Bob Lambrechts discusses his career -- and UMKC's interdisciplinary focus
As college graduates strive to differentiate themselves from an ever-growing pool of job applicants, interdisciplinary programs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City continue to grow.
Bob Lambrechts -- an intellectual property and environmental lawyer at Kansas City, Mo.-based Lathrop & Gage, an adjunct engineering professor at the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering and a Commander in the United States Navy Reserve -- has built a successful career by melding different disciplines, and believes interdisciplinary programs will make students more competitive in an aggressive job market.
"Students need to think broadly, because the world is a very complex place today," Lambrechts said. "Giving students opportunities to learn power plant design, strength of materials and other hard-core engineering principals is great, but we want students to graduate with a broader understanding of the role they play in society and the impact their decisions will have from a legal, financial and ethical perspective."
Lambrechts earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia in the early 1980s, and joined the Kansas City Department of Energy as a robotics engineer in 1983. His team was tasked with designing and implementing robotic works cells into the facility’s production operations. As a robotics engineer, Lambrechts had the opportunity to test and develop systems that were cutting-edge technology at the time.
After his first three years as a robotics engineer, though, Lambrechts wanted to explore other career options. He wanted to expand his skill sets and learn about other topics, but he was not quite sure what those would be. After considerable reflection, he narrowed his options to four areas, which consisted of pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering, pursuing an MBA, becoming a sales engineer or going to law school.
"Then, I asked myself, 'Which path is likely the hardest one to pursue and which one might I not have the chance to ever pursue again if I don't do it now?'" Lambrechts said. "That led me to law school (at Saint Louis University)."
Lambrechts had also aspired to join the Navy, so he spoke to a Navy recruiter before entering law school. Because Lambrechts had majored in engineering and had a professional engineering license, he was able to receive a Direct Commission as an engineering duty officer in the Navy Reserve. As an engineering duty officer, he assisted in the design, maintenance and repair of the Navy's ships and submarines.
Upon graduating from law school, Lambrechts found environmental law to be a natural choice because of his engineering background. He joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Regional 7 office as a special assistant to the regional administrator. His job was to assist the Air Pollution Control program staff in developing regulatory programs and legislation for controlling air pollution. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 had recently been signed, and the Clean Air programs at EPA were garnering attention.
"It was very interesting work and also very challenging because the EPA was developing complex regulations to control air pollution," Lambrechts said. "Having an engineering background facilitated my understanding of how these requirements applied to power plants and industrial facilities."
Today, Lambrechts uses his engineering and law background as an intellectual property and environmental lawyer at Lathrop & Gage. In fact, he would not have been able to practice patent law without an undergraduate degree in engineering, physics, biology, computer science or other degrees that are specifically authorized by the U.S. Patent Office.
Lambrechts also serves as a Navy campus liaison officer and teaches interdisciplinary engineering classes at UMKC. For the spring 2009 semester, he is teaching an environmental engineering course that covers environmental statutes and how they relate to environmental protection laws. Typically, law and engineering students enroll in the class.
Such interdisciplinary classes are integral to providing students with a well-rounded education that will serve graduates as they gain more experience and leadership within their organizations, Lambrechts said. "The more training and knowledge you have, the better prepared you will be to survive in this competitive environment. Learning should be a life-long passion."
Posted: April 02, 2009