From the academic world to the real world: Dr. Neil S. Grigg

Editor's Note: This issue's Member Profile features Neil S. Grigg, Ph.D., P.E., Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado; member of APWA's International Affairs and Engineering and Technology Committees and the APWA Reporter's Editorial Advisory Board; and former member of the APWA Board of Directors.

Tell us about your background: Well, I was raised in Alabama and went through the public schools there. Then I went to West Point and graduated in 1961. I'm married, have children and eight grandchildren. I've been a member of APWA since 1972. Mainly I have worked as a college professor, but I have also worked as a consulting engineer and a government official in different areas. So I've done a lot of different things, and that's kind of a quick overview.

Education: I was first educated in the public schools in Alabama, and then I went to West Point and graduated in 1961. After I got out of the service I got a master's degree in civil engineering at Auburn University. Later, after a stint working as a consulting engineer, I came to Colorado State and did my Ph.D., also in civil engineering and the water resources field. When I was in the service I was in the Corps of Engineers on the military side, so that was like a public works assignment too.

Favorite Book: I read a lot, and my favorite subjects are history, economics and current affairs. One book I could point to that I really liked recently was Dwight Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe. It explains some of the political issues that shaped the world after World War II. I found it really refreshing to go back and read some of that commentary that occurred so shortly after the war.

Another book that I really enjoyed recently on the economic side is entitled The Birth of Plenty, and it is an examination of why some countries advanced and other countries didn't advance, and the factors that lead to a country like the United States being able to be successful and meet the needs of everybody whereas other countries, for example some of those in the Middle East, have failed so far in providing democracy, prosperity and things like that. So I have a lot of favorite books, but those are two that I've enjoyed recently.

Hobbies/Interests: Well, I really like anything outdoors. Skiing, hiking, fishing, any outdoor activities. And I also like construction-related hobbies having to do with home improvement, where you get a sense of accomplishment. Since I work as a college professor, I like having that good balance of doing something with my hands that's hard, physical work.

Role Model: My role models tend to be leadership figures in different fields. One in the public works field that I remember being influenced by was Sam Baxter [APWA President, 1946-47; Top Ten, 1960]. He was a public works official in Philadelphia. I heard him speak in 1970 on a book he wrote entitled Public Works: A Dangerous Trade. I didn't know him personally, but he was the kind of person who is definitely a role model. Another role model in the public works field is Donald Stone, who was instrumental in forming APWA. He is a terrific educational role model.

There are some educators who have been really farsighted and who have influenced me. We have one here at CSU and his name is Maurice Albertson. He was a key figure in getting the Peace Corps started, and he's a real visionary person that sets a good example.

Another one fits the citizen-soldier profile. George Marshall is the one that comes to mind as a good role model.

Tell us more about the Department of Civil Engineering at Colorado State: We have an outstanding department that focuses mainly on water resources, and it's been a world leader in education and research in water resources for a long time. The work really goes back to the 1880s, when CSU was known as Colorado Agricultural College and Elwood Mead was on the faculty. He later became the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation and was a key figure in the irrigation in the west. The programs have evolved over the years and have had a lot of influence around the world, particularly on water and environmental types of programs.

Today we have graduates and leadership figures in many different countries around the world. For example, one of our grads is a high-level public works official in Indonesia, and he has an assignment to help the area recover from the tsunami damage that occurred late last year.

What have been some of your activities with APWA's International Affairs and Engineering and Technology Committees? I've been a member of the International Affairs Committee or its predecessor committees since the 1970s. Bob Bugher [APWA Executive Director, 1958-1989] had a good vision for international activities. I participated in a 1972 trip to Japan when APWA sponsored a U.S.-Japan cooperative program on public works. Former president Ken Haag [1995-96] was the delegation leader the year I participated. I've helped with a number of things over the years such as bringing international students to the APWA Congress, and helping set up the Jennings Randolph Fellowship Program and interviewing candidates for it. At the Las Vegas Congress in 1998 I helped organize an international workshop where we conducted privatization activities. Geoff Greenough [APWA President, 1994-95] was the lead on that project.

I've been on the Engineering and Technology Committee for a shorter time, and I represent the education sector. The area of research I've been doing concerns security. I organized some sessions for the Atlanta Congress, including a session on water technology and reuse. For the upcoming Minneapolis Congress, I've put together an educational session on security.

You've also been a member of the APWA Reporter's Editorial Advisory Board for some time. How would you say the magazine has evolved over the years? It's become more comprehensive and is a better publication. Some years ago, probably in the late '80s, I was feeling that the Reporter needed to be redone to have more articles that were more technical in nature, more than just being like a newspaper. And the way that it's grown, it's got more coverage, more input from members now, and it's taken on more of a technical magazine character as well as just purer news reporting. I think that's very appropriate. People today don't have very much time to read, and they really need to get everything in one place, and I think the Reporter has done a real good job in that given that it's hard to be all things to all people. So the main thing is that it's become more comprehensive and more responsive.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? APWA has been very good to me. I have a chance to interact with professional public works managers who are inspirational folks. They do a good job in public service, often in demanding situations. And so I benefit from association with them, because getting out of the academic world and into the real world helps me to teach better about what's going on in the real world. It also helps me to direct students to careers in public works and related careers, so there are lots of benefits for me to be in APWA. I was on the Board in 1992 through 1995, and had a really good experience working on the Board and representing the education sector. I knew Bob Bugher and Dick Sullivan [APWA Executive Director, 1989-93] very well, and that goes back to the '70s and through the '80s. I've really enjoyed the staff and members over the years.