Better able to serve the public: Missy Smith Gentry

Editor's Note: This issue's Member Profile features Missy Smith Gentry, P.E., Public Works Director, City of Columbia, South Carolina; member, APWA Projects of the Year Committee; Past President, APWA South Carolina Chapter; and co-recipient of APWA's 2005 Young Leader Award.

How did you get involved in public works? I started working part-time for the City of Columbia during my last year of college. I was actually hired full-time after I graduated and worked in the Engineering Department for over ten years, five of those as the City Engineer. The Public Works Director position came up, and I believe the combination of my education and my experience with the City allowed me to be selected for this position. I did work with the Public Works Department on a lot of different projects while I was City Engineer, which provided me some advantages during the interview/selection process.

Education: I received a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1994 and a Master's in Business Administration in 2002, both from the University of South Carolina. I've been with the City for eleven years. There is a lot to be said for on-the-job education as well as formal education. The combination of the two has been very beneficial to me. I have also recently been heavily involved in emergency operations training intended to better prepare the City of Columbia and surrounding area for emergency response if needed.

Do you have a favorite book? I do. I would have to say that my favorite book is the Bible, because it's about all aspects of life and provides lessons that we all need to remember every day. And I do rely on that heavily.

Hobbies/Interests: Spending time with family and friends. I also grew up riding horses and I absolutely love doing that, but I don't get the opportunity often enough any longer. I do still have some horses at the home where I grew up in Mayo, South Carolina, so when I get there I try to ride some. I also enjoy reading.

Are you involved in equestrian riding or is it more recreational? Oh, it's recreational. I grew up riding western.

Role Model: Both my mother and my father. I grew up with one sister and my parents taught us the importance of loyalty, trust, compassion, and being close to your family. They've always displayed enormous strength in difficult times and lived their lives in a manner that sets a positive example for us and their grandchildren. I actually don't have any children but my sister has three. Both my mother and father have been positive role models for all of us.

Career Accomplishments: Being selected as City Engineer in 1999 was a great accomplishment. I also feel honored to have been selected as the Public Works Director approximately two years ago. I have a lot of experience, but I know there were other extremely qualified candidates for both positions. I also feel it is a major accomplishment to be in a career that I enjoy so much. Many people are not fortunate enough to feel that way and I really do just love every minute of my job.

Tell us more about Columbia's Public Works Department: We're made up of six divisions and have approximately 350 personnel in the total department, with a budget in excess of $19 million a year. The divisions include Animal Services, Fleet Services, Forestry and Beautification, Solid Waste, Street Division, and Traffic Engineering. It's a very diverse group of divisions that all work together to help each other out when necessary. As with most public works departments we work harder during emergency situations than any other time. The employees of the department are dedicated and committed to their jobs and ensuring that our citizens receive quality services at all times.

Congratulations on receiving APWA's Young Leader Award [along with Anne M. Hays, P.E., Engineer III, HNTB Corporation, Overland Park, KS]. What has it meant to you to receive that award? I am thrilled and honored. I actually was not even aware I was nominated until just before I received the letter that stated I had been selected. I'm very proud of being nominated and even prouder of being one of two recipients nationwide. I'll definitely keep that on my list as one of my most significant accomplishments.

How challenging has it been to juggle your time and responsibilities as Columbia's Public Works Director with being APWA's South Carolina Chapter President? It has been somewhat challenging. On July 15 the South Carolina Chapter held our elections, so I'm no longer president. I do have to say that the chapter has a tremendous amount of talented and dedicated individuals throughout the state actively involved in chapter activities. The Board of Directors helped make the job as president much easier than it may have been otherwise. And then the job as Public Works Director...I also have a wonderful team of managers and employees in the department that help make my role less demanding than it could potentially be. I have enjoyed every minute of this position. If you have a passion for what you do it's much easier to do it and do it well. I definitely have a passion for the South Carolina Chapter of APWA and fulfilling my role as Public Works Director for the City of Columbia.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? I'm grateful for the opportunities APWA provides to members of the public works profession that help to enhance our knowledge in the field. There are just a multitude of activities that APWA offers that are beneficial to members of the profession. It's been helpful for me to interact with public works professionals throughout the state and nation, and to learn from each other and share experiences, whether those experiences were successes or failures. I am better able to serve the public by being a member of APWA.