ENGINEER OF THE YEAR
When civil engineer Bruce Boncke was a kid, for fun he rummaged through piles of discarded car parts at a gas station on St. Paul Boulevard in Irondequoit.
Back home he fiddled with the starter motors and other parts for hours, not minding how greasy his hands and clothes got.
As he excelled in math and science in high school, Boncke began narrowing his career options. A gentle nudge from his 12th-grade English teacher to steer clear of professions involving writing and grammar led him to pursue engineering at Clarkson University, his father’s alma mater.
"I thought I was destined to be a mechanical engineer rather than civil," says Boncke, founder and CEO of BME Associates in Fairport.
In the early 1970s, when Boncke was a young engineer, one of his first major projects was the McCurdy’s wing at the new Eastview Mall. The engineer’s longstanding connection to the property, including his firm’s involvement in its latest redevelopment, represents his proudest professional achievement.
Boncke’s longstanding involvement with the National Association of Home Builders, including time as the organization’s national vice president, led to the opportunity to testify before Congress two years ago. It ranks on Boncke’s list of career highlights. With only six minutes to speak, he urged politicians to support green infrastructure and design but not regulate it.
"It was really quite amazing to be involved that deep in the middle of the country’s politics," he says.
Whittling his comments to fit the allotted time took weeks.
"Literally, in these sessions, your microphone is shut off after six minutes," he says.
A few years ago, Boncke also met Federal Reserve System chairman Ben Bernanke while representing NAHB and sat in the Fed’s two-story chandeliered board room. Topics during the meeting ranged from appraisal regulations to underwriting issues, he recalls.
Boncke’s 30-person engineering firm specializes in site engineering and land planning. Away from the office he enjoys restoring classic cars. His collection includes a 1957 Chevy, a 1963 Corvette and a 1965 GTO.
"I actually restore anything," he says. His latest project involves refurbishing Lionel trains-some that are family heirlooms dating to the 1920s-for his two grandchildren, who are 7 and almost 5.
EMCOR Services Betlem
With 20 acres of Wayne County farmland as his playground, Jerry Cott spent much of his childhood on a minibike or snowmobile, racing through his family’s apple trees and cornfields.
When taking a breather, he would take the vehicles’ motors apart, just to sate his curiosity.
Cott, now general manager of EMCOR Services Betlem, a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning firm in Rochester, says tinkering and his father’s guidance led him to his profession.
"My father wasn’t a degreed engineer, but he worked as an engineer for several different contracting businesses, and he always encouraged me to pursue that discipline," says Cott, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1988.
Soon after graduating from RIT, Cott began working for IBM Corp. in the Hudson Valley. He started as a facilities engineer and worked his way through the ranks to manage a sprawling clean room and semiconductor manufacturing space.
"I really enjoyed working on that," says Cott, who stayed with the corporation for six years. "I think I developed an expertise in working through just about every mechanical process-heating, air conditioning, refrigeration."
While at IBM, Cott earned an executive MBA degree in finance at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He then returned to Rochester to work alongside his father.
"I took a lot of those skills and was able to assist in growing our business into a much more industrial business that supported large commercial clients," he says.
Since Cott joined EMCOR, the firm has served as a consultant for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s FlexTech program, which assists businesses, non-profits and other entities with energy-efficiency studies.
Cott’s company has done more than 100 studies for various participants in the program, including the city of Rochester, Pluta Cancer Center and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc.
"I have a real passion for energy efficiency and reducing our clients’ energy costs," he says.
In his spare time, Cott serves on the advisory board for RIT’s Clean Energy Incubator, which helps early-stage clean energy companies with product development, marketing and technology commercialization.
He also serves on the advisory committee for RIT’s Venture Creations business incubator, home to the Clean Energy Incubator.
Cott has discovered that the young guns at both incubators know how to inspire.
"It’s exciting being with very entrepreneurial, innovative thinkers," he says.
In 1977, Steven Griffith accompanied his father on a business trip to a telecom equipment manufacturer. During their day at the company, the younger Griffith marveled at the chief engineer’s talent for managing the application problems that came his way.
A few years later, Griffith earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.
"I always knew that I liked electronic things," he says.
