Mastering Engineering on the Front Line

Civilian contractor at Kandahar Air Field completes her engineering masters online.

Students learning through online education are typically in the job market; however, this job really takes the baklava. Recently, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi announced the graduation of Teresa Smithson, a civilian contractor at the Kandahar, Afghanistan Air Field.

Smithson is currently helping the military to close various camps with her surveying expertise. Before Afghanistan, she was in Baghdad. That four-year stay helped Smithson redefine her definition of dangerous.

“You probably drive everyday on the freeway that goes through Corpus Christi without thinking about how dangerous it is,” she said.  “In February, more than 200 people died on Texas highways in just 6 weeks; more than died in all of the camps in Afghanistan during that period.”

However, if you were wondering if Smithson saw any action, the scary answer is yes. Smithson said that “we have had mortars directly hit our compound and shred several of the housing units, including the room of one of my surveyors … A few months ago we were all told to stay indoors because there was a ground attack against the camp and several insurgents were on the base.”

Her accommodations are certainly no Ritz-Carlton – she stays in a 63 square foot bunker – and are far different than her family and grandchildren’s arrangements back in Colorado. Luckily for her, however, she didn’t have to share the digs like others on the base.

Internet bandwidth and the time zone difference at her residence were a constraint to her education. Professors needed to provide links to download their lectures, a process that had to occur overnight as Smithson slept.

On her choice of program, Smithson notes that “it is difficult finding an online geospatial program that includes the land surveying component … Most of the programs are only geographic information systems and remote sensing, but the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s program had the land surveying component I was looking for.”

Smithson’s commencement was held on the 21st of December 2013; however, her diploma will be handed to her through the postal services.

Image and source courtesy of Texas A&M University – Corpu Christi

Written by

Shawn Wasserman

For over 10 years, Shawn Wasserman has informed, inspired and engaged the engineering community through online content. As a senior writer at WTWH media, he produces branded content to help engineers streamline their operations via new tools, technologies and software. While a senior editor at, Shawn wrote stories about CAE, simulation, PLM, CAD, IoT, AI and more. During his time as the blog manager at Ansys, Shawn produced content featuring stories, tips, tricks and interesting use cases for CAE technologies. Shawn holds a master’s degree in Bioengineering from the University of Guelph and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo.