Baylor grad designs custom houses

Baylor alumnus Matt Whitehurst designs custom housing with Copeland Engineering. Photo courtesy of Matt Whitehurst

By Audrey Patterson | Reporter

A December 2020 Baylor graduate uses his engineering degree every day in a unique way to visualize the perfect custom home for his clients.

Baylor alumnus Matt Whitehurst began working at Copeland Engineering as a design manager 11 months ago. He said he obtained his job through a previous internship with the company.

“The role I play in the process is that I’m the check to make sure that the house will work as designed and then make their design all of the structural supports within it,” Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst said a custom-of-volume home is a cookie-cutter home that big production builders multiply to make a neighborhood. He said a custom home includes more involvement from the owner and a partnership with an architect.

“The project first starts with the architect,” Whitehurst said. “They will draw the floor plan. They’ll give you a 3D model sometimes or just a rendered image of the house, and then I will go in and I’ll design all of the beams required to make the ceiling joists, any beam that’s needed for support. Then I’ll design the roof to make sure that it doesn’t fall down. We’ll also design all of the cables or the steel that you need to put in the foundation to make sure if the Earth moves, it doesn’t shift your house.”

Whitehurst said even though remodels are the hardest part of his job, they’re also his favorite.

“I like being challenged, and I like trying to figure stuff out,” Whitehurst said. “It’s like a puzzle that you don’t have any pieces for. So you have an outline of the puzzle, and I have to draw in pieces, but it’s really easy to forget pieces. That part’s hard. But once you put together the full puzzle, you feel really accomplished.”

Whitehurst said he is the main employee who works on remodels, but he enjoys going on-site and collaborating with the architect and homeowner.

“I’ll go out on site visits, and I’ll look at what the current house looks like, and a lot of times, they’ll have taken the sheetrock off the walls, so I can see exactly where the support structures are, which direction they go and what walls are load-bearing,” Whitehurst said. “So I can use that information to design what’s happening to it.”

Choosing career paths can be difficult, but Whitehurst said he had known what he wanted to do from a young age.

“I was always the kid who would build the most abstract-looking tower out of blocks,” Whitehurst said. “High school was where I realized I wanted to pursue engineering because they had an engineering class, and there was an aerospace section of the class, and we got to go out and fly drones around, which is just a fun thing. It’s like using physics principles that are not exactly exciting to create something that is exciting.”

Dr. Elon Terrell, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, taught Whitehurst statics, the study of structures that are not moving, and thermodynamics, the study of energy conversion.

“He was always glad to participate in whatever we did,” Terrell said. “We tried to do different activities outside the class. I took them on field trips, and we did some engine lab stuff, and he was right there just willing to be a good participant.”

Terrell said he tries to bring real-world implications into his classes beyond the theories they learn.

“I try to bring that reality into class and also try to help students to understand that when they work in the real world, that they’re working for a company, that company needs money and that’s the goal for the company,” Terrell said. “That’s why they’re going to get hired, and so they have to add value to that.”

Whitehurst said the classes that prepared him the most for his current job are statics and instrumentations and measurements. He advised current engineer students to take in what they are learning because they are developing useful tools for the future.

“A lot of what you’re learning right now is not how to do your job in the future; they’re teaching you how to learn and teaching you how to problem solve,” Whitehurst said. “Elon Musk said, ‘College is for learning how to do your chores.’ So learn how to do your chores. Learn how to think critically and then worry about getting a career.”