Engineering alumnus recognized by business magazine
As he watched the floodwaters creep into his hometown, Shawn Gaddie made a decision. A high school junior at the time of the 1997 flood that severely damaged East Grand Forks, Minn., and adjacent Grand Forks, N.D., he focused on a future in engineering.
“My experience in seeing the world around me at that time of crisis was people looking for engineers and answers,” Gaddie said. “It was a traumatic experience, but it pointed me in the right direction.”
That direction led Gaddie to NDSU and a degree in civil engineering. His goal –sparked that spring 1997 day – was to learn about the engineering profession’s role in addressing infrastructure challenges and protecting the health and safety of our society, especially in the realm of water.
After more than 10 years in the engineering consulting business, Gaddie, BS ’03, civil engineering, landed a spot in Prairie Business magazine’s “40 Under 40,” which each year recognizes outstanding professionals under the age of 40 for their contributions to their organizations and community.
And Gaddie’s career goal has come to fruition, working for an engineering firm in which approximately 90 percent of the company’s annual revenues are driven by water-related projects. After a brief stint with an engineering firm in Minneapolis, Gaddie returned to Grand Forks as a project engineer for Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Inc., known as AE2S.
AE2S is playing a key role on the program management team for the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Area Diversion project, which involves the construction of a 35-mile-long diversion channel that will direct floodwater around Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.
It didn’t take long for Gaddie to move up the ladder. At 27, he moved into the operations manager role for the company’s corporate office in Grand Forks. He managed the office for more than five years, leading it through a period of fast growth in which the office nearly doubled in size to more than 60 employees.
In late 2012, Gaddie transitioned from the role of operations manager to the manager of the company’s financial division, AE2S Nexus, which develops financing and infrastructure implementation solutions for the firm’s clients.
The move provided new challenges.
“No one goes into school for engineering for the purpose of developing unique infrastructure funding solutions,” Gaddie said. “It’s truly an area where finance and engineering is bridged.”
It wasn’t an entirely unknown leap for Gaddie. As a project manager, he had worked on the financial aspects of various financial projects for Grand Forks and Sioux Falls, S.D. He now manages a team of seven people and juggles about a half dozen projects at a time in various stages of completion.
His current slate of projects ranges geographically from southeast Minnesota to north-central Montana and from northern North Dakota to Sioux Falls. The list includes what Gaddie considers one of his most complex projects thus far. He’s evaluating a proposed $1.7 billion nitrogen-based fertilizer plant planned near Grand Forks. Gaddie is assisting Grand Forks and Northern Plains Nitrogen with due diligence-related efforts on the project. These efforts include project infrastructure service considerations, financial evaluations, and permitting coordination for the project’s water supply and air emissions needs to move the project forward.
A unique aspect of the project is its planned water usage. The plant is being designed to reuse nearly all of the wastewater Grand Forks generates on a daily basis, approximately 7 million gallons per day. “As the city looks to serve this industry with water supply and infrastructure, a number of economic evaluations are required,” Gaddie said. “I’m wearing many hats for the project, but my background in engineering remains central to the process.”
Moving forward, Gaddie said his focus remains on growing his practice area of the company, expanding its client base and expanding services to existing clients.
He also provides a bit of advice to future engineers. Gaddie said NDSU provides a great technical background for the profession, but it’s up to the student to decide what to do with it.
“As students look to step outside the world of academia and become part of the business world, they really need to assess their strengths and value,” Gaddie said. “You’ll be selling yourself everyday. You have to find a way to provide value in everything you do.”