John J. Healey ENG ’70 Welcomes First-Year Students (Freshman Convocation 2012 Speech Transcript)

Rutgers School of Engineering
Fall Convocation

John Healey, PhD, PE, F.ASCE

Welcome to the Rutgers Engineering Class of 2016

Congratulations on your admission to an outstanding School of Engineering within a great University.

It’s natural to be excited and most likely a bit overwhelmed anticipating the changes and the challenges ahead  - dealing with a new routine, meeting a number of new people, having a great deal of additional independence and facing a challenging course load – it’s a lot to absorb. While it’s over fifty years since I was in your position I can clearly remember how it felt.

You’ve worked hard to be here. Your academic achievements and extracurricular activities indicate that you are the type of person that Rutgers and the School of Engineering know can be successful here. It won’t be easy – but you have what it takes.

Now it’s up to you to apply yourself to the task at hand, and take advantage of the next four years to launch a life-long professional career.

At Rutgers, an extensive range of courses, services, extracurricular activities, sports and outstanding professional and volunteer organizations are available to you. You’ll also have the opportunity to build lifelong relationships with people from around the state, the country and the world and to meet people with completely different backgrounds. This is one of the prime advantages of attending a diverse University.

With this array of activities - time management and self-discipline will be critical. Learning to prioritize your time, to manage your own affairs and to maintain a balance between your courses and other activities will in itself be important part of your development.

Remember that excellent support and services are available – through the faculty, advisors, and the staff of the Office of Student Development. 

You will also find that networking with your fellow students who you study and associate with, is invaluable and helps develop teamwork, communications and leadership skills

You’ve made a wise decision to pursue a career in engineering. Let’s take a look at why this is true.

Engineering is without a doubt a noble and vitally needed profession. Regardless of which field of engineering you decide to enter, your work will clearly benefit mankind. You’ll be involved in improving the quality of life for everyone by providing safe and reliable systems, equipment and facilities, preserving our natural resources and designing and constructing sustainable solutions to meet society’s needs.

You’ll have the satisfaction of seeing your work product come on line as a new or improved mechanical, electrical or biomedical system or piece of equipment, a building, a bridge or a highway, a chemical process, a computer engineering innovation or a new or modernized major facility. Engineers always know that their work is worthwhile and important.

Engineers clearly have the security of knowing that there is an ever-increasing demand for new engineers. Our country desperately needs engineers in order to compete in the world. You have the potential and the responsibility to be the movers and shakers and the societal leaders of the future.

In addition, an engineering education provides virtually endless career paths within the engineering field, in related areas and in business. Many engineers find satisfaction in a primarily technical path whether research, consulting, design or construction, while others move into project management or into general management. Some others decide to utilize their solid educational foundation in other fields such as corporate business management. It’s interesting to realize that about 25 percent of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 firms have degrees in engineering.

What is it about engineering that makes it such an excellent foundation?

It’s the basic training in problem solving, fact gathering, decision making, the processing of data, analytical skills, computer proficiency and creativity. The ability to connect the dots, to create something from nothing, to think outside the box and possibly create something that no one has ever thought about.  Many engineers have inherent entrepreneurial skills. 

Regardless of career path you choose, soft skills are indispensable for success – many of these you already possess and you will have the opportunity to fully develop here. Attributes such as written and verbal communications, people skills and leadership abilities, capacity for hard work, ability to multitask, to set priorities, to deal with ambiguity, to think both strategically and tactically and the willingness to be held accountable for commitments.

In college and beyond, you’ll undergo a process of continuous development and change from the courses you take, your personal life experiences and your professional work experience. Most likely you will develop your career path as you go, exploring your talents and the match between your capabilities, your interests, the world of work and the opportunities which arise.

You’ll find that what you accomplish in life will invariably be achieved by virtue of your ability to work with and through people. One of the most satisfying take-always from my career has been the close and lasting relationships formed with co-workers and business associates. The camaraderie developed from taking on challenging projects together, working long hours, late nights – meeting deadlines - dealing with and learning from successes and failures – creates strong and lasting bonds - 

The people you cross paths with – your fellow students, co-workers and business associates and a supportive family will be significant resources throughout your life. Without a doubt, the continuous support and advice which I have received from my wife, Dorothy, over the years has been invaluable.

We all have different personal strengths to draw upon.  Some of the most important attributes are persistence, integrity and enthusiasm.

Persistence is obviously an indispensable ingredient for success both here at Rutgers and throughout your career.

Integrity - the basic strength of your character - is critical to establishing and maintaining business and personal relationships. Honesty, accountability, the building of trust – are indispensable.  A primary characteristic required for leadership positions is the ability to gain the trust and respect of the people you associate with.

Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do something put everything you have into it, be active and positive. It’s infectious – and an important component of successful projects or ventures

At this point, I’d like to relate various aspects of my personal experiences which may support of some of these general points.

My career in structural engineering and engineering management  has been quite diverse with three distinct phases; academic and research – 10 years; consulting engineering – 15 years; and corporate management – 25 years.

