project is important to the U.S. Department of Energy because the SPR’s critical infrastructure and process equipment can no longer sustain the required drawdown readiness. LE2 will allow the SPR to continue to operate and protect the Nation from potential disruptions in critical oil supplies and meet the International Energy Program requirements for the SPR.”
Can you give us an example of where you were innovative as you approached a specific project or goal?
“Ten years ago, when studying to take the state exam to get my professional engineering license, it was difficult to find quality study materials and reference resources to help prepare for the grueling 8-hour exam. It was also a challenge to be using multiple test preparation books from different authors, and I found myself using old textbooks from college.
After I passed the exam, I decided to write my own test preparation guide; this was mainly a way to document my knowledge for future reference and to capture lessons learned and quality advice I had been given. I basically wrote the ultimate guide book that I wished I had found when I first started to prepare for the exam. All of the advice, tips, hints, and study strategies were compiled into this one guide.
Long story short, years later, after receiving positive feedback from a colleague about how much the guide really helped him, it eventually was published online and made available for everyone. It became a book; it has had great success over the years and I continue to receive positive feedback today. But I didn’t write it with the intention to sell it, I wrote it for myself.
What I learned—and what I’m trying to teach my kids—is that it’s okay to get stuck on a problem, but it’s not ok to ‘stay stuck’. Obstacles are a part of life and they must be dealt with and overcome. Simply go around them. If a solution doesn’t exist, for example, like a book that hasn’t been written yet, then write your own. Life is opportunity mixed with difficulty, so setbacks, roadblocks, and defeats are all obstacles standing between where you are now and where you want to be; each one represents a different level of challenge. But, they allow you to grow and reach new understandings.”
What is your advice for those who come across challenges or difficulties in their work?
“I try to use the above approach in my everyday work by leading and managing my projects in such a way that I never remain stuck. I’m always trying to go forward and advance the ball. Similar to football, running backs are taught to ‘fall forward’ when getting tackled. Falling forward to pick up the extra yards may not seem like a lot over the course of a game, but over the course of an entire season, or a career, those yards can make a huge difference to where you end up.
Just by ‘trying’ a little bit harder each time, you can succeed tremendously over the long game. Throughout a project’s life cycle, there are many challenges and obstacles to overcome while managing an appropriate level of risk to ensure best value to the Government. Technical management and coordination of design and construction activities can be very challenging and demanding. There are many obstacles along the way, so it’s important to have a clear vision and continue to work towards the end goal without getting stuck.
I don’t see obstacles as problems; they’re just challenges just waiting to be solved. I work hard to help streamline the processes that are set in place in order to keep the project going. As a result, my goal is for the project to continue to meet cost, schedule, and performance targets. It’s my vision to ensure LE2 continues to meets its goals.”
Why is it important to prepare the next generation of STEM majors/professionals?
“It is important to prepare the next generation of STEM majors/professionals and to help students reach their full potential. Even more important, our world depends on it. The economy is supported by science, technology, engineering, and math. By preparing the next generation of STEM professionals, we have the potential to create innovative thinkers who will help drive future economic prosperity and improve the quality of life for everyone.”