Name: Paul Wallis, P.E., S.E.
Current Title: Senior Structural Engineer
Office Location: Nashville
Years at Gresham Smith: Almost 2
In honor of Veterans Day, this Faces of Gresham Smith features Paul Wallis, a senior structural engineer in our Nashville office and veteran of the United States Army. Keep reading to learn about this former Alaskan’s time in the Arctic, what he learned while serving our country and how his experiences are helping him deliver successful projects for Gresham Smith’s clients.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Missouri, raised in both north Arkansas and Florida and spent my senior year of high school in North Pole, Alaska. Yes, I have met Santa Claus and yes, he’s just as cool in the “off-season”!
Where did you go to college?
After graduating from North Pole High School I joined the United States Army and spent many months at “school” in Fort Benning, Georgia. After a tour in the Army I attended the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with a focus on structural engineering. A few years ago, I completed my Master of Christian Ministry from Wayland Baptist University.
How long did you serve in the Army?
I joined the Army in Fairbanks and was inducted in Anchorage, but I had high hopes of serving someplace abroad. Upon graduation I received orders for Alaska, which was not what I had anticipated or hoped for. (Although fun fact: Alaska is technically an overseas assignment.) There were advantages of serving close to home though, like a good hot meal from time to time.
I served a single tour from 1988 to 1992 in the Sixth Arctic (Light) Infantry Division, Second Brigade, Fifth Battalion, Ninth Infantry Regiment, Bravo Company, First Platoon, Second Squad at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. I was blessed to serve during a time of (relative) international peace and stability and I have a tremendous respect for the men and women who have followed me in service between 9/11 and today. I also had the privilege of serving with some outstanding men. We experienced some really cool (no pun intended) things together that few Army units ever do, such as carrying all our belongings through the snow on Ahkio sleds, and I still keep in contact with many of them today.
What were some of the biggest lessons you learned in the Army?
Teamwork. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s an absolute fact. You have to learn to look out for one another, especially while spending weeks at a time out in the Arctic. Working together to keep each other healthy formed a natural bond, which benefitted us in every other aspect of our jobs. Even in the civilian world we spend at least a full third of our time around the people we work with. Looking out for one another in ways beyond the technical and professional aspects of our work is what makes us a real team.
What drew you to Gresham Smith?
Less than a week after my wife, Tracey, and I concluded that we were being called to move to the Clarksville, Tennessee area, an open position at Gresham Smith was brought to my attention. After spending a day with the staff, I never even bothered to look elsewhere. I’m thankfully blessed to be working with such a dedicated and talented bunch of folks.
What is your favorite project you’ve worked on while at Gresham Smith and why?
The manufacturing plant we designed for a confidential client is one of my favorite projects. Comprising more than half a dozen buildings with about a million square feet of floor area total, two bridges and about a gazillion non-building parts and pieces, it was a project I would ordinarily expect to spend twelve to eighteen months designing with construction lasting at least as long. Instead, our team delivered the design-build effort in about a year, helping the client meet their timeline and goals. We did a great job making the project a reality, as evidenced by the fact that we are now working on phase two of the project, an even larger facility on the same property.
Where is your favorite place you’ve traveled and why?
I used to do a lot of heavy civil marine work on docks, wharfs and trestles across Alaska and it took me all over the southeastern region. As much as the rest of that enormous state has to offer, for me the southeastern shores are the most ruggedly beautiful parts of that whole state. Even after living there for more than two decades, my wife and I would still like to go back and go through the Inside Passage on one of those big ships!
What’s your personal motto?
There are things that are important and there are things that are trivial. In this life, learn to know the difference.
Who would you most like to meet and why?
Abraham Lincoln. There’s nothing better than a good story or funny anecdote well told and from what I’ve gathered Mr. Lincoln was the master. I would love to sit and visit with him for a day!
Three objects on your desk?
Nothing more than I can take with me at the end of the day! I’m a free address worker, or free-range chicken as we like to call ourselves, which means I don’t have an assigned desk and have the freedom to work from anywhere in the office.