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Civil Engineering Technology professor keen on problem solving in classroom

You won’t get bored taking Chris Cartwright’s classes at Tidewater Community College.

Program head for Civil Engineering Technology, Cartwright understands that droning on endlessly does little to improve students’ retention. “I lecture less and try to engage the students more,” said Cartwright, who regularly puts lecture content online so he has plenty of time for one-on-one instruction class. “That way, they can watch a lecture as many times as they need to and come to class and get the hands-on help they need.”

Cartwright used to be the one sitting in the classroom at TCC; he graduated from the college with an Associate of Science in Engineering in 1987. From here, he earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from Virginia Tech followed by a master’s in environmental engineering at the University of Arkansas.

Admittedly, his father chose the engineering field for him after Cartwright rejected the idea of Bible college. It was a good choice, he said, both financially and academically. “If I had started at Tech, I might not have made it, but once I got there, I was well prepared,” he said.

Prior to returning to the college to teach, Cartwright held numerous engineering positions, primarily for the health departments in Virginia and Arkansas. His experience largely focused on oversight of new and existing water systems to ensure compliance with regulations and design standards.

His first teaching experience came as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Arkansas. He enjoyed it so much that he became adjunct faculty at TCC when he returned to Hampton Roads in 1997 to work a second time at the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Water Programs.

“When you go into a classroom to teach, you have the ability to make it your own,” Cartwright said. “It’s yours and what you make of it. Every 16 weeks, the semester ends and you get to reset.”

Program head since 2002, Cartwright teaches introduction to civil engineering technology, drafting, mechanics and statics classes and introduction to environmental engineering. Many graduates of the program find work immediately in public works or utilities or with material testing firms. Others transfer into Old Dominion’s Civil Engineering Technology program, the only one in the state.  

Cartwright stresses the fundamentals in class, rather than bombarding his students with excessive information. He uses a smart pen for his fluid and mechanics classes to record himself working through problems step by step so students can follow the process along with him.

Though he held several positions before TCC, he can’t imagine being anywhere else, stressing, “I’m not going anywhere for a long time.”

In his spare time, Cartwright enjoys tinkering in his garage with projects and biking. He and his wife, Gina Hughes, reside in Virginia Beach with daughters Jessica and Katrina.