Graduate of the Year prepares to soak up US knowledge

Current CIBSE ASHRAE Graduate of the Year Ryan Rolin Rodrigues explains why all the best engineers need to be sponges.
Ryan Rodrigues receives award from ASHRAE president.

Ryan Rodrigues receives award from ASHRAE president.

“When I first started off as a building services graduate engineer, I was advised to replicate the mechanism of a sponge and absorb every bit of information I could. I took that to heart and have been adopting that approach on every single project and piece of work.”

That is how Ryan Rolin Rodrigues of consulting engineering practice HurleyPalmerFlatt sums up his approach to work and life philosophy. Now as the newly crowned CIBSE ASHRAE Graduate of the Year, he is preparing to depart for Orlando, Florida to take part in the ASHRAE Winter Meeting as a special guest of the US technical society.

This year’s new graduate engineers will be going into a very different world from 20 years ago
— Ryan Rolin Rodrigues

The CIBSE Young Engineers’ Awards, which are sponsored by Ruskin Air Management and supported by the CIBSE Patrons, recognise excellence in graduate engineers and those employers who show commitment to encouraging and nurturing young engineering talent. Ryan is the 20th winner of the annual graduate award.

He beat off competition from nine other finalists with a presentation in front of a live audience at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) last October and before a judging panel that contained the presidents of CIBSE, ASHRAE and the IMechE as well as the very first winner of the Graduate Award Kevin Mitchell, who is now a senior partner at Buro Happold.

Powerful

CIBSE President Nick Mead described the standard as “particularly high this year”. He added that presiding over the Graduate award’s 20th anniversary year was “a great honour and meeting graduates stretching back to the first awards, now well into their careers, shows just what a powerful force we can be in encouraging the best and brightest”.

“This year’s new graduate engineers will be going into a very different world from 20 years ago, and must address some of the most difficult challenges of recent times, such as sustainability and climate change,” the President added. “Therefore, it is more important than ever that we support them at an early stage, to give them the best possible start to their lives as engineers.”

Ryan is a flag bearer for this new generation and is approaching the ASHRAE meeting with enthusiasm. He is particularly looking forward to meeting members of Young Engineers in ASHRAE (YEA) “as it will be enlightening to see how much involvement they have with ASHRAE” and to make a comparison with the relationship CIBSE has with its own Young Engineers’ Network (YEN).

Often things are done in a particular way simply because it was always done that way and people feel comfortable with it,
— Ryan Rolin Rodrigues

He is “really curious about meeting like-minded individuals” at the welcome reception for the meeting, which is being held at Orlando’s world famous SeaWorld and “generally making contacts and to see how things are done differently across the pond”.

One example he will be looking at is how ASHRAE works with imperial units as opposed to the metric system used in the UK.

He says he felt “pretty overwhelmed” when starting work as a young engineer, but was able to ‘sponge’ lots of knowledge from more experienced colleagues, who were happy to share their expertise with him.

This has enabled him to work on a wide range of projects and he has been happy to be an “extra pair of hands” for senior colleagues when needed.

“Over the past few years I have been working on commercial and residential projects, some of which are in its design stage while others are on site,” he says. 

“Key projects of mine have varied from a listed building in Paddington station, the iconic colourful Central Saint Giles, Imperial College halls of residence at White City; and even a London city skyline skyscraper at Bishopsgate.”

He has also been able to work with many different engineers, architects, cost consultants and clients; and each one “showed me a new and unique way of tackling a problem”.

Ryan is particularly enthused by the diversity of a building services engineer’s role:  “Life is never repetitive as each project is unique and different at each stage. One morning I can be at the office doing design drawings; another day at a client or design team meeting / workshop before donning a high-vis jacket and hard hat to go on site.”

However, he does not have a rose tinted view of the industry. Things are far from perfect and he feels the profession needs to pick up the pace of change. He is critical of its slowness in adopting new technologies and methods.

Comfortable


“Often things are done in a particular way simply because it was always done that way and people feel comfortable with it,” says Ryan.  “As a result, I have to work much harder to push a solution if it relies on new and growing technologies. As an industry, we need to get out of our comfort zone sometimes to make real progress.”

He has also, like many other university educated engineers, found his lack of practical site experience a drawback. At first, he found it hard translating from the theoretical to the physical and envisaging how design solutions were integrated into the project. To overcome this, he asked for more site-based experience and his employers were happy to oblige.

“Some of the most exciting opportunities I have had were site surveys for unique projects and locations including a Middle-Eastern embassy and a couple roofs of some famous skyscrapers that offer thrilling views of the London skyline,” he recalls. 

Revisiting sites that have been handed over also brings a sense of pride. “A simple walk around the city to see the finished product being used by people every day, gives me a sense of self-satisfaction that truly makes me proud to be a building services engineer.”

Ruskin managing director Kevin Munson says the company is delighted to have played its part by sponsoring the awards for the past four years. He added that Ryan “will clearly make a fine ambassador for the UK profession at the Orlando meeting and will no doubt absorb many more experiences and lessons to further enhance his burgeoning career”.

Kevin went on to say that he looked forward “to following Ryan’s progress both during and after the meeting” and Ruskin was standing by “to offer any further support to this exceptional young man”.

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