Influential Engineering

“Sometimes the only way a construction problem will be solved is by taking our expertise and getting someone smart from the university who knows the technical side,” says Rick Hermann. “Let’s get our heads together and solve this.”


For 24 years, Rick, manager of construction engineering for PCL’s Heavy Industrial division, has been working with graduate and doctoral students from the University of Alberta to find real-world uses for academic research being done in the school’s engineering department.

“We can solve a lot of problems. We have a lot of smart people at the university. The thing is that, within construction engineering, unless the problem is a real-world problem … it’s not really as valuable,” says Simaan AbouRizk, chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering at the U. of A. Simaan has been collaborating with Rick on research projects and placing students with PCL for more than two decades.

The result? Rick and his team have mentored more than 30 students on their way to master’s and doctorate degrees. More than 60 academic papers have been authored — “Rick has been published more than half my faculty,” jokes Simaan — and the partnership has led to innovations that help PCL plan and build everything from where modules are placed in the assembly yard to which crane should be used on-site to  the shortest path to lay cables on a project. Graduates who have worked on projects with Rick have gone on to success throughout the industry and in academia.

“A lot of things, like my working habits, I got from the days working with Rick,” says Zhen Lei, a U. of A. graduate turned PCL employee who went on to become an assistant professor of engineering at the University of New Brunswick. “Rick has a very strong work ethic, and I think that has an influence on all the students who have worked in his group. He sets a very high standard in terms of the quality of work. So, after working there, you automatically train your brain to set the bar very high.”

“Rick deserves quite a bit of the credit. He really expends quite a bit of effort. At times, he’s very hands-on, and I have to tell him that this is the student’s thesis, their work. He can’t solve it for them,” Simaan adds with a laugh. “But Rick is the kind of person who gets his hands dirty and really takes ownership. I value him immensely.”

“It’s very interactive, and quite gratifying when you have that kind of a relationship with a student. In that process, I teach the student, but they teach me as well,” says Rick. “I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing the students excel, achieve something.”​


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