With two years’ experience at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, a decade on the staff of an environmental/engineering consulting firm and 19 strong years with Bechtel Corporation, Kevin Edwards, P.E., personifies the professional success sought in NSBE’s mission. The recipient of numerous honors during his career, Edwards, Bechtel’s global manager of Diversity and Inclusion since 2017, received the 2019 NSBE Golden Torch Award for Corporate Diversity Leadership on behalf of Bechtel in March, during the Society’s 45th Annual Convention, in Detroit, Michigan.
But, he told the youthful audience during the convention’s general session on March 28,  sponsored by Chevron Corporation, his resume tells only a small part of his story:
“I stand here tonight a product of an underrepresented community; a single-parent household (no father figure), where eight family members lived in a two-bedroom, rented apartment; a biracial relationship (Can you understand how I was looked at being the lightest member of my family and living in a black community?); a household dependent on federal assistance to survive…; a family where the highest level of education was primarily high school…; a college prep high school education where my classmates did not look like me; (Educational Opportunity Fund) to support my college funding; a pre-college engineering bridge program (for underrepresented minority students)…. The list goes on.”
“So although one would think I would never get out of the community I was in, I continued to explore as many opportunities I could to become aware of my choices and start thinking about how I was going to engineer my journey by demonstrating to any stakeholders my ability to succeed,” Edwards said. “My teachers knew I had the passion and discipline to succeed. I just needed the opportunities but, more importantly, to take advantage of the opportunities.”
His challenges continued, but Edwards did just that. Having chosen engineering as his future career when he was in high school, he came to Rutgers University as a freshman with little knowledge of the field. Many of his peers in the summer bridge program at Rutgers left engineering or dropped out of college entirely, and when he ran into academic difficulties as a mechanical engineering major during his sophomore year, he said, “my courage and confidence was being tested. So, no, I didn’t drop out,” Edwards said. “I went to speak to an advisor and worked through this short-term challenge. We did our research, talked about my drivers, my interests, etc., and it was clear there was an engineering discipline for me. It wasn’t ME (mechanical engineering), but it was IE (industrial engineering)...
“I loved it!” Edwards said. “The business of engineering, supply chain principles, performance to expectations, continuous improvement principles, etc., as well as the thermodynamics, materials and the other core engineering coursework: it was amazing.”
“I graduated, not in four years but five, and who was counting?” Edwards said. “I was an engineer who left college with an engineering degree, and I didn’t owe anyone a dime.”
Edwards didn’t stop his education there. Soon after earning his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, he went back to school to earn a master’s in environmental engineering. He then taught himself the principles of civil engineering to earn his PE license, passing the licensing exam on his second try.
Today, Edwards said, “I now ‘engineer people.’ Investing in our people is what we focus on at Bechtel. As Bechtel’s global manager of D&I, I would say that I am the maestro of a large orchestra, Bechtel’s orchestra to elevate their diverse talent.”
In his professional career as well as in his personal life, he is focused on elevating others, said Edwards, who has been married for more than 25 years and has three children: one son aged 34 and on his own, another son headed for his senior year in high school and one daughter, who is graduating from Cornell University this May and beginning Howard University Medical School in July.
His own experience with lack of opportunities during his youth, he said, “is a driver for me to push my organization and others to partner with organizations like NSBE to give diverse talent the opportunities I know they can succeed at.”