Adversity Leads to Unexpected, Rewarding Career

May/June 2017

NSPE Today
Adversity Leads to Unexpected, Rewarding Career

Thomas SynovecEver since he was a kid, Thomas Synovec wanted to be a pilot. He reached his goal of making it to the US Air Force Academy and was well on his way to his dream—until a routine physical revealed he was colorblind and ineligible for pilot training.

Devastated and considering leaving the academy, he met with a professor who gave him what turned out to be “the best piece of advice that I have received in my life.” Try civil engineering, the professor suggested. Synovec did, and says, “knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Today, Synovec is an Air Force civil engineer, deputy engineering flight commander, and licensed professional engineer. On April 5, DiscoverE’s Global Day of the Engineer, he was named NSPE’s representative to DiscoverE’s New Faces of Engineering campaign. The program recognizes talented engineers 30 years or younger who use their skills and education to help create a better world, while inspiring both colleagues and younger generations.

As the deputy engineering flight commander at the 823rd Red Horse Squadron at Hurlburt Field, in the Florida Panhandle, Synovec designs and constructs buildings, roads, and airfields for the Air Force. He also works on humanitarian projects critical to coalition partners. He has built schools, health clinics, and water wells, providing access to clean water, medicine, education, and reliable power. His latest project is to head up the largest troop labor project in the Air Force’s history in a remote African region, to support counter-terrorism operations.

The excitement of engineering, Synovec believes, is in the ability to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. “As an engineer, you get to solve unique and often complicated problems on a daily basis,” he wrote in his award application, “and then a few months later, actually see people benefiting from your efforts.”

The PE has also taught the Air Force’s first professional engineering exam prep course. In three years, the course has helped hundreds of military and civilian engineers pass the PE exam and get licensed.

Learn more about NSPE awards, including NSPE’s participation in the New Faces of Engineering campaign, at

See all New Faces honorees at