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Interview with Ilyas Bhatti, P.E., D.WRE, M.ASCE
P.E., D.WRE. M.ASCE
Wentworth Institute of Technology
Ilyas Bhatti, P.E., D.WRE, M.ASCE is currently an Associate Professor holding the Douglas C. Elder Endowed Professorship in the Department of Construction Management at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. His teaching experience spans over 17 years – 5 years as adjunct professor and 12 years as a full-time professor. In the spring of 2015, he taught in Berlin as part of Wentworth’s Semester Abroad program. In March 2018, visited projects in Ireland, London and Spain with CM students doing semester abroad at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland. He has over 40 years of professional experience in the private, public and academic sectors.
Prior to joining the academia, Mr. Bhatti managed the consulting engineering firm of The Bhatti Group, Inc. (BGI) which he established in March of 1998. BGI was engaged on national and international projects. Bhatti has traveled to Cameroon, Kenya, Mauritius, Pakistan and Poland for project related visits. In the public sector, Bhatti served as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a predecessor agency to the current Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), from 1989 – 1995 in the Dukakis and Weld administrations. As Commissioner, he was the Chief Executive Officer of an agency with a vast infrastructure of bridges, parkways, dams, water supply reservoirs, recreational facilities, and Boston Harbor Islands. He was also in-charge of the Metropolitan Police – the third largest police force in New England.
In 1995 he was appointed by Governor Weld to oversee the construction of the most complex transportation project in the nation – Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel (CA/T) project as Associate Project Director. Under his supervision, Ted Williams Tunnel connecting Interstate 90 with Logan International Airport was completed. Bhatti was responsible for developing alliances among competing interest groups to resolve project issues successfully. After leaving the state government, Bhatti has continued to assist many public agencies and private sector entities with public participation process management and regulatory compliance. Bhatti has conducted public meetings on numerous highly contentious public projects. These agencies include the MBTA, MDC, DCR, and municipal entities. He has also served in several senior level positions in Massachusetts including Director of the Division of Water Supply for DEQE (now DEP), Director of Watershed Management for the MDC and Assistant Superintendent of Deer Island Treatment Plant for the MDC Sewerage Division.
Mr. Bhatti holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in civil engineering; and is a registered professional engineer in Massachusetts. He received management training at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 1993, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering Technology from the Wentworth Institute of Technology, where he was the commencement speaker. Ilyas has been an active member of several professional and civic organizations. He was President of the Massachusetts Society of Professional Engineers, and also served as the General Chairman of National Engineers Week in Boston. He was a Board member of Boston’s Museum of Science and the International Institute of Boston. Appointed by Governor Weld to the Massachusetts Asian American Commission, he served as the Co-Chair from 1992 to 1998. He served on the Industrial Advisory Board of Northeastern University’s School of Engineering from 2001 to 2006. Bhatti was recently made Life Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and of the American Water Works Association (AWWA). Bhatti is a Founding Diplomate of the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers (AAWRE) and he is also an active member of ASEE, ACCE and ASTM.
Mr. Bhatti was elected to the Board of Water & Sewer Commissioners in the Town of Plainville, Massachusetts in 2001where he served as the Vice-Chairman of the Board until 2007. In March 2004, Bhatti was appointed to the Massachusetts Water Policy Task Group by the Secretary of Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to review state’s water policies. More recently, in June 2018, he was appointed by the Secretary of Transportation to the Independent Review Team (IRT) for the I-90 Allston Intermodal Interchange project. Bhatti served as the president of the Commissioners Council, Inc., an organization composed of former Massachusetts commissioners of three environmental agencies, from 2007 – 2017. He has received numerous professional and civic awards. He was the recipient of Massachusetts Governor’s New American Appreciation Award in 1998. He is a frequent speaker at professional, civic, and academic organizations, and sought expert on issues by the news media.
In this feature, Ilyas shares with AAWRE on his life and career path, his life’s work, challenges in civil engineering, advice for future leaders and how he shut down a Green Day concert!
Where were you born and where did you spend most of your formative years of youth?
IB: I was born in Jullundher (Punjab) in British India, and my parents moved to Lahore in Pakistan when I was two years old. So, I spent my formative years in Lahore, Pakistan. That’s where I received my baccalaureate degree in civil engineering from the University of Engineering & Technology (UET), Lahore.
When did you first know that you wanted to study civil engineering and what were your main influencing factors to go into civil engineering?
IB: Well, I was always fascinated by the irrigation system of rivers and canals in Punjab when I was in high school. Also, my grandfather on my mother’s side worked in the Irrigation Department during the British Raj. So, I was fascinated by his stories about the operation of a headworks that regulated the flow of water into the farmland.
Then there were some practical considerations before I entered the engineering school. In Pakistan, it was customary that if you graduated in the top tier in higher secondary school (Intermediate College) with a diploma called F.Sc. (Faculty of Science) in pre‐engineering, you would apply for entry into an engineering school. I was lucky to be in that category and got accepted at UET.
How did you enjoy studying engineering and what was the path like for you? Who were some key figures in your life that influenced you?
IB: Well, it was a lot of hard work – not always enjoyable. Our professors were very tough and the course work was very heavy. However, there were some enjoyable parts as well. The labs in the field of Fluid Mechanics and Soil Mechanics provided opportunities for hands‐on experience. Enjoyed a month of “Surveying Camp” in the senior year in the state of Swat in the northern part of Pakistan. Developing a topographic map for such a difficult terrain of valleys and mountains was quite a learning experience. The natural beauty of Swat was breath taking.
While pursuing my Master’s degree in Civil Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, I interacted with some really great professors from whom I learned that civil engineers truly build structures that improve quality of life, and that engineers can be great problem solvers.