Soon after graduating from college, Griffith developed a line-sharing device for fax machines and telephones based on a sketch his father had done on a napkin. The device earned a patent in 1989 and sold tens of thousands of units.
In the following years, Griffith earned a master’s degree in computer engineering from Syracuse University and worked for Harris Corp. RF Communications Division, Rail Safety Engineering and Netlink Transaction Systems.
In 2001, Griffith became director of engineering at Sigma International, where he supervised engineers developing a medical infusion pump that was many times more power-efficient and accurate than its predecessors.
The project remains Griffith’s proudest professional achievement. It occurred amid rising expectations for how drugs should be administered to patients.
Now managing partner and co-founder of AppliedLogix LLC in Fairport, Griffith still has his finger on the pulse of health care. His firm, which employs six engineers with more than 135 combined years of experience, provides electronics and software development services for safety-critical and non-safety-critical embedded systems to the medical industry, as well as for transportation, alternative energy and military clients.
"So what I like the most about it is that it’s very interesting (work)," Griffith says. "There’s always a lot of new problems to solve."
When he is not playing hockey or heading the Avon Walk Against Hunger in Livingston County, Griffith and his wife tend to 4,000 grapevines they planted on their property in Rush five years ago.
"In fact, we’re doing a lot of pruning right now," says the engineer, whose vines include riesling, pinot noir and Traminette.
Griffith’s eventual plan to launch a winery is already shaping up to be a family affair: His youngest daughter, a senior at RIT, recently put the finishing touches on the venture’s marketing plan.
University of Rochester
Brian Thompson has balanced professional pursuits in applied science and engineering with the softer side of life for decades.
While provost at the University of Rochester, for instance, he and his late wife, Joyce, made it their mission to add extensive perennial gardens to Patrick Barry House, the provost’s residence on Mount Hope Avenue.
That sense of balance follows Thompson, now UR provost emeritus, to this day. He remains active at the University of Rochester Press, which he founded in 1989 for the publication of scholarship on musicology, European history and other subjects, and recently spent some of his free time finishing a breezy read about an Irish country doctor.
When he was a teen in northern England, Thompson considered becoming a high school physics teacher. But fulfilling his national-service commitment as an electrical-engineering technician for anti-aircraft systems in 1950 quickly rewired his ambitions.
By the late 1950s, Thompson was cultivating his passions for physics, optics and teaching as a doctoral candidate at the University of Manchester in England.
His time in Rochester began in 1968, when he joined UR’s faculty after working as a lecturer at the University of Leeds in England and as senior physicist for a corporation in Massachusetts. He served as director of UR’s Institute of Optics, then dean of the School of Engineering and finally provost from 1984 to 1994.
Beyond the classroom and the laboratory, Thompson contributed to UR and his field in other ways. He edited Optical Engineering-the world’s most widely circulated optics journal-and wrote more than 175 papers and textbooks.
Thompson’s current endeavors include serving as trustee and member of the Link Foundation, a Binghamton-based organization that provides financial support for research on energy, advanced simulation and training, and ocean engineering and instrumentation.
The foundation initially consulted Thompson for input on how it could extend its reach to the energy field.
"So we came up with the (plan) of actually giving students who were in a Ph.D. program a fellowship so they could really pursue their research without having to get money from somewhere else to survive," he says.
As he prepares for a long season of gardening at his Pittsford home, Thompson notes that the usually fussy agapanthus he planted last year wintered well outdoors under a thin blanket of straw. He says his next task is deciding which new roses will go next to the established plot of his favorite variety, a peach-tinged beauty called Pristine.
KATE GLEASON YOUNG ENGINEER OF THE YEAR
Harris RF Communications Division
Engineering projects have many layers-and that is what Eric Averill likes best about his work at Harris RF Communications.
"I like the variety of things I’ve worked on-the hardware design, the software design. We work on government programs and we do internal product development. We do many different projects," he says.
Averill has worked with some big clients as well, including Boeing and Rockwell Collins.
He began his career at Harris, landing his first job with the firm out of college 10 years ago. He graduated from Clarkson University with a B.S. in computer engineering and went on to earn an MBA from the Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester.
