R. Michael Hale is the Engineering Mentor for Tacoma Community College’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, a position he has held since 2016. Raised in Chicago, Michael’s career as a Civil Engineer led him to Tacoma, where he eventually retired as a Project Manager for the City of Tacoma’s Environmental Services Department after twenty-three years of service.
Michael serves as a member of the Graduate Tacoma STEAM Learning Network, where he routinely provides guidance and support to expand access and success in STEAM learning for Tacoma students. He is a long-standing member of the American Society of Civil Engineers — encouraging and developing the next generation of civil engineering professionals.
Michael’s role as a pillar in the community extends beyond his profession. He teaches martial arts classes at the Tacoma-Pierce County YMCA, something he’s been doing weekly for nearly forty years. He’s an avid gardener and proud great-grandfather. In this Q&A, Michael tells us about the path that led him on this journey and the important role of community leaders.
What is the path that led you to a career in engineering?
As a child, I was always tinkering with things. I liked taking things apart and seeing if I could put them together again, particularly electronics. I liked building things too. I didn’t know what people or professions did that; I just knew I liked doing it. Once I got older, that’s when I found out that engineers do a lot of the things that I liked doing — building bridges, homes, electronics. It was always what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know that the engineering curriculum was the path to do that.
How has community played a role in your career?
I grew up in, what we called, the ghettos — and I always felt a willingness to share what I have and do. That willingness came from my family and the families we grew up around. They were always involved in our church, community events, fundraisers. Community, to me, starts with family — and then it’s reaching out and being a part of what’s around you and trying to make it better for yourself and those that are part of that community.
How do you see your role as a community leader?
Even when I was a student myself, I was involved in working with kids younger than me. I’ve always done outreach to try and inspire them to want to be something — to try and be an image for them. They don’t have to be me, but just to be something. That’s what I try to do, I just do what I can do.
How can community members lean in to guide youth through the cradle to career pathway?
If youth have someone that they can go to and talk to, who can give them some assistance, their success rate is usually very high. And that’s something that we know from research. If students have support and mentorship, they will follow through and be successful.
What is your personal mantra?
Be the best person you can be and interact with others how you want them to interact with you. And try to be uplifting!