Alumni Spotlight - Owen Carter

Owen Carter: Dedicated to improving the lives of others

By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist

As Snohomish County Engineer and deputy director of Snohomish County’s Public Works Department, Owen Carter oversees Road Maintenance, Transportation and Environmental Services, and Engineering Services for the County. All three of these divisions also provide regional services to at least 15 other cities and agencies within Snohomish County. Owen is also responsible for the county’s snow, ice and flood preparation and response, including initiatives to construct several county projects that serve neighborhoods, schools, and public transit.

But wait, there’s more: Owen has also offered his time and expertise in the Dominican Republic, providing project management and engineering advice to improve sanitation in local villages. You might say that Owen Carter has a passion for improving the lives of others. In fact, his dedication to the engineering profession and to the community has not gone unnoticed. He was recently named County Engineer of the Year by the Washington State Association of County Engineers (WSACE).

Owen always knew that he was interested in building roads and bridges. In this interview, he shares how EvCC laid the foundation for him to keep chasing that dream.

How did you choose EvCC? Was there a selection process involved in your decision making?

After high school, I attended Grays Harbor College on a wrestling scholarship. But after I hurt my knee, I decided to come back to Lake Stevens and attend EvCC to save money and be closer to family and friends.

What did you do after you graduated from EvCC?

After graduating with my AA from EvCC, I went into the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Washington, where I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering.

Tell me about your family: where you grew up, and did you have brothers or sisters?

I grew up in Lake Stevens. I have one brother who also attended EvCC, and two sisters.

Did your parents go to college and did they encourage you to attend college?

My parents did not attend college, but always encouraged us kids to be the best that we could be. For me, that included pursuing my dream to become a civil engineer.

When did you graduate from high school?

I graduated from Lake Stevens High School, class of 1976.

Do you think your time at EvCC helped you pursue your current career? How?

I have always been interested in building roads, bridges, and other civil projects, so when I attended EvCC, I knew that I wanted to pursue an Engineering Degree. EvCC laid the foundation for me to keep chasing my dream. 

Did you ever envision your current career while in college?

I knew that I wanted to be a civil engineer, but I did not envision becoming the County Engineer until approximately seven years into my career when the Public Works Director told me that he could see me someday being the County Engineer. It is great to have a person you respect speak words of encouragement to you.

What courses or activities did you find to be most valuable and how did they help prepare you for your professional career or success in life?

It is easy to say my engineering classes were most valuable since that is the field I went into; however, as I look back on my career, I believe the courses that prepared me best for success in life were courses that taught leadership, public speaking, and decision making. Most people who graduate with an engineering degree are technically sound, but it is the people who can work with people, make solid decisions, and present their viewpoint, that succeed.

Any moments that stood out as especially memorable while at EvCC?

I can’t say that there was any one moment that stood out as especially memorable; however, I can remember a number of lectures from my Statics and Dynamics courses where the professor would use people or objects to show how forces work. It was great to see examples and not just read about it in a textbook.

What is your lasting impression of EvCC?

I have great memories of EvCC. I have always stated that the best teaching that I received in my entire educational experience was at EvCC.

What helped you stay motivated, both in school, and in your career?

I have always been a self-starter and self-motivated to succeed. In my current position, being able to make a difference in a person’s life, whether it is constructing a sidewalk, resolving an issue, or making a roadway safer by eliminating a sight distance issue, is very motivating and satisfying.

Please tell me about your current position or career.

As the County Engineer/Deputy Public Works Director, I oversee what happens in the right of way in unincorporated Snohomish County. I oversee three divisions totaling 362 people and a budget of approximately $100,000,000. The divisions consist of Transportation and Environmental Services, Engineering Services and Road Maintenance. We plan, design and construct roads, bridges, and sidewalk improvements. We maintain the 1,600 miles of county roads and over 200 bridges. I also direct the Public Works response when there is an emergency, i.e., flood, earthquake etc. I also represent Snohomish County on many state boards.

What do you find rewarding about it?

The most rewarding part of my job is when I have the opportunity to help resolve a problem that a citizen brings to our attention. It could be as simple as having a pothole filled; however, the issue is important to that citizen and we try to provide excellent customer service and help resolve the issue as quickly as possible. 

What do you find most challenging?

The most challenging part of my job is dealing with personnel issues. Whether it is dealing with a person’s substance abuse or telling a person that they did not pass probation and we will be terminating them from county employment, knowing that this is going to have an impact on their life is more challenging than any technical issue.

What were your keys to success?

I believe the key to my success has been to stay positive and treat others how I would like others to treat me. I try to be creative in problem solving. I look for win-win solutions. I try to listen and understand before I respond. 

What words of advice would you give to current EvCC students?

Life is short: pursue your dreams and build relationships. Cherish every moment and reach out and help people in need by making a difference in the place you live and work.

Would you do anything differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?

If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I would not change a thing. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to work with amazing people, to help meet the needs of many people and to serve the residents of Snohomish County. My life has been blessed beyond anything I could have imagined.

From this vantage point in life, what do you care about the most?

What I care about most is my relationship with God; without that being in alignment, my relationships with others will never be correct. The second is my relationship with my family. I have been married to an amazing wife for 28 years and we have been blessed with two wonderful kids that are pursuing their dreams. Third is my relationship with the people I meet and work with. I’ve always strived to help others whenever possible. Without building strong relationships, I believe that life would be meaningless.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would encourage people to reach out and volunteer. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity over the last four years to travel to the Dominican Republic to help build latrines for a small community near the border of Haiti. The last time I was there, I met with the leaders of the community and they said that our work in their community has eradicated the diseases that have been plaguing the community. They noticed that the children are now going to school ready to learn. I would encourage people to step up and volunteer, whether it is here in Everett or abroad. Try to make a difference in somebody’s life daily and our world will be a better place.