Distinguished service and excellence in civil engineering and construction at ASU earn honors

Awards are ready to be handed out at the SSEBE Hall of Fame ceremony.

The School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment celebrated the achievements and service of a select group of alumni and community members during its annual Academy of Distinguished Alumni and Hall of Fame awards ceremony and dinner on March 1.

The Academy of Distinguished Alumni honors high-achieving graduates of the school. This year's honorees are leaders in their fields and have given back to programs in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

The Hall of Fame, established in 1990, recognizes people who are not alumni but whose work has contributed to the advancement of the school, its educational and research missions and its ability to prepare the next-generation workforce.

The 2019 ceremony inducted two of the school’s outstanding contributors into the Hall of Fame and five alumni exemplars into the Academy of Distinguished Alumni.

Prominent Arizona engineers celebrated for their legacy of support

Mark Minter and Thomas G. Schmitt are this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

“Both Mark and Tom are true exemplars for engagement and have volunteered and partnered with us over a sustained period of time to improve the quality of our programs in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment,” said Ram Pendyala, interim director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and professor. “We are proud to have both inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Minter served as the executive director of the Arizona Builder’s Alliance, a trade association of commercial and industrial builders including general contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and service companies. He is now retired after 40 years of service in the commercial and industrial construction business.

Minter has been a consistent supporter of educational efforts by the Del E. Webb School of Construction, which is part of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

In the early 2000s, his involvement was instrumental in arranging funding from industry partners and the Arizona Legislature. Minter’s support was a key factor in securing funding for the Block 12 Project, which aimed to expand the ASU Tempe campus northward and includes the College Avenue Commons building, home to the Del E. Webb School of Construction.

“Mark is a class act and has more than 30 years of sustained engagement with the Del E. Webb School of Construction,” Pendyala said. “He has done it all, from advocating for construction education in the state government, fundraising for the Block 12 Project, to calling our first-time freshman applicants and welcoming them to campus when we were in between student recruiters. What he has done for us is nothing short of amazing.”

Schmitt has served Arizona in many engineering roles, particularly in the area of transportation. Since moving to Arizona in 1979, he served as a resident engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation. In this role, he worked on the construction of the Interstate 10 coming into Phoenix as well as ADOT projects in Tucson and Flagstaff. He served as the ADOT state engineer before retiring in 1999.

He now serves as president of T & S Diversified Inc., a construction management company, working on a variety of management consultant services.

Schmitt worked with Professor Sandra Houston, who served as the chair of civil and environmental engineering between 1996 and 2006, to form Friends of Civil Engineering in the early 2000s. He served as the chair of FOCE for more than 10 years and helped increase interaction between the professional world and the civil engineering program at ASU. His leadership helped enable FOCE’s expansion to include environmental engineering and multiple subcommittees that continue to expand opportunities for both civil and environmental engineering students. Schmitt has impacted the lives of thousands of students and enabled a closer relationship with the school’s industry partners.

“Tom is a stalwart whose commitment to taking the Friends of Civil Engineering from concept to fruition has paid great dividends,” Pendyala said. “I can think of very few individuals who would approach an academic unit and help create an organization that would serve as the conduit of interaction between students and industry, and then oversee its growth for more than a decade. FOCE is a rare gem because of Tom’s efforts.”

Minter and Schmitt join 10 Hall of Fame inductees honored in past years.

Distinguished alumni contribute to industry, academia and government

The Academy of Distinguished Alumni inducted five new members into its ranks at the 2019 ceremony. These alumni exemplify the spirit of ASU as a New American University and show excellence in their professional work as well as compassion and support for their communities.

“I am incredibly impressed by the breadth of accomplishments of our distinguished alumni in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment,” Pendyala said. “In our 2019 distinguished alumni class, we have the homegrown company president, Steve DeTommaso; the civic leader, Mayor Douglas Nicholls; the president of a university, John Nicklow; and leaders abroad, Paul Henry and Janaka Ruwanpura.”

Stephen C. DeTommaso, who earned a bachelor’s degree in construction in 1975, is the former owner, CEO and president of Torrent Resources Inc., formerly known as McGuckin Drilling Inc. During his 43-year tenure with the water drainage solutions company, DeTommaso grew the organization from a seven-employee contractor that conducted onsite wastewater disposal and drilled foundations to an eight-state regional business with 120 employees specializing in stormwater management, disposal and recharge (how water enters an aquifer). DeTommaso stepped down from active management in 2011 and currently serves as chairman of the board.

Since graduating in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in construction, Paul D. Henry has gained more than 36 years of international construction, engineering, operations and enterprise management expertise. Henry, currently based in Ireland, serves as Europe, Middle East and Africa regional director for data center construction and delivery at Google.

Prior to joining Google, Henry worked as the chief operations officer for Defense Equipment and Support (DE&S) in the UK, reporting to a three-star admiral. He was responsible for the delivery of mission-critical equipment to the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. He also previously served as the deputy director and chief operating officer of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Between 1999 and 2011, he served in management roles of increasing responsibility for Bechtel Corporation, one of the largest infrastructure and construction firms in the world.

Douglas J. Nicholls, a civil engineering alumnus who graduated in 1994, is serving his second term as the 27th mayor of Yuma, Arizona. As mayor, he has spearheaded many efforts to elevate the community, including founding a mayor-led binational economic development initiative called “4FrontED” to work collaboratively with communities near the border region. Nicholls’ vision for local higher education availability is the Yuma Multiversity Campus concept, which aims to construct a centralized hub where state universities and regional higher education institutes can collaborate to offer full bachelor’s degree programs in Yuma. His efforts have contributed to economic development and opportunities for a better life for Yuma residents.

Alumnus John W. Nicklow has pursued a career in academia since graduating in 1998 with a doctorate in civil engineering. Nicklow, a professional engineer, has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and has many accomplishments in research, enrollment management, student success initiatives, fundraising, campus-wide collaborations and academic program innovation.

He was appointed president of the University of New Orleans in March 2016. In this role he focuses on enrollment growth and student success, strengthening the school’s research enterprise, and building alumni, community and business partnerships. Prior to becoming president, he spent nine months as the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Since taking over as president of UNO, Nicklow has undertaken a number of initiatives to increase enrollment, enhance student retention and greatly expand research and learning opportunities for students.

After earning a master’s degree in construction in 1997 from ASU, Janaka Ruwanpura went on to earn a doctorate and has had a career developing and successfully implementing best practices and tools in the construction industry. His contributions to productivity improvement, project management, project planning, construction management, risk management, decision analysis and sustainability have led to more than 180 published technical papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings.

Ruwanpura, a professional engineer, has been recognized with national and international awards for teaching, research, service, graduate education and internationalization. He currently serves as the vice provost international at the University of Calgary. His work as vice provost international has contributed to the growth of a number of international partnerships and programs at the University of Calgary. By building connections across borders, Ruwanpura is greatly expanding global education opportunities for students and enhancing collaborative research activities aimed at solving grand challenges confronting societies around the world.

DeTommaso, Henry, Nicholls, Nicklow and Ruwanpura join 30 other alumni inducted into the academy since it was founded in 1995.

“Induction into the SSEBE Hall of Fame and the Academy of Distinguished Alumni is a special honor reserved for the few who have reached the pinnacle in their chosen profession and have made a difference in the lives of many through their incredible body of work,” Pendyala said in closing the ceremony.  

With their names permanently etched into the walls of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Pendyala urged the inductees to be changemakers who improve people’s lives, thus inspiring generations of students who seek to walk in their footsteps.

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