Averill started as a Level 1 electrical engineer, working on digital hardware design, analysis and testing of radio baseband printed circuit boards. Two years later he earned a promotion to Level 2, which allowed him to focus on more complex board designs. Averill worked on security-critical products and on a programmable logic device for a Harris radio system. He also developed microcontroller software for keypads.
Averill learned early on that the beginning phase of a project is his favorite part.
"I really enjoy sitting down and doing the schematic design," he says. "When you sit down and do a good job at that, the rest of the project is off to a great start."
As Averill moved up in the company, he worked more with senior systems engineers at many different companies, something he enjoys. He also took on more complex projects. He has designed devices used for testing Harris radios along with the radios themselves. Government work figures prominently; Averill tracked costs and scheduling for a radio developed for the Department of Defense, and he worked with the National Security Agency to review security-critical aspects of a design when the NSA began requiring formal design reviews.
Averill helped to develop and support initial software for demonstration on Harris’ Unity mobile radio at the International Wireless Communications Expo in 2010. And just last year he supported tablet development, including the technical oversight of outsourced hardware.
One thing Averill has learned in his decade as an engineer is to take his time.
"As engineers age they have an attentiveness to detail that younger engineers don’t tend to have," he says. "You learn to tackle little things right up front. Generally everything takes longer than you think, and rarely does anything go 100 percent smoothly. But engineers can do anything if given enough time and money to work it out."
Garlock Sealing Technologies
Sherwin Damdar is one of the key engineers behind many of today’s major innovations at Garlock Sealing Technologies Inc., a 125-year-old international company based in Palmyra.
"People don’t realize the significance of the company right here in this small town," Damdar says. "We are doing some great things here, and they are having a global impact."
Garlock has offices in Europe and Asia and is one of the largest manufacturers in New York, Damdar says.
Among Damdar’s responsibilities have been product engineering and development of a unique extreme-temperature sealing technology using customer-centered techniques to gather and analyze information. This category of gasket material was a new line for Garlock and opened up markets outside of the traditional industrial process markets. The products provide new options for renewable energy markets such as fuel cells, biofuels and solar power.
What he enjoys most about his work is being able to see it from start to finish-all hands-on.
"As an engineer, I start to work with the customer immediately. I get constant feedback; I don’t stay in the lab. We’re small enough of a company that we can go out in the field," Damdar says. "But we still get to do the design work in the lab. It really drives the energy of the engineer."
Thinking globally is critical in Damdar’s work and also a great source of enjoyment.
"Engineering has changed for the better because the way we do business has changed," he says. "Business is global now. As an engineer, you have to develop products that are far-reaching. You have to think, ‘What will someone in Asia need?’"
Damdar came to the United States as an international student at Rochester Institute of Technology. He says he values the opportunity to earn a college degree because only 7 percent of the world’s population has one. Damdar earned bachelor and master of science degrees in mechanical engineering at RIT.
He works hard during his free time to help others who are less fortunate.
"We don’t have to go to Africa or other places to use our technological skills to help others. There are places right here to use them," Damdar says. "There are Habitat for Humanity projects, water wells, health clinics and other construction projects we can work on locally."
Harris RF Communications
Chris Feuerstein says the work he does presents a good variety of challenges-and the tools he needs to address them.
"The projects I get to work on push the horizons they have set for me, so it’s a good chance for me to grow, yet I still have the support I want when I need it," says Feuerstein, a senior electrical engineer at Harris RF Communications Division.
Feuerstein most recently worked on the RF 7800V VHF combat net radio. Built on a software-defined platform, it has longer range on the battlefield. With voice and data capabilities, it can accommodate up to 64 users on one channel.
Harris received a multimillion-dollar order for the radios last month from a country in the Middle East.
"I worked on the software part of the project, which involved very intricate challenges to solve," Feuerstein says. The best part of his work was seeing customers use it.
"I went on a field trip overseas and met some of our customers. You can learn new things when you see a customer," he says. "It’s great to learn what they value, as opposed to hearing it secondhand."
Feuerstein is so convinced that engineering is an exciting career opportunity that he encourages young people to enter the field. Since college he has represented the industry on Career Day at his alma mater, Geneseo Central School.
