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Interviews reveal engineers to be ‘people persons’

Sergio Esteban, LaBella Associates P.C.

In business, Sergio Esteban believes in the three R’s: relationships, resources and results.
Esteban is CEO and chairman of LaBella Associates P.C. He joined the firm in 1981 and has been CEO since 2006. He has presided over dozens of well-known local engineering projects, including the Midtown redevelopment project, the Port of Rochester harbor and terminal facilities development and the Brown’s Race improvements project.
But what means the most to him is relationships, not projects.
"I love the field of engineering because of all the people that I have had the chance to meet," he says. "Building relationships is really what drives me."
Esteban, who moved to the U.S in 1976, earned a graduate degree in civil engineering and transportation from the Polytechnic School of the University of Madrid, where he grew up. He says he always knew he wanted to be an engineer because "it is a field in which you can see the tangible results of your work and gain an understanding of the work’s impact on your community."
The most successful projects start with getting to know the client, he says. When a solid partnership is formed, all parties feel heard and validated.
Outside of work, Esteban also has created strong bonds with the Rochester community. He currently serves on the boards of trustees for Geva Theatre Center and Nazareth College. In addition, he is co-chairman of the Rochester Workforce Investment Board and RochesterWorks. A passionate believer in literacy education, Esteban volunteers several times a year to help out in a second-grade classroom at School 9, which has a large population of Hispanic children.
While honored to have been selected as the Rochester Engineering Society’s 2012 Engineer of the Year, Esteban stresses that recognition is due to all of his colleagues at LaBella Associates.
"I am a product of our company and the culture of our company," he says. "LaBella has been my home away from home for 32 years, and this award belongs to all of us at the firm."
Clement Chung, MRB Group Engineering Architecture and Surveying P.C.

Kate Gleason, the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the first woman to lead a U.S. bank, was a doer.
So is civil engineer Clement Chung, recipient of the Rochester Engineering Society’s 2012 Kate Gleason Young Engineer of the Year Award.
A native of London, Chung is equally excited about the field of civil engineering and the opportunities for young people to enter scientific and technical careers.
"Civil engineering is a terrific field because it offers the perfect marriage between technical subjects and the humanities," says Chung, a graduate of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of London who moved to the U.S. in 2003. "Civil engineering encourages us to solve problems in a creative manner."
Chung is a project manager for MRB Group Engineering Architecture and Surveying P.C. In this position, which he has held since 2009, Chung is overseeing two significant projects: upgrading a wastewater treatment plant in Dansville and modifying a water tank in Geneseo.
It is work that lets him dig into two of the things he likes most about engineering.
"The two key elements of engineering are knowledge and relationships," Chung says. "Expertise in analyzing and manipulating data allows me to solve technical problems, but enabling others … to understand and act makes me most valuable as a leader."
Chung shares his enthusiasm for civil engineering through his involvement with the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 2011 and 2012, he served as eastern geographic member for ASCE’s committee on younger members. He liked helping engineering students make the transition to become professionals in the field.
While serving as president of the ASCE Rochester Section’s Younger Member Group, Chung encouraged his colleagues to participate in several community events, including the local Canstruction competition, the city of Rochester’s Clean Sweep and the International Coastal Cleanup.
The work comes naturally to Chung, who helped found the Washington, D.C., chapter of Water For People, a non-profit organization that promotes awareness of health and sanitation issues related to water in developing countries.
"Civil engineering work represents an investment in society’s future," he says. "It is our duty as engineers to educate people about the cost of not taking care of basic infrastructural needs. Collectively, we have an opportunity to shape the way that improvements in infrastructure will move forward. As a result, I truly believe that there has never been a better time to practice civil engineering."
Claire Fisher, Fisher Associates

