The Call for Adventure

From NMSU graduate to Director of Land/Site in Phoenix: A Civil Engineering Career in Full Motion

In the scorching heat of New Mexico, where the desert sun beats down relentlessly, a young New Mexico State University graduate embarked on a journey that would shape his career and leave a lasting mark on the landscape he touched. Meet James Kelley, PE, Director, Land/Site in BGE’s Phoenix location. James’ story began with a choice to go to New Mexico State University (NMSU) and pursue structural engineering instead of architecture at the University of New Mexico (UNM), a decision driven by a desire to create: “If I didn’t design the body, I would design the skeleton,” he likes to say. As the wheels of James’ career began to turn, the city of Phoenix served as a mere pit stop on his journey westward.

After graduating and moving to Albuquerque, James eagerly dives into his first civil engineering project in Albuquerque with excitement. The Assistance League of Albuquerque faced a challenge with ponding water behind their building, and James was tasked with finding a cost-effective solution for this non-profit organization. The parking lot was small, re-grading the whole lot was too disruptive and expensive, and a storm drain was non-existent. James’ solution? A French Drain in the parking lot driveway and a concrete valley gutter to effectively drain the ponding area. The approach only required some minimal grading and asphalt beyond that. Simple, practical, and, as time would tell, enduring.

Fast forward 25 years, James’s initial drainage project in Albuquerque stands strong, a testament to the principles he learned early in his career—keeping it simple and easy to maintain. The lack of rain in the area and the lack of offsite runoff also helps reduce how much sediment ends up in the French Drain.

The concrete valley gutter and inlet in the back parking lot of the Assistance League of Albuquerque’s Blue Portal Building in Old Town Albuquerque. It is used to direct water from the back of the building to a French Drain in the parking lot. Kelley's first civil engineering project 25 years ago.

As his journey progressed from Albuquerque to his leadership role at BGE in Phoenix, an exciting career unfolded. James’ adventurous spirit led him to job opportunities in Las Vegas (NV), Charlotte (NC), Knoxville (TN), Houston (TX), Dallas (TX), and Tampa (FL). Each experience paving the way to his current position.

Now at the helm as Director of Land/Site at BGE and with PE licenses to practice engineering in 10 different states in the U.S., James reflects on the lessons learned throughout his career. He believes there’s always a solution to a problem; the challenge lies in finding the best solution. “You need to consider more than what is the easiest to design and try to accommodate the needs of the client as best as you can. That, and the broader impact on the community, all play a part in shaping a successful project,” he says.

Today, drawing from his extensive experience across the U.S., he shares invaluable advice for aspiring civil engineers: ‘Stay humble, absorb knowledge from everyone—be it supervisors or contractors.’ As he phrases it, invest in your growth, confront challenges head-on, and ‘Be courageous in tackling unfamiliar territory.’

Tailored Paths

BGE, a company that values finding the right fit for every individual, encourages both specialization and entrepreneurial endeavors. “We like to find the right seat on the bus for everyone. We have subject matter experts, and we also provide entrepreneurial opportunities for those who want that challenge. Your future is up to you, and the company will support you in your goals,” he adds.

In the expansive world of BGE, James’ natural curiosity found a home. He could have stayed in one place, but the call for new challenges and opportunities propelled him forward. With a robust presence in the South U.S., BGE is continuously expanding its services and footprint to meet the growing needs of its clients. “The company’s unique work-sharing philosophy fosters a dynamic and interconnected environment, enabling individuals to collaborate on projects across different regions and departments. This enriches their professional growth and cultivates a dynamic and varied career path.”

From the arid landscapes of Albuquerque to the leadership corridors of BGE in Metropolitan Phoenix, James’ journey is an inspiring tale of resilience, adaptability, and the enduring spirit of a civil engineer whose first project is still intact. At BGE, the invitation is clear: join us, find your seat on the bus, and let’s build a future that withstands the test of time.

Do you want to put BGE’s Land/Site Team to work for you in Arizona? Contact Director, Land/Site and BGE Associate James Kelley, PE, at 480-860-7800 or