Nathanael Wales has been interested in science and engineering since he was a child. He enjoyed building with Legos, playing with train sets, and designing his own roads and cities for his Hot Wheels cars on large sheets of his father's drafting paper using thick markers and crayons. In junior high and high school he excelled in math and science courses. As he began applying to college, he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in which he could plan, design, and build large infrastructure: he knew that he wanted to be a civil engineer. At the same time he also took the key opportunity to meet other blind people who were studying and working in science and engineering fields and learned from them some of the techniques that they used to be successful in the fields that they loved. As a result, before starting college he spent eight and a half months at a training center for blind adults getting his Braille, computer and access technology, and living skills ready for the rigors of college and living on his own. He entered the University of California at Davis as a freshman in the spring of 1997 with a major in civil and environmental engineering.
In addition to his classes in college, Nathanael participated in his college's concrete canoe team--in which the team builds a canoe of specially designed reinforced concrete, tests it to see that it does float, and competes it against other colleges--and worked as a student engineering assistant at the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). After graduating with his bachelor's degree in 2001, he began working full-time for DWR doing planning work on the expansion of three reservoirs in northern and central California. As a part of his job, in the spring of 2004 he took--and passed--the exam to become professionally licensed as a civil engineer. Today he is doing exactly what he has always enjoyed doing: planning big things, designing large infrastructure.
In 2007 Nathanael took a position as a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City. In this position he plans projects to protect the shoreline of Long Island and northern New Jersey from flooding and erosion as well as a few projects to improve harbor navigation channels and protect stream banks from erosion and collapse. He has managed a handful of smaller projects beyond the planning phase through design and construction. In 2011 he was recognized as an Outstanding Department of Defense Employee with a Disability. Today he is doing exactly what he has always enjoyed doing: planning and designing infrastructure that benefits the public.
Read the interview with Nathaneal Wales
Articles by Nathaneal Wales
"On Blindness and the Study of Civil Engineering," The Student Slate
"Putting Up the Christmas Tree," Imagine.
"On the Carrying of Trays and the Use of Soda Machines," The Car, the Sled, and the Butch Wax.