Celebrating 20 Years and a Lifelong Commitment to Building Community through Civil Engineering
It’s been 20 years since subsurface utility engineering expert, Fulgence Bugingo, joined Murraysmith (a CONSOR partner since 2021). In celebration of this monumental milestone, we share his incredible career story below—from growing up in Rwanda and earning his civil engineering degree, to meeting Kevin Thelin on a 1993 Rwandan water treatment project and reuniting as engineers at Murraysmith almost a decade later. What better way to commemorate Fulgence’s 20 years with the company than to recount how he got here?
Childhood Curiosity Paves the Way to a Passion for Engineering in Rwanda
Fulgence’s curiosity for engineering started as a child growing up in Rwanda. While walking to school in the early 1970s, he became fascinated by watching crews survey the land and later construct a road. It made him wonder how infrastructure is designed and built. From that moment on, he knew what he wanted to do with this life—engineering.
After earning his civil engineering degree from the National School of Public Works Algiers, Algeria, he worked for a French and then a Canadian-owned engineering company in Rwanda. That’s where, in November 1993, he met Kevin Thelin working on a water treatment plant and distribution network. Kevin was impressed with Fulgence’s eye for detail and ability to communicate with clients and colleagues (in English, French, and Kinyarwanda, no less).
“People respect his ability to keep details in his head,” commented Kevin. “Combined with his cool-under-pressure demeanor, he is a master at completing work on time and on budget to this day.”
Civil Engineering for the Community During a Civil War
In 1994, the Rwandan Civil War compelled Fulgence and Kevin to flee the country. After staying in the neighboring country of the Congo, Fulgence returned to Rwanda for a short time to help rehabilitate the local water treatment and power plants, restoring water and electricity to the community.
Continued socio-political disturbances made it unsafe for Fulgence and his family to stay in Rwanda. At one point through the Rwandan tragic events, there was a month where Fulgence and his wife were separated and without the ability to communicate—they had no idea what, if anything, had happened to each other. When his wife went looking for him, people told her that Fulgence was probably dead. Fortunately, he was in hiding, and they eventually reunited.
What followed was an escape to Kenya with their six-month-old daughter. All the while, Fulgence and Kevin stayed in touch, hoping to one day work together again.
Friendship Finds a Foothold at Murraysmith
Set on Fulgence joining the Murraysmith team, which was around 35 people at the time, Kevin and the leadership group worked with an immigration lawyer to tackle mountains of paperwork and decipher endless amounts of red tape. The Bugingo family finally made it to Oregon in 2002.
“I was welcomed with open arms,” remembered Fulgence. “There is a camaraderie at the firm where people feel respected and are able to share ideas openly.”
In this new environment, Fulgence quickly got up-to-speed on the programs and methods in the fast-paced world of civil engineering in the United States.
Success as our Go-to Subsurface Utility Engineer
Fulgence’s interest in subsurface utility engineering (SUE) increased throughout his career. He enjoys the challenge of identifying and mapping the chaos of existing utilities, then designing strategically around them to minimize project costs. He’s so good that he’s become the firm’s go-to for all projects related to SUE and enjoys mentoring other engineers in SUE and watching them flourish.
“The challenges we face in this industry keep me motivated. They give us opportunities to grow our skills,” Fulgence stated. “And the openness and adaptability of the company is what piqued my interest and continues to draw me in today. The company moves with the technology and ideas in the industry.”
His community involvement extends well beyond his engineering work. In addition to spending quality time with his family on long runs in his neighborhood, Fulgence (and, sometimes, his now-grown son) runs the annual Hood to Coast Relay with his Portland-area colleagues to support social reconnection, environmental awareness, and sustained physical fitness. From his first relay just four months after arriving in the US to recently celebrating his 14th time running, Fulgence is the most accomplished Hood to Coast runner on our team!