Rusty Sievers, PE Receives ASHE National Lifetime Achievement Award

“I have worked with many engineers in my career with the Florida Department of Transportation and beyond, and I can’t think of a more competent, honest, and reliable engineer to rely upon for difficult right-of-way decisions. Rusty is results-driven and the consummate professional.”

– Larry Gendzier, Esq., Assistant Vice President/Corporate Legal Counsel, GAI Consultants

On May 21, The American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE) presented GAI Consultants’ Senior Engineering Manager Jeffrey M. “Rusty” Sievers, PE with their 2016 National Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 ASHE National Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. ASHE established the award to recognize a member who has supported the organization and made other notable achievements throughout their career.

I recently had the honor of sitting down with Rusty to discuss the award. Although I’ve known him for less than three years, I can say that Rusty is one of the kindest, most jovial, and professional coworkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working alongside. We discussed his nearly 50-year career trajectory; his family—which includes his wife, two sons, and six grandchildren; interesting projects he’s worked on; and more. Highlights from our conversation are below.

Why is this award important to you?

Rusty: It’s a really great honor. To be recognized by my peers is a wonderful feeling. I’m extremely appreciative of the ASHE Central Florida Section for nominating me and I also want to recognize the AHSE National Board for honoring me.

As an engineer, what have you enjoyed the most?

Rusty: Working with the stakeholders to reach a successful conclusion, whether it’s the condemning authority, the experts, the property owner, or another party. That has been the case throughout my career—on the design side, the environmental side, the construction side, and what I’m presently doing. Interacting with people and coming up with a successful conclusion is what I enjoy most, because in the end, there needs to be a win-win situation for everyone.

“Rusty is a true professional, setting a standard that engineers admire and strive to obtain in their careers. The Lifetime Achievement Award is a well-deserved honor for Rusty’s ongoing efforts to improve our profession.”

Gary DeJidas, PE, President and CEO, GAI Consultants

You’re one of the founding members of the ASHE Central Florida Section—how did you get involved?

Rusty: I was good friends with a client who was a professional engineer at Orange County—he became involved with the group’s formation committee and asked me to get involved as well. I joined in 1992, and we chartered the ASHE Central Florida Section in January 1993. I’ve served the Central Florida Section in many different roles, including Regional Director, Director, President, Treasurer, and Chairman of the History and Bylaws Committee.

What are some lessons learned that you’d like to share with other engineers?

Rusty: My first lesson learned is to keep an open mind, because there are multiple ways to have a successful project. I’ve always said, if 100 engineers are given the same task, every engineer will do it a little bit differently. But the goal is to get a project to a point that is successful for the client or whoever you’re preparing the work for. Sure there will be similarities in how people do things, but there will definitely be many things done differently. My second piece of advice is when you make a mistake—which you will—you need to admit it, fix it, and do it only one time. I have had some memorable bad experiences, and it’s critical to remember the mistakes and not repeat them. Also, always remember who you’re trying to satisfy, and don’t try to satisfy someone else at the same time. Overall, it takes tact and working together to ensure everyone is happy with a project’s outcome, and sometimes that’s a tough thing to accomplish.

What is your greatest accomplishment in your life?

Rusty: Besides work, my family is number one. My immediate family is not very large—I have two sons and six grandchildren. Family is very important to me and I spend as much time with them as I can.

Why do you go by “Rusty”?

Rusty: When I was born, my grandmother came into the hospital room, saw my very red hair, and said, “There’s Rusty!” And that nickname has stuck with me my entire life. In fact, most people didn’t even know my real name was Jeffrey when I was growing up. And if I ever heard “Jeffrey Mark,” I knew I was in trouble. For legal documents nowadays, I use my legal name, “Jeffrey.”

How has engineering changed since you started your career in 1967?

Rusty: Let me give you an example—when I went to college, we didn’t have electronic devices. When I took my PE exam in 1972, I used a slide rule. That era was just starting to come out with Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard devices, so everything was done by hand. For instance, we used true linen with a coating on it to draw plans. Shortly thereafter, we got into Mylar, or plastic materials. And we used pencil, pen, or a special ink to do that. And that went on for several years. It wasn’t until the eighties that we got into computers, and they were enormous. In fact, a double screen monitor setup cost about $50,000 just for one station. And we had to tie into a big mainframe computer to run it. It was minutia in comparison to what we do now with small computers. So the biggest change I’ve seen has been all the electronics and how everything is produced. And in doing that, everything is sped up from what it used to be. I remember when we first had fax machines—to send just one page would take two or three minutes. From 45 to 50 years ago to the evolution of today, there is just no comparison. And unfortunately some of it is a lost art because there were people who could do hand lettering and freestyle and it was just amazing what they could do—it was beautiful work. Now when it comes to the actual plans preparation, I couldn’t possibly do that on a computer, because I haven’t kept up with that technology, so I have to rely on others who know programs like MicroStation and AutoCAD.

Who has been influential in your career?

Rusty: There have been two people—one gentleman was my supervisor when I worked at Washington State Highway Department. He was a great guy, had a positive attitude about everything, and was a good mentor. He taught me how to manage projects. Then, certainly, working with GAI President and CEO Gary DeJidas—Gary has been very influential in whatever I’ve done at GAI, and we have worked together and interacted very closely. He allowed me to do everything I did—whatever it was, he was there, helping me get to where I needed to be. Fortunately, he and I think a lot alike, so we really worked well together on most things, and it’s been great.

When asked to comment on his colleague receiving the ASHE National Lifetime Achievement Award, GAI President and CEO Gary DeJidas, PE—who has worked with Rusty for 26 years—notes, “Rusty is a true professional, setting a standard that engineers admire and strive to obtain in their careers. The Lifetime Achievement Award is a well-deserved honor for Rusty’s ongoing efforts to improve our profession.”

Currently in a semi-retired capacity, Rusty focuses his efforts in GAI’s Right-of-Way group, providing engineering and planning support and expert witness services to appraisers and attorneys on the acquisition of property (eminent domain) for transportation projects. He has been instrumental in GAI’s growth and has held various leadership positions within the company, including Senior Vice President, Chief Operations Officer, Executive Vice President, Regional Manager of GAI’s Southeast operations, and Operations Manager for GAI’s Transportation Business Unit. For questions or more information about Rusty, contact him at 407.423.8398 or visit our website.

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