Claire Fisher loves being outdoors. She enjoys snowboarding in the winter, cycling in the summer and hiking whenever she gets a chance.
This spring, Fisher and her husband, Jim, are looking forward to a three-week trek through Yosemite National Park. They plan to hike every day.
Fisher’s love of nature and passion for preserving the environment are an important part of her professional life too. As president and CEO of Fisher Associates, a Henrietta firm with roughly 100 employees, she focuses on improving surface water quality by treating and eliminating pollutants before they enter streams and other bodies of water.
Related projects include revitalization of Onondaga Creek, improvements to Mill Pond in the village of Wolcott and support of the Wayne County Soil & Water Conservation District’s efforts to improve water quality.
Fisher’s firm provided traffic analysis in 2007 for the new diverging diamond interchange on South Winton Road at I-590, the first of its kind in New York. Fisher was happy to hear recently that vehicle accidents at the interchange have decreased by 60 percent since the new intersection opened last fall.
Engineering was a popular career choice in Fisher’s family-her father, brothers and nephews are engineers-but it was not her first choice. An athlete, she planned to become a physical education teacher. After one semester of college, however, she left school and worked for a time in the research and development group at Welch Allyn, a medical equipment maker. She found the work fascinating and switched to engineering, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1977 at Syracuse University. She founded her own company in 1984.
Fisher, whose firm was named Woman Business Enterprise of the Year in 2005 by the Federal Highway Administration, happily shares her enthusiasm for engineering with young people considering a career in the field. She is a board member for Rochester Works, a member of the industrial advisory board for Rochester Institute of Technology and a mentor for Women Helping Girls, a program sponsored by Rochester’s branch of the American Association of University Women to serve students at the city’s Wilson Foundation and Wilson Commencement academies.
"Engineering is challenging and engaging work," she says. "I particularly enjoy interacting with people and technology. My message to young people is to explore the field and enter it."
Dr. Santosh Kurinec, Rochester Institute of Technology
Santosh Kurinec, professor of electrical and microelectronic engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology, is profoundly moved by films based on historical events, such as "Lincoln," "Apollo 13," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Life Is Beautiful."
In fact, the words "The eagle has landed"-spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong during the historic 1969 lunar landing-prompted Kurinec to pursue a career in science and later make the transition to engineering.
"Engineers create new things from discoveries made by scientists," says Kurinec, who holds a doctoral degree from the University of Delhi in India and has taught at RIT since 1988. "Educated as a scientist and becoming an engineering professor has equipped me to communicate with my community with objectivity and empowered me toward exploring creative solutions to challenges."
Kurinec loves to teach, and it shows: She received the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers last year.
She calls RIT "home." She lauds the university’s integrated co-op program, which places engineering students in hands-on experiences at workplaces such as Global Foundries Inc., Intel Corp., Micron Technologies Inc. and IBM Corp.
She stays in touch with students after they graduate, hearing about their promotions and work projects as well as personal milestones.
"Young minds energize me," says Kurinec, who helped organize a summer NanoCamp for students at Pittsford Middle School in 2004-05.
"Academic professors can truly make a huge difference in students’ lives," she adds. "My colleagues and I consistently strive to encourage young people to become innovators and inventors."
Kurinec also is intrigued by the power of technology to change lives. When she travels in India and Africa, she smiles at the sight of women using cellphones and computers; it is a sign they are connecting with one another and attaining financial independence.
"While we build information superhighways and bridges, we should engage our community in engineering bridges between the rich and the poor," she says. "We must look at the big picture of serving humanity by making ours a healthier and smarter planet."
Engineers are a part of that effort, Kurinec adds.
"Without question, technology that has emerged from the United States has transformed the planet. The opportunities are endless."
Edward Parrone, Parrone Engineering
Whether he is helping to provide clean drinking water in Haiti or designing urban homes with Flower City Habitat for Humanity, Edward Parrone enjoys his professional life as an engineer.
It is a love that pervades his family. Parrone’s late father, Dominic, was a civil engineer and founded the family firm, Parrone Engineering, in 1955.
In addition, one of Dominic’s brothers was a mechanical engineer and another was a chemical engineer, so design problem-solving discussions often occurred during family get-togethers.
Edward Parrone, who holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Marquette University, joined the firm in 1972 as a surveyor and became president and chief executive officer in 2002.
"Civil engineering is a highly rewarding field," Parrone says. "We provide the community with a better quality of life, whether through potable water, safe highways and bridges or environmental preservation. Our job is to ensure that the general public has access to facilities that enhance their lives at work and at play."
Throughout his 43-year-career-he worked as a junior design engineer for Erdman, Anthony and Associates for two years before joining his father’s firm-Parrone has worked on myriad projects with long-time clients. Two of his favorites include infrastructure design for Ontario Beach Park and I-590.
Parrone enthusiastically mentors future civil engineers and speaks with young students about the challenges and rewards of the field.
"I always tell young people that civil engineering is so fascinating because it deals with civilization and people," he explains. "We still use ancient Roman engineering concepts, such as those found in aqueducts or at the Roman Coliseum, so there is a huge continuity from the past to the present."
Licensed to practice engineering in five states, Parrone also serves his community as vice chairman of Haiti Outreach Pwoje Espwa, a ministry begun by members of Spiritus Christi Church. He travels with colleagues to Borgne, Haiti, where he and other engineers work with local committees to provide safe water supplies and sanitation programs.
Parrone is a long-time volunteer for Flower City Habitat for Humanity, which plans to construct 14 homes with low-income clients in 2013. He is past president of Rotary Camps for Special Needs in Monroe County and past vice president of the American Council of Civil Engineering Companies.
He also is an avid golfer, enthusiastic pro hockey fan and doting grandfather of nine.
"I am grateful to my father for giving me the opportunity to lead, expand and grow Parrone Engineering," he says. "He taught me the foundation principles of integrity, honesty and community that guide me in my everyday decisions and actions."
Steven Sasson, Eastman Kodak Co., retired
It all started on the lower level of his row house in Brooklyn.
There young Steven Sasson attempted various chemistry experiments, but "I kept blowing up my basement," he recalls.
So he switched to safer experiments that used electronics, dragging home abandoned television sets left at the curb by his neighbors. Intrigued by their inner workings, Sasson eviscerated the sets and assembled new gadgets using his imagination.
Much to the chagrin of his longshoreman father, "I left carcasses of old TVs everywhere," he says. The neighbors weren’t too thrilled either, when the Brooklyn Tech High School student mounted an antenna on his roof, severely disrupting television reception for all.
Once a tinkerer, always a tinkerer. Sasson, having earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, went on to enjoy a 35-year career at Eastman Kodak Co. Among other achievements in the research labs at Kodak’s Apparatus Division, Sasson in 1975 designed and built the first digital still camera and playback system.
In the early 1990s, Sasson worked as chief engineer on Kodak’s Colorease printer project, which became the prototype for the company’s self-service kiosk program.
Sasson has been inducted into several national halls of fame for inventors. He says he loved every minute of his career at Kodak and misses his former co-workers terribly. But he remains immersed in the field of engineering, currently operating a consulting business that helps independent companies manage intellectual property matters.
"Engineering is a ball," he says. "I’ve had the chance to work with wonderful teams of people, and jointly we’ve solved problems for others. Engineering is enormously satisfying work."
Sasson especially enjoys volunteering in area elementary schools, talking with children about the process of inventing and listening to their thought-provoking questions. In recent years, he has delivered lectures at the Chautauqua Institution, Harvard Observatory, the Royal Photographic Society in London, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other places.
In his free time, Sasson takes pictures of wildlife in his backyard, using-what else?-a digital camera. And he still tinkers by restoring old electronic equipment as often as he can.
His message to young people exploring various careers and pathways is direct: "Follow your passion, and don’t be afraid to be wrong sometimes. Failure is not a verdict; it is an opportunity to learn."
Maureen Valentine, Rochester Institute of Technology
It is fitting that a woman whose last name is Valentine would be a recipient of Rochester Institute of Technology’s "Changing Hearts and Minds Award."
Maureen Valentine, associate dean of RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology, won the award for furthering diversity among the college faculty. She was recognized for encouraging colleagues to modify job descriptions to be more inclusive and welcoming, develop a broader outreach network and change the interviewing process to be more interactive and less hierarchical.
"Our current hiring process and (orientation) provided by the university once the faculty arrive are very good," Valentine says. "However, there seems to be a gap in the middle, when faculty members need to learn more about what it will take to move to and settle in Rochester and adjust to the community and their new academic department. … I hope these efforts will help us retain those who choose to join us. We want them to see that we value their knowledge and background."
Valentine has pursued engineering in both the private sector and academia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tufts University and a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
First employed by geotechnical engineering consulting firms in Maryland, Connecticut, Florida and New York, Valentine joined RIT as an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering in 1993. She has since risen through the ranks and says the environment of higher education perfectly suits her multiple interests in teaching, cultivating new technical skills and being a leader.
She is a co-principal investigator on the RIT research team that was awarded $3.2 million for a project to create networks that advance women faculty. She also is active in the Society of Women Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers, and for the last three years she has led the planning committee for the Engineering Symposium in Rochester.
Valentine speaks plainly about the value of an engineering degree.
"Engineering, regardless of the discipline, is all about using skills to solve problems, which is what makes it the most valuable undergraduate degree," she says. "Students who follow a passion into engineering will come away with a tremendous education, the ability to solve problems of all kinds-not just technical ones-and … the ability to work in teams. This means they will have a job they will love and the skills needed for leadership. It’s a great life."

