09182015-persistenceWe were beginning to think it was impossible.

I was working with a consultant in a hotel in Minneapolis. Our challenge was to brainstorm a specific structure type that would work for a politically charged, important project. An existing single-circuit 161 kV wood H-frame line would be rebuilt and upgraded to a double-circuit tubular steel pole 161 kV line.

There were a number of constraints:

  • For franchising and landowner purposes, the poles would be rebuilt in the same locations
  • The existing pole spacing was 15.5 feet. This would not change
  • The upper circuit would be installed first, the second underbuild circuit would be added at a later date
  • Fault current requirements limited the phase-to-phase spacing to approximately 18 feet

Without going into the gory details, we quickly filled the floor with wadded up sketches; ideas that would not work. Yet, we had to keep going because, “We can’t do it,” was not going to be an acceptable answer. After hours of work, we eventually came up with an interesting structure configuration that appeared to be feasible, albeit unusual for this area of the country.


Years ago I sat for the PE licensing exam. I was required to work four problems in both the morning and afternoon sessions. Each session had ten questions from which to choose. The morning session went well. I returned after lunch, opened the test, read through the questions…and came to the conclusion that I didn’t know how to work any of them. Again, this was not going to be the right approach,  so I buckled down and somehow figured out some answers.


09182015-Michael-MassiminoFormer astronaut Michael Massimino was a luncheon speaker at the recent NCEES annual meeting. His stories perfectly illustrate the need for persistence. Without it, he would not have overcome a number of challenges and his life journey would have been much different.

He graduated from high school in 1980 and had a strong interest in science and math. He also wanted to be an astronaut. To achieve this goal, he was told to pursue the appropriate education to increase his chances. Here is Michael’s education timeline:

  • 1984 – BS, Industrial Engineering, Columbia University
  • 1988 – MS, Technology and Public Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • 1988 – MS, Mechanical Engineering, MIT
  • 1990 – Degree of Mechanical Engineer, MIT
  • 1992 – PhD, Mechanical Engineering, MIT

He applied to be an astronaut four times during his educational pursuits. Finally, after the fourth time, he was accepted in 1996.


09182015-HubbleHe flew on two shuttle missions, Columbia STS-109 and Atlantis STS-125. He logged more than 23 days in space and performed a number of Hubble Space Telescope servicing and repair spacewalks. During the Atlantis mission, a bolt snapped on a panel handle that created the very real threat that the repair mission would fail and leave the Hubble crippled. “We cannot fix it” was not an acceptable option.

Eventually the team asked themselves, “If we were trying to fix this in our garage, what would we do?” They determined to simply yank off the handle, and it worked. It was not a sophisticated solution, but it worked, as does the Hubble Space Telescope to this day.


Between the Columbia and Atlantis missions, the shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry. This caused a two-year halt to the shuttle program, delaying his final shuttle repair mission until 2009. NASA had to overcome a number of technical challenges to prevent another shuttle failure.


As I look back on my life, it is obvious that a number of experiences required persistence: Six Sigma Black Belt certification, landowner easement negotiations, power plant permitting, marathon training, recovery from the Cedar Rapids flood of 2008, potty-training three children…

There are many examples of athletes who celebrate an apparent victory too early, and then lose at the end of the race, as you can see in the video below. The lesson is that we all face life challenges on both a professional and personal level. The lesson for all of us is that often the difference between overcoming the challenges and becoming a victim of them is simply, don’t give up.

Finish strong. Go hard until the end. Never stop learning and growing. Never quit.


About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.