Story by Julie Shoemaker on 09/11/2019Experts agree that success is achieved through various means by different people. Some have boiled success down to mathematics, the simplest formula being: skill X effort = achievement.
But what about timing, training, and even pure luck?
When impulse, sheer chance, and coincidence collide, they sometimes create a perfect opportunity for the lucky person who is ready to accept the challenge and take advantage of the product of that collision.
A series of perfectly timed actions and moments landed University of Maryland junior Robert Ayoub a summer internship and a potential career after college with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District.
In February, while planning for his summer, Ayoub visited an instructor after class specifically to ask for a letter of recommendation. While waiting patiently for his turn, he overheard students and the instructor discussing the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference. It was to be in just a couple days and the school already had filled their attending group. But the conference included a long list of professional corporations and government agencies looking specifically for STEM students to hire.
Ayoub got the details and decided spur of the moment to drive to Washington D.C. and try to attend on his own. He said that he walked around the huge complex for hours, talking with representatives from what seemed like hundreds of potential employers.
"It was getting late, and considering that I had to drive back, I decided it was time for me to start thinking about leaving," Ayoub said. "I looked up and saw the Army Corps of Engineers table and decided that I would talk to them first, and then leave," he said.
At that USACE table were the Middle East District's Site and Building Design Branch Chief Jeff Raney, and the Workforce Management Specialist Steven Terrell. They'd come to the conference to represent the district and seek STEM students interested in internships with TAM.
"We had the authority to hire three students on the spot," he said. "And we had already done that so we were getting ready to pack it in and start heading home, but wanted to talk to one last student who seemed interested in the Middle East District.
"That turned out to be Robert Ayoub," Raney said. "And he seemed really great, he was interested in the Middle East and was studying Fire Protection and the district needs fire protection engineers! On top of all that, he also speaks Arabic, which only sweetened the pot.
"So I went out on a limb and decided to go ahead and offer him a position, even though he would have been the fourth offer we made, but he fit so perfectly, I couldn't pass it up," said Raney.
As it turned out, the other three people who received offers from the district that day, did not follow through.
Ayoub's quick decision to attend the conference had turned into a job offer. But his luck doesn't stop there.
He reported to the Middle East District and within three weeks of starting, was offered the chance to travel with fire protection engineers to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, to check out an aircraft hangar's high expansion foam discharge system.
"Of course, I was interested and yes I was willing to go," he said. "And during the week-long trip, I learned so much, about the systems and process from our engineers and even the contractors that were there."
Two weeks after that trip, he had another chance to travel.
"After the team returned from Fort Wainwright, we were able to offer him another opportunity," said Tom Stephenson, the District's Building Systems Design Branch chief. "This time to accompany the team to Puerto Rico on another fire protection mission."
Ayoub's summer hire position ended the middle of August because he was preparing to return to College Part for school full time. Before he left, the district had one more offer for him. And again, he accepted.
"Robert is going to work for us on an intermittent part- time basis throughout the school year," said Stephenson. "He will be doing work for us, but we'll keep the load at a level that won't interfere with his classes. He will be able to come back and work for us during his breaks and next summer. This is a win-win situation for Robert and for the District."
There were so many variables that if timing had been off by just a few minutes would have changed the entire outcome for both Ayoub and the Middle East District. But with a little luck, both sides benefited.
"Robert is extremely bright, a quick learner and very interested in fire protection. He'll make a good engineer," Stephenson said.