Centennial Engineer of the Month

To celebrate its centennial anniversary, the National Capital Section of ASCE is publishing interviews of prominent members from our Section by asking them to reflect on their career and profession. The interviews are organized by the NCS Centennial Committee, including Dr. Phillip Melville, Ph.D. P.E., F.ASCE and Ms. Lucy Menon, P.E. of the Dream Big Subcommittee. We hope you enjoy reading these interviews and gain insight from these local leaders in civil engineering.

Phil Reiss, PE, F.ASCE, F.NSPE

Our Centennial Engineer of the Month for April 2016 is Mr. Phil Reiss. Mr. Reiss is the proprietor of Reiss & Associates, a business engaged in evaluating building failures, including settlements, overturning of walls, collapse of trusses, material shrinkage/expansion causing roof damage, drainage problems, and other adverse conditions affecting structures. Prior to the establishment of his own business in 1998, Phil Reiss was Director of the Office of Design and Construction at the Smithsonian Institution from 1974 to 1989. In this position, he was involved in major facilities design, construction, and maintenance of several Smithsonian museums. In addition to these activities, he was responsible for research programs in and around Washington, DC, as well as Panama and Arizona, Maryland, New York, and Virginia. As Director, he served as chair of the Architectural and Engineering Board for the Smithsonian and the National Zoo. 

Before his fifteen years employment with the Smithsonian, Mr. Reiss worked for a number of different government agencies. He was Special Assistant for the Environment in the Economic Development Administration, US Department of Commerce (USDC), General Engineer on the Appalachian Assistance Staff, USDC in the development of the $24 million Bluestone Park in West Virginia. Mr. Reiss received his BCE from University of Virginia, Master of Engineering Administration from George Washington University, Engineer Officer Career Course at Ft. Belvoir, and Command and General Staff College, at Ft. Leavenworth.

He was past president of the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers, member of the NCS Professional Practice Committee, and has been a member of the Reserve Officer Association (ROA) since 1968. Mr. Reiss holds a current PE license in DC. Throughout his career, Mr. Reiss was bestowed many awards, including the USDC Bronze Medal, Harry S. Truman Achievement Award (ROA), General Lewis Blaine Hershey Award for Exceptional Service to the Nation’s Citizen Warriors (ROA) 2007, and the Bronze Medal, Bradenton-Sarasota Rose Society (American Rose Society). 

What do you consider your major achievements in civil engineering in our Section area?

Since most of my experience as a professional engineer was spent in the Northern Virginia while employed with governmental organizations, for example, the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Smithsonian Institution, a large percentage of my activity , with the exception the Smithsonian, had an impact in communities outside our section area. In the case of EDA, my employment occurred at the time when the National Environmental Policy Act became law, such that it was necessary to develop procedures for local and state governments to analyze the impact of their projects on the environment.

With regard to the Smithsonian as Director of its Office of Design and Construction, we preformed in-house design, planning, and construction or acted as the Contracting Officer’s Representative on larger projects involving AE selection for the design and construction, serving not only the institution’s facilities in the Washington DC Metro area, but also facilities in New York, Arizona, and Panama.  

Why did you decide on a career in civil engineering?

I decided on a career in civil engineering as the result of working various construction jobs digging ditches, hauling lumber, hog carrier and doing other work while going to a trade school and night school at George Washington University and wondering how one could, for example, analyze soil to determine its properties. Enrolling full time at UVA opened what seemed to be a vast new opportunity to combine theory and design with hands on creating and building products that people needed to carry out daily activities.

What do you consider the best guidance to young people for a future career in civil engineering? 

To consider a future career as a civil engineer is to familiarize one’s self with the evolution of and contribution of civil engineers since Roman times to the expansive growth of modern times and the future. In addition, understanding that civil engineers provide a foundation (such a road or a bridge) that implements scientific endeavors (such as understanding the chemical reaction between water and cement). 

What do you consider the major challenge to a career in civil engineering?

Developing a personal commitment to public service wherein the civil engineer’s commitment contributes to the public health, safety, and welfare of people and the ecological life on our planet, and perhaps as our endeavors range beyond earth to celestial bodies.