Distinguished Member Embraces Civil Engineering’s Past, Keeps It Alive


The life of a road warrior is never easy.

Business travelers spend many hours in airports, airplanes, and hotels when their careers require travel. Often travel turns into adventure, with delays, cancellations, and other unforeseen challenges which cause down time. Many people are looking for ways to use that down time more productively and with purpose.

Paul Giroux, Dist.M.ASCE, is one of the talented few to manage to find a way to use otherwise less than productive time on the road to give back to the profession. Giroux is a senior engineer at Kiewit in Vancouver, WA, and during the last decade he has added civil engineering historian, writer, and ambassador to his credits.

For all he has shown in his love of civil engineering, from decades past through his own works today, Giroux was named by ASCE’s Board of Direction to the Class of 2016 Distinguished Members.

“I think it’s a relevant lesson for all of us in any vocation. When we get involved in our associations and different societies, we not only learn more but we find opportunities to give back to the profession,” Giroux said. “It was not anything I really envisioned, how it can snowball.”

Giroux has himself been a contributor to historic megaprojects around the country, including the Big Dig in Boston, the Fort McHenry Tunnel in Baltimore, and most recently the new Bay Bridge East Span between San Francisco and Oakland, CA.

It was an editorial he wrote in 2007, titled “Building Better Bridges,” that opened up his unforeseen second act. He sent the piece to renowned engineer, prolific author, and Duke University professor Henry Petroski, Ph.D., P.E., NAE, Dist.M.ASCE, for comments before publishing it.

“I’d read some of his books, and we kind of keyed in on some of the same types of ideas and thoughts with respect to historical bridge designs,” Giroux said. “I think in some ways we were kindred spirits.”

Organizing Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th anniversary fest just the start

He was right. Suitably impressed by Giroux’s interest in civil engineering history, Petroski recommended that he join in planning the Brooklyn Bridge’s 125th anniversary in 2008. A few phone calls later, Giroux found himself chairing the celebration, planning the event, preparing a lecture on the bridge’s history, and serving as a liaison to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

With the mentorship of Petroski and others on the ASCE History and Heritage Committee, the event’s success led to similar roles for Giroux in anniversary celebrations of the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Panama Canal. These anniversaries occurred every two years, and provided plenty of opportunity to leverage his travel down time to unravel some of the mystery behind some of mankind’s greatest works.

“You look at all those projects. They pushed the limits of the available technology of their era,” Giroux said. “The old builders were very resourceful, in terms of ‘These are the tools we have to work with and how do we use the tools we have available?’

“Leadership, communication, the soft skills – a lot of those lessons are timeless. Yeah, a lot of the tools we use change radically generation to generation, but there are so many timeless lessons from the great builders.”

Sharing the stories of the Great Projects, at engineering schools across the country, Giroux said he hopes his stewardship efforts as an ambassador can help promote civil engineering and heavy civil construction  to students and young engineers just beginning their careers.

“An awareness of our civil engineering history and heritage instills pride in our collective contribution to society, and with pride we are inspired to do great things,” Giroux said.

Distinguished Membership is the highest honor ASCE can bestow. It is reserved for civil engineers who have attained eminence in some branch of engineering or in related arts and sciences, including the fields of engineering education and construction.

The 2016 class of Distinguished Members will receive their honors at the ASCE 2016 Convention, Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, in Portland, OR.

Read about each of the 2016 Distinguished Members.

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