Initially I followed the path originally anticipated.   Studied for advanced degrees then worked in research at a Navy research laboratory, then on steel industry and Army sponsored research programs - conducting research on the stability of shells, the development of national standards for steel design and blast design and developing state-of –the art analyses for nuclear weapons effects.

Very interesting work which provided material for presenting and publishing a number of technical papers. But there came a point where the demands of a growing family led me to accept a position in private industry in New York City– working for Ammann & Whitney an international consulting engineering firm and subsequently for Ebasco Services, a major design/ construction firm

With these positions came numerous technically challenging and unique assignments – in the US and 16 foreign countries – projects with unusual and memorable features, for example: 

Cyclone shelters in Bangladesh; In the 70’s there were a series of storms which caused a great loss in life in the low-lying coastal areas of this  impoverished country – up to 600,00 people in one storm. As a  result the World Bank established a program to build hundreds of multi-level concrete buildings in these areas to perform as schools in normal times and as places of  refuge from the flood waters during cyclones. Since that time these shelters have saved 1000’s of lives. I made multiple visits in these turbulent times for this newly established country, traveling hundreds of miles in the remote coastal areas in a small boat with an armed guard. Needing to outrun river pirates in narrow canals at night, barely missing terrorist bombing attacks in the hotel dining room and on a visit to a marketplace and learning to deal with local government officials with a very different view of the value of human life -

Vibration and foundation issues at a geothermal power plant in the Rift Valley of Kenya; On this trip, I learned a new appreciation for the value of a roll bar on an open jeep travelling on rugged mountain roads to a remote site.

Nuclear power point siting project in the Philippines; You learn flexibility very quickly when you arrive in Manila and find out that in two days you are going to make a presentation to the Philippine Supreme Court and be grilled by an aggressive group of judges – in the effort to justify, after the fact – the siting of a nuclear plant at the base of a volcano, in an earthquake prone area and located on the shore of the tsunami prone South China Sea.

Upgrading design of the world’s largest radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico; New experience climbing up a cable walkway to an operating platform suspended hundreds of feet above the 1000 foot diameter reflecting surface. Even neater to see that facility and the structures we worked on being the subject of a number of movies and documentaries, including the James Bond movie, Goldeneye.

Seismic analysis of a cable supported stadium in Piraeus, Greece; A learning experience to have the results of our analyses become the subject of media scrutiny and interviews in the midst of a highly charged atmosphere where the safety of the stadium had become a political issue.

But things change – and sometimes with unforeseen personal consequences.

In 1979, there was a major nuclear power plant incident at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  The firm, I was with, realizing that the nuclear power plant business was going to be seriously affected established the corporate goal of diversifying into the Infrastructure field – transportation, water resources, facilities and buildings. 

My acceptance of the challenge of leading this diversification effort had a profound effect on the rest of my career – since it was the beginning of a 25 year phase in the overall management of engineering firms.

This diversification effort resulted in the building of a 500 person nation-wide firm from scratch – performing major infrastructure projects from multiple offices across the United States. After serving as the founding President of that subsidiary (Ebasco Infrastructure), I became the Chief Executive of its successor (Raytheon Infrastructure) and then Greenhorne & O’Mara, a Maryland based national firm.   

The corporate management role entailed expanded responsibilities for all aspects of general management, - finance, risk management, strategic planning and marketing as well as maintaining connection to the engineering work by performing as Principal in Charge of major projects such as:

The program management of major toll roads in California and Texas

Design and construction management of the Diamond Valley Reservoir in California, one of the largest earth moving projects in US history. Two world class earth filled dams were constructed closing off the ends of a five mile valley to create one of the largest reservoirs in California.

The award winning FEMA building performance study on the World Trade Center towers following the 9/11 attack.  Having worked in the south tower for 17 years, and being there during the initial terrorist attack in 1993 and losing a number of former co-workers and neighbors in the tragic event in 2001, it was a very personal experience to be in charge of my firm’s management of the award-winning report for FEMA on the attack and the performance of the twin towers.

Currently I am serving as the Chairman of ARA, a diversified technology firm active in the defense, transportation, environmental, health and energy fields from 60 offices across the country. I also have the privilege of chairing the Civil and Environmental Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and serving on two other Advisory Boards here at Rutgers.

As you move ahead, keep in mind that openness to new ideas combined with a willingness to move out of your comfort zone and undertake new challenges, can lead to the discovery of talents and strengths you never knew you had.

Focus on obtaining a strong engineering foundation, developing well-rounded capabilities from available activities, being open to opportunities and always enthusiastic about your life and your profession.

Enjoy your years here at Rutgers and keep your eye on your primary goal – becoming an Engineer

Best wishes to each and every one of you for a challenging, exciting and productive four years here in the School of Engineering and a rewarding career as a Rutgers Engineer. 

Finally, Here’s to a victory tonight against South Florida!

Thank you very much.