The payoff of taking risks
Alumni Series Where are they now?: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering alumna Michele Pauli Torres
Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
Engineering and tennis brought Michele (Pauli) Torres to WVU, but it was her five years spent as a member of ROTC that helped shape her professional career.
“In just 15 years, Health Facility Solutions Company has expanded into 23 states, the District of Columbia and internationally to Germany,” said Cumberland, Maryland, native Torres, who graduated in 1994 with a degree in mechanical engineering. “With more than 70 employees, HFS has been awarded 23-plus prime contracts with federal agencies providing worldwide medical and facility architectural, engineering, construction management and facility optimization services.”
Like many Statler College students, a love of math and fixing things led Torres to engineering.
“My father was a machinist and was always working on building or fixing something and I was always eager to watch and help,” Torres said. “My mom suggested that I should be an engineer, and that sounded like a great idea to me.”
A weekend visit with WVU’s women’s tennis team gave Torres a feel for the school.
“WVU seemed to have a lot to offer, from sports, to social activities, to extracurricular learning. The students on the team didn’t waste any time showing me how awesome WVU is, they all had pride in their school,” Torres recalled. “They cared about each other as part of the team and had the bond of being a WVU student. No other university could compare.”
In addition to tennis and ROTC, Torres lived in the Honors dorm as a freshman, was a four-year member of Kappa Delta Sorority and worked as a ticket taker for concerts at the WVU Coliseum.
“I was not offered a tennis scholarship my freshman year but was hopeful that if I made the team and had a winning record, I would be offered a scholarship my sophomore year,” Torres explained. “ROTC was my backup plan in case my tennis skills weren’t enough to get me the scholarship I needed to continue my education. Although I made the team, an injury made the coach question my ability to continue to be a value to the team in future years and did not offer me a scholarship. God had a plan that turned my backup plan into my ultimate career path.”
“Engineering never seemed to stress her out and she always excelled,” said former roommate and sorority sister Paige Nesbit, who now works in the Statler College. “Back in the early 90s, there weren’t many female engineering students – I personally knew two – but she never seemed to get caught up in that. It always came across to me like, ‘This is my major, I’m going to do the best I can and these guys in my classes are students just like me. We are all on the same playing field. You show up, do your work and then onto the next.’”
“My parents instilled my work ethic – work hard, get it done and then have fun. I didn’t even think about how much time or effort engineering and ROTC would require, I just knew others had done it, and so could I,” Torres said. “I have always enjoyed a challenge, whether a math problem, a tough tennis competitor or balancing a business and a family.”
Upon graduation, Torres served stints with the U.S. Army in Germany, Kentucky and Virginia, all in the area of healthcare facility planning.
“I joined the Medical Service Corps instead of the Engineer Corps in the Army because the environmental engineers fell under the medical folks. Environmental engineering was the ‘hot’ career back then and I wanted to be a part of it,” Torres explained. “Once I entered the Medical Service Corps, I found out they have a group of architects and engineers under the Health Facility Planning Agency that supported the construction and renovation of new Army medical facilities worldwide, and I knew that was where I wanted to be. It is so rewarding to be part of the planning phase of putting the building on paper and then seeing it come out of the ground into reality.”
She served as a health facility planner for nine years in Germany for the Europe Regional Medical Command, on the LaPointe Health/Dental Clinic project in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and at the U.S. Army Health Facility Planning Agency in Falls Church, Virginia. At USAHFPA she assisted with the implementation of the Project Integration Division and earned her certification as a Project Management Professional. In 2001, she received the USAHFPA Commanders Award.
She started HFS in San Antonio, Texas, to provide services to the Assistant Chief of Staff - Facilities, U.S. Army Medical Command. She refined the Army’s medical facility investment strategies to support balanced scorecard initiatives and assist programming requirements for capital investments as part of the major repair and renewal program in support of the Army Medical Department’s $1.4 billion inventory.
“After I left the Army, I still wanted to be part of the team that worked to make the medical facilities the best for our soldiers,” Torres said. “I decided to start my own business and assist on projects as a contractor. It allowed me to use my skills and still be part of a great team, just without the uniform.”
“When she was about to complete her time in the Army, I remember her starting up her company,” Nesbit said. “When she told me, it was so matter-of-fact. To her, it was never a question of can I do this? Most of us would have been thinking ‘I just moved back to the states, almost out of the Army, what’s my next step?’ For Michele there was no question. It was I’m going to start my own company and continue to design medical clinics.”
“With high-profile projects including the transition of the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the construction of the new Army replacement hospital at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, I turned my military experience into a multimillion-dollar business,” said Torres, who went on to earn a master’s degree in construction management at Arizona State University, and stresses the importance of continuing education.
“Continue learning and get credentials as soon as you can. Saying you are a project
manager and ‘proving’ you are a project manager with your Project Manager Professional
Certification goes a long way with employers,” Torres noted. “Don’t be afraid to
try something, even if you are not sure.
If you think something might be too hard, do it anyway.
The lessons you will learn will take you further than playing it safe.”
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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