Jason Brooks, president and CEO of LDA, an engineering firm with offices in Knoxville, Nashville, Johnson City and Chattanooga, may have graduated with both a BS and MS in Civil Engineering from UT, but his journey through higher education took a few more stops before he became a Vol. Brooks graduated from Maryville College with a degree in Math before earning an MBA from Tennessee Tech, which makes four advanced degrees that he can draw from as he leads LDA.
When he came to CEE, Brooks was already in a leadership position managing the KUB PACE10 program – a $500M capital improvement program to improve the wastewater system in Knoxville – and had a lot of on-the-job experience in addition to his extensive education. Taking the values of lifelong learning that he’d already cultivated, Brooks sought the CEE undergraduate and graduate degrees to help him gain technical training and engineering experience to deepen his understanding of the systems he was managing.
“It was certainly an unconventional approach to getting an engineering degree, and it made my experience as a student very different, as I had real life experience with most of the CEE coursework I was studying,” he recalls.
Brooks has a special love for water and the environment, which has helped shape his career. What started as an internship at KUB in 1996 turned into a full-time opportunity with the utility in 1998, where he stayed until 2011. When he left to work with the large, international firm, CDM Smith, he got to work on The Clean Water Nashville program, a $1B capital improvement program that was started to improve the sanitary and combined sewer systems for Metro Water Services in Nashville.
“I love the application of science, math, business, and economics to solving real world challenges –whether it’s fixing a city’s sewer system to reduce sanitary sewer overflows or to develop a community walking trail around a small lake,” he says. “Communities are faced with challenges of improving the livability and sustainability of their communities. As engineers we use the sciences and economics to engineer solutions that achieve the desired outcomes.”
In his own community of Alcoa, he’s been invested in designing improvements to the Alcoa Duck Pond. The community impact is what excites him the most about this project. The designs are intended to greatly enhance this community water feature by providing water quality improvements, additional greenway, better access to the water, and natural beautification. In addition to providing a natural aesthetic element, one of the highlights of the project is a series of rain gardens that will intercept surface runoff from the parking lots to remove some pollutants prior to discharging into the pond.
Brooks has now been with LDA for a little more than three years since being recruited by the founder and previous CEO, Lamar Dunn, to lead the firm. He is focused on guiding the company to be an engineering thought leader and consultant that can work with communities and private companies to frame problems and challenges so that the best solutions can be advanced into the design process. “In practice, we spend most of our time on finding the given and defining the problem or challenge,” he notes.” It is important throughout the discovery process and during the solution development that we challenge ourselves as engineering professionals to think and be creative. It is also critically important that we collaborate across disciplines and with other professions and experts to cover the full breadth and depth of the challenges we are confronting with engineering solutions.”
Jason Brooks is an example of someone whose passion for engineering comes through in all areas of his life. His advice to young students is to remember that there will be conflict in this chosen career path, and it is important to be collaborative, to listen and to seriously consider the ideas and input of others. Advancing one’s solutions or ideas must be done in a professional manner so as not to sacrifice relationships or the ability to get work done.