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Veteran Spotlight: Stewart shares how the US Army prepared him for leadership

Veteran Spotlight: Stewart shares how the US Army prepared him for leadership
On Veterans Day and every day, we stand united in honor of our students, educators, clinical providers, researchers and administrative personnel who have served in the military.

We are fortunate to count military veterans and uniformed service members among our many faces of UTHealth. On Veterans Day and every day, we stand united in honor of our students, educators, clinical providers, researchers and administrative personnel who have served in the military. We do this through our ongoing commitment to a diverse, inclusive and supportive environment at UTHealth and through service to active military personnel and veterans in our community.

William (Wes) Stewart, M.B.A., M.C.M., C.E.F.P., F.M.P., P.M.P.
Vice President of Facilities, Planning and Engineering
UTHealth
Master Sergeant (Ret.)

What originally interested you in UTHealth?

It was just after Tropical Storm Allison, and I heard of all of the construction activities taking place at the university. I had just retired from the U.S. Army, and it looked like a great place to work.

What keeps you excited about working at the university?

Our job in facilities is to support the university in all aspects of facility management. This requires a variety of knowledge areas, disciplines and specialized trades. The people we have on our team are top notch and take pride in their work. Between maintaining complex research facilities, minimizing energy consumption, long-range planning, major renovations and new construction, every day is challenging. I also enjoy the size and atmosphere at UTHealth. People know each other, work well together to accomplish the goals of the university and are given the autotomy to do so.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far?

As the director of projects, I oversaw the construction of the Research Park Complex. It is roughly half a million square feet and includes office space, wet and dry lab research, clinical practices, state of the art classrooms and simulation centers, a central utility plant, parking and an underground tunnel that connects the Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences Building (BBSB) to our research spaces at MD Anderson Cancer Center South Campus Research Building 3 (SCRUB3) and the Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABIR) building. Overall, it was a very successful project. It came in under budget and on schedule and we developed a positive working relationship with the facilities department at MD Anderson.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

As I said, facility management requires a wide range of knowledge areas. We have 85 employees, and very few have the same specialty. I get to learn new things every day from all of them. The people in this department are knowledgeable and work hard. My favorite thing about this job is facilitating a team environment, establishing clear goals and recognizing and rewarding the high performers. At a minimum, we recognize those employees and their accomplishments at our quarterly department level meetings.  

What is something you wish people knew about your department?

The technical skills required to “efficiently and effectively” manage the academic and research facilities we have here at UTHealth. These facilities are much more complex than residential and office. My preference would be to create unique job titles for the project managers who construct and renovate these complex facilities; the energy control technicians who work diligently to maintain precise air requirements and minimize energy consumption; and the maintenance technicians whose skill sets far exceed the standard trade name job titles.

What inspires you most about your job?

Our work is challenging, and I really enjoy being part of an organization where I can have a positive influence on developing teams that, together, make all these projects successful. In addition to our internal FPE teams, I feel we have very positive relationships with leadership within the schools. Without the support of folks like Nancy McNiel, Claire Brunson, Deb Ryan and Robin Baker, the major renovations we are performing at McGovern Medical School and UTHealth School of Public Health would not be successful.  

What was your role in the military, and how does it relate?

I was a 1SG/MSG in the “regimental branch” of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1981-2001). We performed construction activities in support of military operations. Roads, bridges, base camps, field fortification — supporting and traveling with the combat units, tanks, infantry and artillery.

Although my job was construction management, the most valuable things I learned were leadership, teamwork and organizational skills. Motivating people to get work done takes time and dedication to learn and invest in your team.

When you see programs for veterans, I don’t think a lot of people understand that if someone has been in the military for 20 years, the amount of responsibility and training they’ve had, you’ve been through at least four different levels of leadership training where each can last up to seven months. They’ve been in charge of large groups of people and have skills that can translate and thrive in a civilian role. They’re from a different background, but the skill sets they have are valuable and directly translate.

What has been your greatest adventure so far?

When my unit in Germany was deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina for peacekeeping operations. Our job as combat engineers was to construct military base camps, assess and classify bridges and roads, supervise minefield decommissioning and maintain mobility master plans. Helping a country repair its infrastructure and pick up the pieces after a four-year war was a memorable experience.

What would you like others to know about UTHealth?

I think this is a great place to work. The mission of the university is very significant. We’re here to help people, conduct research, educate the next generation and make advances in health care that will go on to live far beyond any of us here today.

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