To Sir, with Thanks

Alumnus credits retired dean Fred Bernath with helping him earn his SoE degree

For Mark Damiano, the path to earning a BS in civil engineering was far from direct. As the 1995 honors graduate sees it, if not for retired associate dean for academic affairs Fred Bernath, he would not have achieved his goal.

“He gave me an avenue,” Damiano recalls. “No man’s an island – you need the help of other people. Through hard work, you can get there. But sometimes you just need a little push, or break, along the way.”

Damiano recently wrote to thank Bernath and remind him of the tremendous difference he made in his life. “You likely don’t remember me, since it has been almost 25 years since I graduated,” he wrote. “It is incredible how time goes by, and this message to you is long overdue.”

As the son of a materials engineer, Damiano developed an interest in engineering. Yet he found the transition to college life challenging. “I wasn’t old or mature enough to make the commitment to a rigorous curriculum such as engineering,” he explains. “If you don’t apply yourself every day, you’re behind in the blink of an eye.” After landing on academic probation at the end of his second semester, he switched to business, graduating from Rutgers Business School in Camden in 1989. 

Yet two years later, while taking a late night walk while in Florida, he finally realized what had been on his mind for some time: he had to go back to school to earn an engineering degree. Initially, he was told that admission to the School of Engineering was closed for fall of 1991, but by enrolling in what was then called Rutgers University College, he could take the preliminary engineering classes but only with special permission. 

Disappointed, he drove to Busch campus and asked to meet with Bernath, unannounced. Damiano presented his case and Bernath agreed to sign off on the engineering courses. “If I maintained a 3.0 GPA or better, for two semesters in a row, he said he would accept me into the School of Engineering.” Damiano did even better than that, ultimately graduating with an honors degree in civil engineering in 1995. 

He subsequently embarked on a successful career. He co-created Damiano Long Engineering, which employed as many as 75 people, many of whom were from Rutgers. “I was always impressed by everyone who came out of Rutgers,” he recalls. By the time he sold the firm in 2005, it had grown from its Camden, New Jersey office to include offices in Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Florida. 

Damiano has since moved to Florida’s Fort Lauderdale area, where his consulting work includes evaluations of damage to commercial and residential buildings and forensic building inspections. “The rigors of having a company became heavy,” he says. “Now I no longer work 50 to 60 hour weeks and I am living life the way I want to.”

Damiano reflects, “The world is at your fingertips, you just need to be willing to do whatever it takes, to reach your true potential, and where experience meets opportunity, that’s luck. I’ve definitely worked hard but I’ve also, certainly, been lucky. I’m eternally grateful to Rutgers for allowing me the opportunity to earn such a well-respected degree and, as a result, all the countless things that came afterward,” Damiano says. “Dr. Bernath and his team were in my corner and legitimately cared that I achieved my goals.”

As for Bernath, he notes that “even small acts can have huge impacts on our students. Mark has had an incredible career due mostly to his own talent and perseverance. All I did was make time to see him outside of my office hours to hear his story.” 

Damiano concludes, “As Dr. Bernath has said, just a little nudge can change a life. I’m really humbled and grateful for the opportunity he gave me.”