Environment / Engineers
Trendsetters - Sept. 2006
Making a Connection
|W. Denney Pate
Figg Engineering Group
Senior vice president, principal bridge engineer
On Gene Figg: "Powerful ... opinionated ... kind and considerate. He and I shared a common passion -- to do the best and biggest bridges and to do them well and provide our customers with something unique."
As a kid: Model building, but only on rainy days. His mother had a rule that he couldn't be inside on nice days.
Great works: The Skyway, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal bridge and the Varina-Enon bridge in Virginia.
As an adult: Offshore fishing.
Worst part of the job: "Nothing even comes to mind. Bridges are very friendly."
Tip: "Find something you're passionate about and don't let anyone tell you, you can't get there."
Goal: "Make a difference in the world."
Unless you grew up in north Alabama, you missed W. Denney Pate's early work, building bridges across the creek in the woods and drawing bridge designs as a youngster. Very likely you're familiar with one of his later efforts: The Sunshine Skyway over Tampa Bay.
In 1980, right out of graduate school, the man who wanted to design bridges since he was 8 joined a firm devoted to bridges, Figg Engineering Group in Tallahassee. "A dream come true," Pate says.
Under founder Gene Figg, who died in 2002, the firm designed some of the nation's landmark bridges, including every precast concrete cablestayed bridge built in America. The harp-like, cable-stayed bridges support their roadbeds with long, slanting cables attached to giant concrete pylons in the middle of the span. Pate has had a significant role in all of the firm's cablestayed bridges, including the Skyway.
Of late, Pate has made a name for himself for an invention: A "cradle" for cable-stayed bridges, an innovation that saves money, makes bridges easy to inspect and maintain and allows for aesthetic flexibility by enabling the use of more slender pylons. The cradle earned Pate his first patent and a place among the top 25 from an original field of 4,300 in the History Channel's "Modern Marvels" selection of important inventions. His idea, which came to him in 2000 as he wrestled with the design of a Toledo, Ohio, bridge, calls for cradling continuous cables from the bridge up to the pylons and back down again rather than anchoring individual cables from the road to the pylons.
Pate, 50, counts himself fortunate to be living an ambition he has had since he was in grade school. "The types of things I get to work on are the best bridge projects in the country."
A Series of Firsts
Retreat: A second home on the Suwannee.
partners: Rovert Dvorak and Darlene Shuman
Family: Husband, Jeff; sons Adam, 14, and Colin, 11.
MBA: Louisana State University, 1986.
Member: Daughters of the American Revolution
Last year, Kim DeBosier made a bit of engineering history as the first woman named Engineer of the Year by the Florida Engineering Society.
DeBosier, 50, a civil consulting engineer, has a career's worth of experience at being the first. She has been the first woman engineer in every office in which she has worked, the first woman principal at one firm, the first woman vice president from the technical side at another. That was all before she founded, with Robert Dvorak and Darlene Shuman, the consulting practice Bayside Engineering in 1995.
A Michigan native, DeBosier originally was drawn to chemistry but changed her mind as a Michigan State freshman. The men in her residential college suggested engineering, and she literally flipped a coin the night before registration to chose between civil and chemical engineering. "I guess I've always believed there's more than luck there," she says. She graduated first in her civil engineering class in 1977.
Bayside's practice is diverse, especially for a $4.8-million revenue, 53-employee firm -- midsized in consulting engineering. It includes land development, transportation, traffic, stormwater management, surveying and mapping and geographic information systems. Highly visible projects include recent expansions at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa and the site work at Stetson's downtown Tampa law school.
Her work in the community, however, is what clinched the Engineer of the Year honor. She chaired the Tampa- Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, is a board member of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and is on the board of the MacDonald Training Center for the developmentally disabled. In July, she became the first woman president of the Florida Institute of Consulting Engineers.
IBM Software Group, Voice Solutions Development
Senior software engineer, Boca Raton
What he does: "I work on speech recognition technology. The latest stuff we're working on is integrating the speech technology into your cell phone. You can look up stores -- 'Find me the nearest pizza restaurant in Boca Raton. Show me a map or directions to that place.' The idea is getting information anyway you want. I've been working on speech recognition for seven years. It's really, really come a long way. We're going to see it more and more integrated into our lives."
Early adopter: "I'm one of those on the bleeding edge of things."
As a kid: "I kept imagining how the cars would be able to look at reflectors in the road and be able to drive themselves."
Best part of the job: "Being on the edge of the technology, showing it to people, working with early adopters. We're working with Miami Children's Hospital. We incorporated some of the technology in heart surgery. I saw a heart come back to life."
Worst part: Paperwork.
Earlier work: OS/2.
First PC: The Apple II.
High School: Coral Springs High.
College: Bachelor's, mathematics; master's, computer science, Florida Atlantic University.
Spare time: Tennis league at work, coaching youth soccer and shaolin kempo karate.
It took awhile for the Florida Engineering Society to name its first woman Engineer of the Year. Now it's awarded the honor to women for two consecutive years. Shannon R. LaRocque, Palm Beach County assistant county administrator, was given the honor in June. LaRocque, a professional engineer who has spent the last couple of years in the political quagmire over where Scripps should be put, was the first woman president of the society.