Written by Torron Williams
Since graduating in 2011 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, James Ellis has used both his experiences and knowledge towards progression in city and community development.
Ellis currently works as a Land Use Engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation, which he notes came with more enlightenment than he expected. He always knew that he wanted to pursue a career as an engineer, but his initial idea of what engineering entails was different.
“Now I see everything that goes into it, versus what I saw in high school,” said Ellis. “I thought you just get this job and this is exactly what you do – such as design the structures or roadways and submit the work. But I didn’t think you had to deal with so many other areas, like community input, politics and county budgets.”
As a Land Use Engineer, Ellis directly works on the juxtaposition of roads and buildings in conjunction with maintaining the adjacent environment. Whereas architects design buildings, Land Use Engineers maintain the ways of transportation that surround them.
“People drive on roads, but no one is really thinking about how roads were built,” said Ellis. “Or how much they are a part of daily life.”
Land Use Engineers focus on how roads are constructed and maintained, as well as how water will drain throughout the cities and communities along those roads. Ellis monitors traffic and water drainage within subdivisions to make sure that roads are maintained and running smoothly.
“If there was just an area of grass there before, and now there is pavement and a building, there’s going to be more water running from that area,” said Ellis.
He concentrates on taking measures to ensure that the water drainage from new areas being built are maintained and do not create any environmental issues. He also attends meetings regarding new and developing projects, as a liaison between various counties and the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“It’s really cool,” said Ellis, “Because I get to see things from the beginning when land is rezoned, all the way into the beginning of construction.”
While at UNCC, James was also involved in Collegiate 100, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and the Students Advising for Freshman Excellence (SAFE) Program. He holds on to the notion that there are a plethora of resources available for anyone to get involved in to help develop passion for their program, but having a mentor is what could really impact a student’s life the most.
“I had mentors from the SAFE program, and fraternity brothers,” said Ellis. “But having someone that would kind of force me to do things; I could have done more.”
Through mentorship, students can gain so much exposure to opportunities and available resources, much like the My Brother’s Keeper scholarship.
“The scholarship is really going to bring more alumni in to start helping out the African-American brothers that are in school right now,” said Ellis. “It’s a broader network because of all of the alumni in Charlotte that can help you out with things.”
At work, Ellis shares the same experience he had within the Civil Engineering program in regard to being one of the few minorities within the field. This didn’t discourage him from pursuing his ambitions, but instead motivates him to work harder in his field.
Next up for him: obtaining his engineering license to begin designing roads.
The My Brother’s Keeper Scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is an endowment fund targeted to Black males majoring in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields at UNCC. The "What They See Is What They'll Be" blog series, adopted from the motto of 100 Black Men of America, is a bi-weekly blog series featuring personal stories of Black men from the UNCC community who are actively engaged in those fields. The goal of the series is to serve as a source of information and inspiration to others aspiring to follow similar career paths. Learn more at www.unccmybrotherskeeper.org.