Vincent J. Ziparro, P.E.
Chief Engineer, Vice President,
De Paul University
Engineering, University of Notre Dame
Engineering, University of Notre Dame
"As Chief Engineer,
Vice President, and Director, I am responsible for engineering
operations, reporting to the company president. I am responsible
for hiring, training, and the professional development of staff.
I also serve as Project Manager on major Haiza projects."
"Get as much contact
with the profession as possible. It's good to go to town
meetings where they deal with engineering problems and hear the
reaction and to listen to people, their complaints, and to get a
sense of how people view the things that are happening around
"I have recently taken on additional responsibilities in covering from the
board level, the Asian market, which encompasses the Philippines,
Malaysia, and China and Korea and Laos. In that capacity, I will visit the
various countries and various clients that Harza maintains in those parts
of the world, and also the various project offices that we have there and
maintain a liaison with both the client and with the Harza people on site
with this office here in Chicago."
Q: Why did you decide to
study civil engineering?
I studied civil engineering primarily because of the influence of my
father who was a small contractor in Chicago. And he had always instilled
in me that the most important person that showed up on the job was the
engineer. Always dressed very nicely. And always working with the
superintendents and in explaining how things are to be done. So he felt
this would be a good profession for his children to enter.
Q: So when you went to
school did you immediately decide to major in civil engineering?
I also was kind of a tinkerer, so I kind of felt I had a little bit of an
aptitude for engineering, so with that in mind I kind of stayed with it
and I enjoyed both math and science and again, talking to counselors in my
high school, all indications were that, since I liked it and since I had
the aptitude for it, engineering would be a good profession for me.
What was school like?
School was very rigorous,
although I also participated in band, so there was some diversion. I took
a combined course. My high school counselor felt that, at the time,
engineers were spending too much time in numbers and science and not
enough in the arts and letters, so at the time I graduated from high
school, there was a three/two program, where you spent five years in
college, three at a liberal arts college, and two at an engineering
college, and ended up with a degree both in arts and a degree in
engineering. So, because of that, the course load was always quite
strenuous. I remember sixteen hours a semester being a light load. Usually
it was eighteen or twenty-one hours per semester. And, of course, a lot of
laboratories with the science -- physics and a chemistry lab, which took
more time than you got credit for, of course.
Q: Did you zero in on a
I always felt that I wanted to be a structural engineer. In the summers I
would work with my dad in the construction business, and we were always
doing structural things - concrete foundations and steel erections. So I
never deviated from that focus.
What did you specialize in, in your graduate degree?
Q: Is grad school
different than undergrad?
Much different, I felt.
I felt at grad school there was maybe a less structured type
environment, where you got to participate a little more with your
professors and got to work more on an equal level, rather, where the
professors have the upper hand, so to speak in a classroom situation
in undergrad school, but there seemed to be a better working
atmosphere with the professor at the graduate school level.
Q: Did you think that
school prepared you, for the way the work gets done in the real
That's an interesting
question. I think the academics are very important and prepare you
for the work environment. I did not participate in the concrete
canoe building, although our university did. I did participate in
the American Society of Civil Engineers -- at the student level and
we did have some meetings and invited guest speakers and did those
kind of professional activities. Didn't have a lot of time for too
many other activities. So as far as how the university prepared for
the work environment, other than the academic preparation and
knowing the subject matter, there wasn't a whole lot of interaction
for team type activity. Although we did have, thinking back, we did
have a seminar wherein we worked in teams preparing a presentation
which was a very worthwhile experience.
How has technology changed within engineering?
Well primarily through the use of the
computer, which has opened up significant areas that were just not
available when you working with a slide rule and a calculator and
with mathematical models primarily. Computers just make things that
were impossible, when I graduated from school, possible today in the
way of modeling structures, for instance. In addition to that, all
the drafting that we're doing today is done by CAD, by computer
again. And when I first joined the company, I remember a major
project we did in Virginia, the Bath County Pump Storage Project --
we had maybe two floors of drafts people working on that project --
50 to 70 draftsman as the job peaked. We just recently completed a
similar project in Georgia called the Rocky Mountain Project -- and
that project, we had a handful of CAD operators producing as many
drawings in maybe half the time. So I think that will continue. That
process will continue. One of the biggest challenges we have is
keeping up with the hardware and the software technologies. As soon
as we buy a computer it seems that in three to four months there's
some new speed or some new chip or some new advancement that
requires us to invest more. And it's that way with software. And I
think that will continue. Those are some of the things that are
happening in the field and I think that's throughout engineering
Q: Where do you see jobs
for engineers in the future? What should students be doing to
prepare themselves to take on those roles?
Several things. I think engineers will need to
be a little bit broader in their background and I know engineer
curriculums are pretty jammed as they are currently, dealing with
the technical aspects. But I think an important attribute would be a
language. I think a language -- if some engineer can take on some
language, working knowledge, fluency, if possible, they will have a
tremendous advantage. I think also to take on some financial type
background is important these days. The most recent buzz word in our
profession is privatization and most of the utilities are
privatizing their businesses and they're looking toward engineers to
opine on asset value, for instance. I never knew what that meant
when I got out of school, but I think obtaining those kinds of
skills and being able to present is also important. Make
presentations. Communication skills. Again, engineer's curriculums
are filled with laboratories and number crunching and there isn't a
lot of time to develop those other skills, but they are becoming
Q: What about your
specialty in particular, do you find that there's a great demand of
In our particular field, structural and civil
engineering there is a continuing need for rehabilitation and of
existing structures. There's constant concern over seismic activity.
We see that in California all the time. It seems that we still have
a way to go in developing seismic criteria and seismic designs that
can withstand predictable -- not predictable earthquakes, but
earthquakes that occur. Here in Chicago we have been looking for
structural engineers, licensed structural engineers and we find that
they are very hard to obtain. Obviously there's a demand for those
folks in the engineering profession. It is very important, though,
that you obtain a license. I found that some people have not paid
attention to that and they get on in their career and find it very
difficult to go back and take an exam to obtain that license. It is
very important for a company like ours to have its people licensed.
It's a form of recognition and in many cases it's required that they
actually put their license on the drawing.