I AM UAA: Tyler Johnson

January 18, 2012

B.S. Civil Engineering ‘03
M.S. Civil Engineering ‘07
Graduate Certificate, Port and Coastal Engineering ‘08
Owner/President, Woodson Technical Services and TK General
Hometown: Soldotna, AK
Fun Fact: He and his father plan to climb Denali together this summer; it’ll be Tyler’s third ascent

I AM UAA Tyler JohnsonPut a mountain in front of UAA alumnus Tyler Johnson and he’ll climb straight to the top. It’s this adventurous spirit and unwavering determination that has led to multiple ascents of Denali—the tallest peak in North America—and a ski descent from the summit of Nepal’s Cho Oyu—the sixth tallest in the world at 26,906 feet. And at just 35, these traits have helped Tyler to become the owner and president of two successful Anchorage companies.

Tyler grew up in Soldotna and developed an interest in engineering at a young age, thanks in large part to his engineer father, also an entrepreneur. “While a lot of kids played computer games, I was out in the field with my dad doing well adequacy tests,” says Tyler.

After high school, Tyler went to college in Minnesota on a hockey scholarship, but admittedly wasn’t taking his studies very seriously so he returned home to refocus. He worked odd jobs for a few years, got married and returned to school in Idaho for a short time, but ultimately decided Alaska was where he wanted to put down roots. “I love it up here; Anchorage is a great community and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

With some engineering coursework under his belt from his time in Idaho, Tyler enrolled in the UAA School of Engineering to complete his bachelor’s degree. To help pay the tuition bill, he got a job with the university working as a mechanic and plowing snow in the early morning hours.

During his senior year, an internship with Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) led to a full-time job after he earned his diploma. “I was set up with a good company and I got to work on an actual project that benefited the community, while meeting the requirements of the degree,” he says.

To keep his mind sharp and remain competitive among his peers, Tyler chose to return to UAA to pursue his master’s degree in civil engineering. Still a full-time employee of AWWU, Tyler’s schedule was filled to the brim with classes and maintaining his career, not to mention building a cabin on the Kenai Peninsula and gearing up for the Professional Engineer licensing exam.

His graduate thesis focused on the development of a pilot study for a new wastewater treatment facility in Girdwood—a project that is in the process of becoming a $40M reality and will be the state’s largest membrane wastewater treatment facility.

After earning his master’s degree and P.E. license, Tyler left AWWU to embark on the journey of entrepreneurship. He met his business partner John—a project management consultant—while at AWWU, and the duo decided to go into business together.

I AM UAA Tyler JohnsonTyler partnered with John in the winter of 2007 with John’s current project management company, Origin Technical Service, which was subsequently acquired by an Alaska Native corporation in 2009. After completing a one-year commitment in 2009–10 as director of engineering for the Alaska Native corporation, Tyler and John hit the road running and started a new engineering and project management company (Woodson Technical Services). Now, they own two successful Anchorage companies: TK General and Woodson Technical Services.

The two companies go hand-in-hand. Woodson Technical Services is an architecture and civil engineering company, while TK General is a construction company that complements the work that John and Tyler do through Woodson. John’s the project manager, Tyler’s the civil engineer, and they’re both project managers for TK General. Tyler’s father—now a retired engineer—is also a temp employee when the project load picks up. “It still seems strange to send my dad a paycheck,” he says with a smile.

Many of Woodson’s projects have to do with remote water and wastewater treatment for the federal government. The company is currently working on several design projects in rural Alaska villages, including water and wastewater projects in Klawock, Craig and Kalskag. The job requires a lot of in-state travel and Tyler estimates that he’s visited about 40 villages over the course of his career.

“Alaska has so many remote locations and, as a result, several infrastructure projects,” says Tyler. “It’s not like a big city, where we’re all connected to one system; there are hundreds of separate infrastructures across Alaska and they all need maintenance and upgrades. And that requires a lot of engineers.”

He explains that the need for engineers in Alaska remains strong. “There’s a huge gap between the engineers that are ready to retire and the younger generation of engineers that are just entering the workforce.”

Tyler recognizes that UAA will be a critical player in helping to fill the gap. “UAA is the center of learning for Anchorage; it’s a great college with a lot of opportunities,” he says. And now, as a professional in the field, he’s starting to notice a trend: More locals are staying in state to get their degrees and work in Alaska. “That’s cool to see.”

As an Alaskan himself, Tyler feels proud to be a part of that growing trend. “I’ve had good success in Alaska and I can attribute that to the degrees I received at UAA.” Recognizing the value of his education, Tyler gives back financially to the School of Engineering each year and maintains strong connections with his former professors. He also has plans to get involved with the UAA Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Among his family, Tyler is not the only one with strong ties to UAA. His wife Ariane is a former employee of the UAA Career Services Center and is currently a senior dental hygiene student. She’ll earn her degree this spring as a member of the class of 2012. The couple hopes that their 7-year-old daughter Evie will one day become a Seawolf as well.

The day after Ariane graduates, Tyler and his father will be on their way north for their next adventure: Climbing the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley (Denali). It’ll be Tyler’s third trip up the mountain and his father’s first. Also an extreme skier, Tyler plans to haul his skis to the top of the mountain and shred some untouched powder.

Besides climbing to the tippy tops of mountain and skiing down, Tyler also enjoys, ya know, some of those less exciting activities like ice climbing and running the annual Mount Marathon Race in Seward. We don’t know about you, but we’re excited to hear what Tyler’s next adventure will be.

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