Alumni Profile: Daniel Murphy (BCE 1974)
Shaping A Positive Future
featured in the Spring 2020 issue of CEGE magazine
Feeling blessed by the opportunities, challenges, and successes of a life in structural engineering, Daniel Murphy (BCE 1974) is committed to shaping a positive future for the field of engineering, especially for young people just getting started. In a recent interview, murphy shared how he came to this view and how it is woven into the culture at Meyer Borgman Johnson (MBJ), a structural design and engineering firm.
“In structural engineering, mentoring relationships are essential. Of course, an engineering degree is prerequisite. My education at the University of Minnesota was a great foundation—in fact, when I graduated, I thought I knew everything! But in my early years at MBJ I was given opportunities to practice structural engineering under the guidance of, or really, in collaboration with John Meyer and I learned so much.”
The mentoring relationship between Murphy and Meyer started in 1974 when Murphy came to MBJ as a new graduate. Meyer presented a robust example of a consulting engineer focused on serving clients.
“John was an outstanding structural engineer and a great communicator. He had a great reputation and a strong presence in the community. Over the years, John helped me think about all aspects of engineering; he even helped me in adapting my personality to serve our clients better. At their best, mentoring relationships can be satisfying and sustaining, a lifelong collaboration.”
MBJ now formalizes mentoring relationships because of their importance. Every new hire is assigned a mentor. It might be someone working on the same projects, but not always. Murphy highlights the mentor’s role: “A mentor helps navigate the multiple zones we work in as consulting engineers. Not only technology and analysis, but also navigating interactions with team members, clients, or people from other industries. A mentor can bring a lot of insight to one’s daily practice.
“One of John’s great strengths was his ability to communicate and to be patiently available. Often he would roam the office looking for an opportunity to answer a question. Now I view communication and availability as important positive characteristics of a mentor.”
Project: Landmark Center
“I worked alongside this giant John Meyer on several projects. One of the earliest projects was renovation of the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul. Originally completed in 1902, it served as the Federal Courthouse and Post Office. That restoration project introduced me, in my early 20s, to archaic materials and systems: flat tile arch floor systems, cast iron columns, and foundation strategies used in the late 1800s. I learned to understand those old systems and to adapt them for contemporary use.”
MBJ now formalizes mentoring relationships because of their importance. Every new hire is assigned a mentor. It might be someone working on the same projects, but not always. Murphy highlights the mentor’s role: “A men- tor helps navigate the multiple zones we work in as consulting engineers.
Not only technology and analysis, but also navigating interactions with team members, clients, or people from other industries. A mentor can bring a lot of insight to one’s daily practice. One of John’s great strengths was his ability to communicate and to be patiently available. Often he would roam the office looking for an opportunity to answer a question. Now I view communication and availability as important positive characteristics of a mentor.”
“When we recruit young engineers, we of course talk about the technology and tools and software. We also talk about the whole-career experience. MBJ thinks a lot about helping our engineers develop satisfying careers.”
Murphy sees value in working with young engineers when they are still students. MBJ provides educational internships for about a half-dozen students each year. The company works hard to ensure the interns’ time in the company is a highly productive learning experience. “It seems to be working,” says Murphy. “We convert about 80% of our interns to full-time employees following graduation.”
The products of MBJ’s commitment to excellent engineering can be seen around the Twin Cities in structures such as Minnesota Orchestra Hall and the newly renovated Westminster Church in downtown Minneapolis. MBJ’s imprint is strong on the UMN Twin Cities campus: more than 40 new construction and renovation projects, including Masonic Children’s Hospital, Coffman Memorial Union, McNamara Alumni Center, Physics and Nanotechnology Building, and Northrop Memorial Auditorium. Projects on the Duluth campus include the brand new Heikkila Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science Building and the James I. Swenson Science Building.
Once an engineer is hired, MBJ continues to work hard to shape a positive experience through the entire career. One way this commitment plays out is in MBJ’s approach to teaming.
“I frequently say that engineering is a team sport, says Murphy. “In our industry, no one operates alone. At MBJ, we are intentional about putting together project teams that will not only meet the project requirements, but also make the most of learning opportunities and create a wonderful career experience for our engineers. I was the beneficiary of that when I was a young engineer and worked alongside senior engineers to find solutions.”
“Through those experiences, young engineers build up a library of solutions and successes. They begin to understand the needs of the built environment. As they progress through their careers, they deal with different project types, different applications, even different ground conditions; and whatever they learn informs the next project.
“The work effort that an engineer puts into a project is intense! You really become part of the project and it is hard to forget those experiences. That is why an engineer can remember details of a project 25 years out. All projects help inform solid thinking and good judgment going forward. That is why experience matters so much.”
“MBJ thinks a lot about helping our engineers develop satisfying careers.”
“Setting up a design team can be challenging when you consider schedule complexities, meeting client needs and contractual commitments, and also pro- viding satisfying career experiences. We are committed to it. Being so intentional about career is something that sets MBJ apart.”
Murphy summed up his experience this way: “Structural engineers build our communities and supply what our communities need from healthcare to education, from business to historic preservation, from housing to hospitality. It is easy to develop a passion for our work because the outcomes are so rewarding and satisfying. I am passionate about our profession and sharing what I’ve learned with others.”
“The McNamara Alumni Center project was interesting and challenging on several levels, and it illustrates how we applied some new approaches with structural materials.” The project involved two senior structural engineers including Jerod Hoffman, who is now President at MBJ.
“The project had significant site challenges, an unusual cold-weather construction start, a deep foundation system and a unique shape. Leadership on the project changed from one architectural firm to another, but MBJ managed to retain our position as the structural engineer of record. With all the parties involved, good communication was necessary to manage progress and mitigate risk. Two technical highlights were unique to this building project.
“McNamara has many different angles and connections. It merges an unusual roof structure over the event space (we called it “the geode”) that attaches at an odd angle to the adjacent and more conventional office building section. The asymmetry of the geode created a permanent lateral force against the office building (about 100,000 lb). That load had to be permanently resisted by a cast-in-place, concrete shear-wall system that would transfer that load down to pile foundations. It was a unique situation that we solved using post-tensioned outrigger beams.
“Another unique approach was that we developed a system where we stage-stressed the post-tensioned transfer girders of the office building, incorporating diagonally oriented slab pour strips, to sequence construction more efficiently around the transfer girders creating the column-free event space below."
Dan Murphy is a member of the CEGE Advisory Board.