SSAO Bridges and Bytes – Winter 2015-2016: Derek Gardels, Jeremy Neilson, Mentor Hockey Games, and more…

In this issue:

Three Minutes with Derek Gardels

derekGardelsDerek Gardels became a Scott Scholar in 2005. He is from Wilcox, Nebraska and a graduate of Wilcox-Hildreth High School. He holds a BS in Civil Engineering and an MS in Civil Engineering (Water Resources), both from Nebraska. At the time of the interview, he and his family (Emily and 2 kids) were living in Alexandria, VA, but they have since returned to Omaha where he now works for HDR as a Project Engineer.

I’ve primarily worked on infrastructure delivery through alternative financing while with the Institute for Water Resources (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) as an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow. There have been downward pressures on federal discretionary spending, and we are exploring the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) as a different approach for implementing core infrastructure.

At the Corps, much of the federal water focus is a result of WRRDA, the Water Resources Reform & Development Act of 2014. There has been a lot of planning around reforms to federal budgeting for infrastructure projects, including interest in leveraging federal dollars across multiple agencies in a watershed. I’ve received some exposure to interagency activities, such as the Administration’s Build America Initiative, and been involved in a feasibility analysis of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) jointly with the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In a very unique opportunity, I was able to sit-in on meetings with the World Economic Forum, including a committee on the future of construction. Construction productivity has been flat, but other industries have been disrupted and transformed. The forum was focused on what would enable the industry to increase productivity, what’s holding it back, what’s the role of each player in the process (suppliers, engineering & construction firms, owners, governments, etc.), and how to unleash technological innovation in the sector. In general, there are a lot of technologies that are being slowly adopted, things like building information modelling (BIM) and real-time controls, which represent uncaptured value by governments and owners.

The goal with infrastructure service delivery is to look at ways of improving the efficiency of delivering critical infrastructure services. As an industry, we’ve tended to look at delivering assets but we need to transition the focus to a service delivery concept. For example, we’re not delivering a reverse osmosis water treatment plant but clean, potable water services to end users. The public is less concerned with the asset and more concerned with the end product or service. We need to improve the efficiency of looking at ways to deliver the service, focusing more on what job you are trying to get done, not just the infrastructure asset you’re trying to build. P3s incentivize efficiency gains by focusing on outcomes – not inputs – and allowing a private sector partner to be creative in determining how to achieve those outcomes. Traditional delivery suffers from projects costing too much and taking too long.

After grad school, I started with HDR and worked on the Omaha Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) program. This professional experience, along with generous mentoring from colleagues, gave me the opportunity to explore the federal policy realm through this Fellowship, but we’ve been wanting to get back to Omaha. I’ll be returning as a Project Engineer, with some technical work and project and program management on the Omaha CSO Program, as well as other duties focused on utility management, green infrastructure design, P3s and project finance, and technology innovation.

What got me jobs wasn’t necessarily scholastic achievement but my early internship experiences I could leverage to get the next job. In high school, I surveyed for Tagge Engineering Consultants in rural Nebraska. It was more of a labor-intensive job, but I learned a lot without knowing it – just from being in the field on construction projects. During college, I worked at Olsson and Associates for 4 years, including summers out in the field completing construction observation and testing. It was huge to get this exposure as an intern as I was able to see the practical applications of what was being explored in classes.

In Omaha, we were pretty lucky with so many engineering companies for students participate in internships. I’m very appreciative of the opportunities that companies in Nebraska gave us at a young age. This early experience has proved invaluable, even in this recent role as a Science & Technology Policy Fellow.

The specialty that I didn’t want to do was the one I ended up in! When I left undergrad, I thought I would want to specialize in renewable energy. At the university, I took all types of specialty classes in every area within Civil Engineering, except Environmental. Initially, I didn’t want to deal with wastewater – that’s gross! But, due to my water resources and stormwater background, HDR gave me an opportunity to work on the combined sewer overflow program, and here I am. To my surprise, I have loved every minute of it.

The Scott Scholarship was huge in many ways, including the ability to take career risks. There’s no way I would have been able to pursue the policy fellowship if I had a large student debt burden. I was paid during the fellowship, but I wouldn’t have been able to take the chance of losing long-term employment with student debt and a family. Without the Scott Scholarship, I likely would not have ever considered graduate school either. The network has also been a significant advantage.

I’ve found value in bringing unique skills to the team that no one else has. I encourage others to consider the path less travelled, which has allowed me to contribute on teams early in my career. I’ve found pursuing unique experiences is fun and challenging. There’s so much to learn, so it’s fun to explore how much you don’t yet know.

Jeremy Neilson Delivers Distinguished Lecture on Intellectual Property for PKI

jeremyNeilsonAs part of the PKI Distinguished Lecture Series, Jeremy Neilson (Scott Scholar from 2003-2007) gave a presentation to current students and alumni at the Scott Technology Center on November 19th.

After practicing as a licensed Professional Engineer in the field of Airport Design and Construction, Jeremy returned to the University of Nebraska to pursue a joint JD/MBA degree (see Jeremy’s UNL Law Profile). During his time at the College of Law, he has specialized in Intellectual Property Law and has passed the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Bar Exam, making him a Registered Patent Agent.

Jeremy currently works in the College’s Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic. The Clinic serves startup businesses seeking help with a variety of legal challenges. He has helped his clients with matters ranging from forming Limited Liability Companies, drafting software licensing agreements, and prosecuting trademark registration applications. His experience working hand-in-hand with fledgling startup companies has provided him with valuable insight into the struggles faced by new businesses.

Jeremy and his colleague from the Clinic, Carly Bahramzad, combined their experience advising startup companies with their legal education to create a 60-minute presentation about Intellectual Property (IP) as it relates to startups.  They discussed such topics as the legal and practical basis for the United States system of IP, the value that these intangible assets can bring to a company, as well as a more detailed analysis of each category of IP (Patents, Trade Secrets, Copyrights, and Trademarks).

The event was organized with the help of Scott Snyder, Interim Executive Director of PKI, Leah Ellis, Scholarship & Development Program Manager for PKI and Traci Hancock, Director of Maverick Innovations. There were approximately 120 attendees including Scott Scholars and alumni as well as students from PKI and the College of Business Administration.

Quick Bytes

  • The Scott Scholar Mentoring Program got some attention from Mr. Scott: “The newly formed… mentoring program is truly an added fulfillment to [my] vision for Scott Scholars. …Keep up the good work!” The program’s next event is a hockey game on Friday, February 26 (date expected but to be confirmed) at Aksarben’s new Baxter Arena.
  • Zach Ramaekers is a software engineer at Hudl, a sports/tech startup founded by Raikes (J.D. Edwards) Scholars in Lincoln
  • The College of IS&T’s Code Crush program is looking for mentors and sponsors — the highly successful signature program has the goal of substantively increasing the interest of girls in IT majors and careers
  • PKI’s new Executive Master of Science in IT (EMIT) Degree is Open for Admission, launching in Fall 2016
  • Remember that gated parking lot in front of Scott Hall? It’s becoming its own residence hall with new dorms for UNO.

Have anything you’d like to contribute – thoughts, ideas, comments, content? Contact Kyle Hoback.

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