West Virginia Secretary of Transportation credits long career to WVU Tech experience
At 17, Wriston said he thought he had all the answers. He left high school and entered the workforce.
“Any job you can think of, I’ve probably done it,” Wriston said. “I’ve been a welder, a truck driver, a construction superintendent and a pizza delivery man.”
While working for a large construction company in North Carolina as a construction superintendent, Wriston said he always completed his jobs on time and under budget. At age 32, he was commuting to North Carolina from West Virginia, where his family lived. His last two projects at the construction company were completed before their deadlines and under budget, giving him a large bonus, more than his annual salary.
He saved that bonus, moved back to West Virginia, and decided to go to engineering school at WVU Tech.
Once he completed his GED, he went to Montgomery to talk to Dr. Ernest Nester, dean of the engineering school at the time.
Dr. Nester told Wriston to convince him to let him into engineering school.
“He told me that no one with a GED had ever completed engineering school at Tech,” Wriston recalls. “I told him in four years he wouldn’t be able to say that.”
Wriston had taken one algebra class at Beckley College. Dr. Nester told Wriston that if he took a trigonometry class and passed with an A, he would let him into engineering school.
Wriston went back to Beckley and recruited enough students to have a summer course in trigonometry at Beckley College. He passed with an A.
In the fall of 1992, Wriston was enrolled at WVU Tech and graduated magna cum laude in 1996 with a degree in civil engineering.
Wriston’s motivation for going back to school was to get a job where he was home more with his two small children instead of working jobs that required 12-to-16-hour workdays.
He landed a job in Lewisburg with the Department of Highways. He worked there for eight years in the bridge department and eventually became a design engineer.
Wanting to tackle new challenges, Wriston transferred to Charleston. He worked as a project manager and was promoted to be a regional design engineer.
Secretary Paul Maddox, another Tech alumnus, asked Wriston to help him on special projects. He then became Secretary Maddox’s senior engineering advisor for 12 years.
In April 2019, Governor Justice asked him to be acting commissioner of the Department of Highways, and in 2021 appointed him as the Secretary of Transportation.“Education is so crucial to me,” Wriston said. “Dr. Nester said it all, nobody with a GED or at the age I was had gotten through engineering school. In the last conversation I had with him, he reminded me he couldn’t say that anymore. And to think, you’ve got a high school dropout running the show now.”