Courtney Reich, Trison Business Solutions Inc.

When General Motors Corp. announced last October that it was moving its Honeoye Falls fuel cell operations to Pontiac, Mich., mechanical engineer Courtney Reich faced a decision: She could move and keep her job, or she could look for another position in Rochester.
Reich-who holds two U.S. patents for novel fuel cell component designs, with a third patent application pending-opted to remain in Rochester with her family. She now works as an engineer for Trison Business Solutions Inc., supporting the NY-BEST Commercialization Center, which is scheduled to open at Eastman Business Park in July. The center will provide companies with a low-cost environment for testing battery systems.
Reich worked at GM’s fuel cell plant for six years. She held increasingly responsible positions as a design release engineer, team lead and then supervisor of pre-production operations.
"Engineering is an awesome career because the work and learning opportunities are so broad," she says. "Starting out, I never imagined the types of projects that I would be able to touch and work on. While at GM, I developed hardware and ideas that will make GM’s first commercially available fuel cell vehicles possible, thus reducing our dependence on oil and helping to protect the environment."
A native of Waterloo, Ontario, she has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University and a master’s degree in the same field from Rochester Institute of Technology.
Kettering honored her with its Woman of the Year Award in 2005. Reich also earned two Team GM Awards for leadership and project execution. She has served as president of the Rochester chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
Reich tells young people she meets that growth opportunities in engineering are plentiful. Her message to them is straightforward.
"Get out there and see what engineering is all about," Reich tells them. "Find a mentor to guide you, and arrange an internship or co-op program to gain hands-on experience. Above all, don’t be afraid of change or of moving on. The possibilities in this field are endless."

4/19/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].



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