During his days as an assisting project manager on the construction site of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, Thomas Wong, B.C.E. 2017, M.S. 2017, became a student of the nation’s 34th president. Excerpts from some of “Ike’s” most well-known speeches are carved in stone throughout the four-acre urban park, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, and situated on Independence Avenue just behind the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
While working on the site, Wong memorized those passages. “My favorite is the homecoming speech upon his return to Abilene, Kansas, in 1945,” says Wong. “It begins, ‘Because no man is really a man who has lost out of himself all of the boy, I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy.’ Eisenhower was twice resoundingly elected to the presidency after service as a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War II. This speech speaks to his humility, which only makes him more of a great American icon.”
When he reflects on his role with the federal government’s General Services Administration, Wong shows his own bit of humility. “I was this new, wide-eyed project manager seeking to learn, grow, and serve as best I could,” says Wong. “It was not lost on me that I was getting this once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity so soon after earning my civil engineering degrees.”
The field of civil engineering first piqued Wong’s interest while he was in high school. “I knew construction was a tried-and-true industry. And I liked the idea of working on physical, tangible things,” he says. His interest deepened while attending the School of Engineering’s “Engineering New Frontiers” summer program for high school students.
Wong was able to accomplish the rare feat of earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering in less than five years, in addition to completing minors in theology and sustainability. He had a memorable internship at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that allowed him to work on another historic project, the completion of the Trinity Dome. He also worked on campus as a Residence Life office manager and served with the Knights of Columbus.
Wong counts Professor Gunnar Lucko, director of the construction engineering and management program, among his favorite faculty members. “Dr. Lucko is always taking his students on engaging site visits that demonstrate the real-world application of what we are studying in the classroom. In appreciation, I invited him and his students to visit the memorial construction site in October 2019.”
As he considered career opportunities, Wong says working for the federal government was not top of mind. He completed an application after talking to a representative at an on-campus career fair. Following a summer interview, he received a job offer during his last undergraduate semester in January 2017.
On Sept. 17, Wong was an invited guest at the formal dedication of the Eisenhower Memorial. Under the glow of its nighttime illumination, rain did not dampen a joyous evening that featured musical performances by the “President’s Own” U.S. Marine Corps Band and a flyover by the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard.
Days later, Wong visited the now-seventh presidential memorial in the nation’s capital — this time as a tourist with his family. He watched as visitors enjoyed the trees, benches, statues, inscriptions, stone columns, and a 60-foot-tall, 450-foot-wide woven stainless steel tapestry depicting the Normandy coast at peacetime. He thought about “how this shy kid from New Jersey could help continue a long-established legacy of freedom and liberty that makes America great.” — E.N.W.