At Chastain-Skillman, our work is driven by a relentless commitment to innovation and accuracy. This drive is made sustainable, however, by a genuine, people-first culture that is supported by leaders with decades of experience.
We are distinguished by our innovative approach to engineering backed by decades of professional experience and unwavering attention to clear and consistent communication.
Our engineering and surveying professionals are the cornerstone of our company, and we are proud to celebrate all of their achievements and contributions — especially during National Engineers Week!
Our firm has served the Central Florida area and beyond for over 70 years, and we owe our rich legacy to those who have been a part of the Chastain-Skillman team both in the past and the present.
James R. Chastain, Jr., PhD, PE, MPH, BCEE (known to our team as “Dr. Jim”) has been with our team since 1972, joining the company after graduating from the University of Florida. Due to the untimely deaths of Roy Chastain and Joe Skillman, Dr. Chastain assumed the role of president in 1981 with Ken Campbell serving as Vice President of the firm. Under Dr. Chastain and Mr. Campbells’ leadership, the firm expanded in size and scope of services, adding environmental science, environmental risk management, industrial hygiene, and other public health services.
His current role being Principal and Senior Consultant, Dr. Chastain has 48 years of professional experience in engineering and planning as a consultant to both government and private industry.
His academic training in both environmental engineering and public health (environmental and occupational health) focuses on the relationship between community infrastructure planning and environmental impacts. This in conjunction with his professional practice has resulted in his systems-thinking approach to problem-solving, especially in the area of water resource planning.
To mark National Engineers Week 2021, we sat down with Dr. Chastain to discuss topics such as his day-to-day work schedule, his experience working within the engineering industry, and advice he would give to any budding engineering professionals.
Read more below:
Describe your typical day: What do you do as soon as you get to the office? What takes up most of your time? What is your favorite part of the workday?
- Go to Starbucks, read my devotional app, check my calendar and email
- Dealing with projects, data analysis/statistics
- Early morning coffee when I first get into the office and eating guava pastries on Fridays. Also, when I have uninterrupted time to truly be able to think through a problem on a project and come up with a solution.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? When did you realize you wanted to become an engineer?
I wanted to be a dentist like my uncle. Then I realized what dentists actually had to do and decided I wanted to be something else.
After learning more about what my dad did, I decided after my senior year of high school that I wanted to be an engineer. I originally wanted to be a structural engineer but was inspired to become an environmental engineer after the inception of Earth Day in 1971 and the development of a new Environmental Engineering department while I was attending the University of Florida.
Describe your experience as CEO/President of the company: What accomplishments came out of those years that you are most proud of? What, if anything, would you do differently?
I am most proud of keeping the company going after the sudden deaths of my dad (Roy Chastain and Joe Skillman) within a year of each other. I was only 32 at the time and all our engineers at the time were younger than me.
Interestingly, according to current and former employees, the thing for which I will most likely be remembered is my project management training for young professionals. Based on mistakes that I made as a young engineer, I use MAKE PEAR BITS SOB to convey stories of what I did and how they can avoid making similar mistakes.
Which CS projects have been some of your favorites to have worked on?
- Oakbridge Development – this development would not be in existence today without Chastain-Skillman. The site was formerly a phosphate mine that had been abandoned. I did a case-study for the landowners to decide what they could do with 1,400 acres of this undeveloped land that had gone to waste. My research resulted in a $5 million land reclamation grant. That grant became the catalyst for the development of Oakbridge, Grasslands, and Lakeside Village, which became one of Chastain-Skillman’s biggest projects and one of Lakeland’s largest developments.
- Bartow WWTP – State Award Winner for engineering innovation
- PK Avenue – This project won the 2019 ACEC-FL Grand Award for Engineering Excellence in the Water and Stormwater Category.
- I also helped over 25 employees complete their master’s degrees, and 5 employees complete their PhDs.
What, in your opinion, is one of the most underrated skills to have as an engineer?
The ability to see the BIG picture. An example of this is PK Avenue. The City of Auburndale initially came to us because of a drainage problem on PK Avenue. We could have opted for the easy solution of making simple drainage modifications. But looking at the big picture, we saw there was grant money available from SWFWMD if we could reduce the nutrient load in Lake Lena (adjacent to PK Avenue). The project expanded from simply addressing the drainage issue to a complete street project that improved water quality in Lake Lena revitalized the area, and improved traffic and pedestrian safety. This comes from systemic thinking – seeing the larger picture and understanding how each system connects and impacts the project as a whole.
What is one of the most fulfilling aspects of your job as an engineer? Why have you continued to be an engineer all these years?
Instead of just talking about improving the environment, as engineers we are able to do it. I am also proud of developing a firm with a variety of disciplines, enabling us to tackle every aspect of a project – enabling big picture thinking.
What advice would you give to young people who want to pursue engineering as a career?
The engineering capabilities of society are directly proportional to its success. Engineers are doers and problem-solvers. They make things more efficient. All major problems are ultimately solved by engineers. Engineers provide the bridge to translate science into social benefits.
Are there any specific skills/areas in which you would consider yourself to be an expert? If so, what are they?
I have significant experience in the areas of water, wastewater, and statistics; however, I wouldn’t say my greatest strength is being an “expert” in any of these areas. Instead, I feel like my greatest professional attribute is having a broad knowledge of many different areas of related to engineering and the environment, which is why I have degrees in civil engineering, environmental engineering, and public health. Having a general knowledge of all of these disciplines enables me to think systematically and see the big picture.