Winter 2005

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Kelly "Gives Back" and Nets National Engineering Award

Clay Kelly '93S and his wife, Lynn were driving back to Louisville from their annual vacation in Destin, Fla., last May when their cell phone rang.


On the other end of the line was the chairman of the National Society of Professional Engineers. "He said, 'I'm just calling to tell you that we've reviewed all the applications and you've been selected as the National Young Engineer of the Year,'" Kelly recalls.

Kelly kept his composure, pulled off the interstate and had an impromptu celebration with Lynn. "We stopped and got an ice cream," he says.

It was a typically low-keyed gesture from Kelly, who attributes his youthful success in the engineering field to his wife ("my best friend"), his colleagues at Strand Associates Inc. in Louisville, a work ethic instilled by his parents, his Christian beliefs and his education at Speed School. "Winning the award is a good reflection on the people who've invested in me," Kelly says.

The national professional organization has more than 50,000 members and more than 500 chapters nationwide. Earlier, Kelly had won the state's young engineer award from the Kentucky Society of Professional Engineers, which qualified him for the national honor.

Kelly's day job is as a marketing and business development representative for Strand, an engineering firm that has 340 employees at its eight offices in the Midwest and South.

But Kelly also has spent much time on missionary work helping African villagers solve engineering problems. Kelly's career approach of "giving back" and his efforts in various professional organizations are what netted him the state and national recognition. "The idea of giving back is what I've tried to do with my whole career," he says.

Kelly says his job at Strand, where he maintains client relations and seeks new clients for the firm was once an unusual one, but it is now becoming common in an increasingly competitive market.

"Fifteen or 20 years ago, consulting engineering firms didn't have to do marketing or sales, but that's changed," Kelly says. "Now most firms of substantial size have some type of marketing or business development staff."

Kelly's job requires lots of travel. "I find out what projects are being planned as I call on folks in all sectors--private or federal and local governments--that need engineering services. I then try to get them hooked up with people in my firm who have the expertise in that particular area of engineering."

Kelly believes his personality and temperament are suited for the job. "I like making contact with people and meeting them on a continuous basis," he says. "It's all about relationships and relationship building. The satisfaction comes when you really figure out what the client needs and that you not only can meet those expectations, but you can exceed them as well. It's awesome to see it all come together."

When he received his mechanical engineering degree from Speed, Kelly says he never envisioned he would become a marketer in an engineering firm. "The knack for marketing is not something you really pick up in engineering school," Kelly explains. "But marketing also involves problem-solving which is the foundation of an engineering education."

An African Sojourn

Kelly combined his engineering and faith interests in 1993 when he was selected by the International Mission Board to help the Kurds drill for water in northern Iraq.

But violence redirected his efforts to Ethiopia, where he spent three years helping the people develop access to clean water.

From 1993 to 1996 and on subsequent follow-up visits, Kelly's Ethiopian duties have run the gamut from surveying for water and drilling wells to organizing community water committees, designing roads and working in tree nurseries, veterinary clinics and leading Bible studies.

One of Kelly's first duties was to replace a rickety old outhouse and install a new concrete toilet. "There were so many holes in the old one that there was a danger of falling through!," he says.

Kelly lived in a mud hut without running water or electricity. Even something as simple as getting clean water was a major task. "One challenge was the animals, which would drink and stand around in the water--the same water the people used," he says. "Our goal was to clean up and protect the springs or other water sources for the people to use, and then construct water troughs to accommodate the animals. Oftentimes we'd have to build very crude roads to get to project sites.


Kelly interprets his Ethiopian experience not simply as an altruistic one. "My big 'wow' moment was when I realized that the people in Ethiopia were having a greater impact on me than I could ever have on them," he says. "It was the realization that God was using them to work on me as well. I came home from my three years more blessed than I could have imagined. And that's pretty neat."

Being Good Stewards

When Kelly returned from his first Ethiopian mission in 1996 he was hired by Roddy Williams '87S, '88S at PEH Engineers in Louisville, which subsequently became Strand. Though Kelly was bearded and still a little scruffy, Williams says he recognized the young man's potential and "smart business sense."

When not at work, Kelly devotes time to his family, including his two-year old daughter, Lauren, and her newborn sibling, Caroline. He continues to support missionary work, primarily through the Amazing Grace Bible Church in Louisville. The church gives about 40 percent of its budget to missionary work, including the efforts of two couples from the church who are working with orphans in Uganda.

"Lynn and I and the church want to be good stewards with what God has given us. It's just exciting to be a part of giving back to people."

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