"This is such a great field to be in, so many possibilities," he says.
In his four years on the job, Feuerstein has learned some lessons. The most important one, he says, is to keep challenging himself.
"I would say that to others too," he says. "Stay out of your comfort zone. Otherwise you could dead-end yourself."
Feuerstein graduated summa cum laude from Rochester Institute of Technology with a B.S. in electrical engineering. He takes part in many college graduate recruiting programs at Harris RF; as co-chair of the University Relations Program, he often travels to interview and screen talent. His advice to new engineers: Seek out growth opportunities.
"Look for a job where you will be regularly presented with new challenges that allow you to grow and force you to go beyond your current knowledge and skill set on a regular basis," Feuerstein says. "I believe this is extremely important for career growth and job excitement."
Parker Hannifin GTFSD
Not many people can say they make a product that is one of only three like it in the country.
Jeremy Gerevics can. He is a technology team leader at Parker Hannifin Corp., working in the Aerospace Group in the Gas Turbine Fuel Systems Division.
"We make fuel injectors for jet engines. There are only three companies in the U.S. that can make what we make," he says.
Gerevics’ team makes fuel injectors used in Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The name of the airliner seems fitting; it was his dream project from start to finish.
"I’ve had manufacturing overview of the team that was in design concept into full production," Gerevics says. "All technology needed for the fuel injector came under our direction."
The fuel system project started in the late 1990s and developed into a product in 2005. The commercial Dreamliner jets have carbon composite frames, which are lighter and require less fuel. The jets are used by airlines all over the world, Gerevics says.
Working on parts that go into aircraft has taught Gerevics one of his most important lessons as an engineer.
"There’s a difference between working hard and working efficiently. I had a mentor who helped me organize myself and my work in order to get things completed," Gerevics says. "In engraving, mistakes are very big. We make parts that go in airplanes. We take that very seriously. We have to make sure we think things through and do it right the first time."
Gerevics shares his love of the field by encouraging the careers of other young engineers. He graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. He brings co-op students from his alma mater into the company, trains them and provides guidance during their assignment.
He evaluates students near the end of their assignment and mentors them on how to be successful in an engineering career. Gerevics has subsequently hired three co-op students upon graduation to work as full-time engineers at the firm. He is in the process of hiring two more.
"I tell students to make sure this is a field you want to be involved in, and if you can find a specialized area to get into, such as mechanical engineer, that’s even better," Gerevics says. "Engineering is a very rewarding career."
Marina Tharayil sees the big picture and how it applies to business.
This is how Tharayil, a senior research scientist in the Xerox Innovation Group at Xerox Corp., approaches her work. She leads a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, identifies business applications and develops new technology.
"I like working in research," Tharayil says. "There are always different problems we can solve. We work with business customers, so our solutions have to be feasible from a business perspective."
Tharayil is in her seventh year at Xerox. She has worked on paper path design and control for various Xerox printers. She led the media registration technology development effort for the iGen3 digital press, which resulted in improved registration control in iGen4.
Tharayil considers it her greatest achievement that as technical lead for a research project to improve the media registration in iGen3 digital press, she had the opportunity to take a technology from concept to deployment. The algorithm she co-invented is used to achieve improved performance in iGen4 and other devices.
"I’m seeing a lot of flexibility and adaptability in the last few years," Tharayil says. "We’re working with new environments and technologies at a faster pace, and the interdepartmental aspects of engineering are very exciting and challenging all at the same time."
Tharayil earned a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Education is extremely important to her. In fact, she says winning a National Science Foundation fellowship changed the trajectory of her career.
As the daughter of immigrant parents, Tharayil says, she didn’t have big dreams. The scholarship helped instill confidence and opened up many universities and graduate education opportunities.
Today, Tharayil helps promote opportunities for other Asian women and for students too. She belongs to the Society of Women Engineers, Asians Coming Together and Women in Engineering Mentoring Program.
She especially enjoys seeing the way engineering can improve the quality of life.
"There is a definite correlation between life sciences and engineering, how it will be used," Tharayil says. "I like seeing how the interdisciplinary approach can make life better for all of us."
Lori Gable is a Rochester-area freelance writer. Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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