From the ditch to the boardroom

Joint Program instructor Wilson’s big day

Frank Wilson, an adjunct professor in the University of Missouri-St. Louis/Washington University in St. Louis Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, had one of the best days of his life Oct. 5 when the City of St. Louis proclaimed the day "Big Frank Wilson Day." But an event that occurred two weeks prior is what changed his life.

Wilson, chief executive of BFW Contractors, was fishing with his two children and some friends Sept. 24 in the Mississippi River when the boat sank. All of the occupants were wearing lifejackets, but they drifted and floated in the water for nearly two hours in the dark before being rescued.

"All I could think about was that I had my kids out there, and I might lose the most important things in my life," he said at the recognition ceremony held in the School of Engineering & Applied Science Oct. 5. "All of a sudden, all that is important came to light. I'm grasping my children, praying to God to help us find a way out and to find safety."

Once rescued, Wilson had a new outlook on his life.

"I have a whole new appreciation and heartfelt respect for my family, for life and the amazingness of God," he said. "I was thinking about my life, and through that reflection, I think about all these things I've set out to do. It was very similar to that moment in the river. I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I had places to go."

Wilson began teaching in the UMSL/WashU Joint Program in 2011. Three years ago, he started his own construction company, BFW Contractors. Through his company, he provides construction management, general labor and demolition services. In addition, he provides education and workforce development initiatives and advocates for minority participation in construction. He is a member of the National Construction Leadership Council Steering Committee of the Associated General Contractors of America, and serves on the board of Rainbow Village, an organization that provides homes for people with developmental disabilities in St. Louis. In 2013, he was named among the St. Louis Business Journal's 40 Under 40, and he was a member of the FOCUS-Leadership St. Louis Program Class of 2013-14. He has been a board member of the EAGLE Endeavor College Preparatory Charter School and of the Marian Middle School.

BFW Contractors is establishing ties with the university through various activities. In the summer of 2016, the company was one of the contractors working on the demolition of the interior of Bryan Hall. In addition, BFW plans to partner with WashU in some its community workforce development initiatives, Wilson said.

Wilson earned a bachelor's degree at Albany State University in Georgia and played on the school's football team. He worked for several years in construction as a laborer, digging 60-foot ditches at construction sites. However, he wanted to get into a leadership position and learn more about construction management, but was unable to find an opportunity. Then he found the Master of Construction Management program in the Professional Education program in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and earned the degree in 2010.

"As I look at the journey that I've been privileged to be a part of and to witness, I see a guy who has taken the next step," said Steve Bannes, program director of the Master of Construction Management program. "In everything Frank has done, he's done with a high degree of integrity, and he's never lost that sense of giving back."

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,200 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.