"If you want to soar with eagles, don't eat with pigeons."
That was part of the advice Richard Smith Hughes passed on to more than 50 engineering students recently. The 1960 University electrical engineering graduate is one of five people to receive the 2007 Scrugham Medal, the College of Engineering's highest award, and he and six other distinguished Nevada alumni participated Oct. 5 in a panel discussion on campus entitled, "Opportunities in Engineering: Then and Now."
"When I was in high school here in Reno, the Korean War was in full swing and I planned to join the Marines after graduation," Hughes said. "But by then, the war was over and I had to resort to Plan B: college. I still remember at our freshman orientation, the president of the University told us to look left, then right, and then he said only one in three would graduate. Turns out he was right."
A former marathon runner, Hughes said it was luck, education and track coaches that helped formulate him as a person and as an engineer. Hughes played a key role in the design of anti-radiation missiles at the Naval Air Warfare Station at China Lake, Calif.
Fellow medal-winner James Gardner was also on the panel, and he spoke of his experiences as a 1960 mechanical engineering graduate and as the chief executive officer of Gardner Engineering and Gardner Mechanical. Gardner has also won awards in energy conservation.
William Pillsbury, a 1950 civil engineering graduate, was in the military and planned to go to Stanford.
"I got a bad case of chicken pox and had to sit out for a while," Pillsbury said. After graduating from Nevada, he worked on many major projects including airports and sewage treatment plants. He founded William F. Pillsbury, Inc, Consulting Civil Engineers and Sierra Environmental Monitoring, Inc. and was the key consulting engineer for the Tahoe Keys development, portions of the then-Reno-Cannon International Airport and Tyrolian Village in Incline Village, Nev.
Other panelists included some of the 2006 Scrugham Medal Award winners. Simon Wong founded Simon Wong Engineering, which has grown from one employee to more than 75 employees. Wong received the University's Alumni Relations Professional Achievement award in 1996 and Asian Businessman of the Year from the city of San Diego in the 1990s. For a number of years, Wong's company was known for its bridge and structural engineering, but now the scope of the business has expanded to include construction management.
Allen Gates, a 1950 mechanical engineering graduate and the former chair of that department, launched a national research program to produce biodiesel fuel from algae and weeds. His goal is to replace 20 to 30 percent of the fossil fuel diesel used in Nevada.
Rounding out the panel were Tim Casey, a 1984 electrical engineering graduate and an expert on global Internet law and intellectual property, and civil engineering graduate Paul Reimer, formerly one of nine members of the Department of Defense Environmental Response Task Force. Reimer also oversaw environmental clean-ups at the nation's military facilities that were closing.
"I can tell you eye-to-eye that I've enjoyed every minute of my life as a civil engineer," Reimer said. "Find an opportunity that keeps you alive and committed, never lose your integrity and be prepared to work hard."
The annual medals are named after James Scrugham, who became a professor at the University's College of Engineering at age 23, taught for 11 years and then served as the first dean for three years before he was commissioned as a major in the U.S. Army during the World War I. Upon returning to Nevada after the war, he served as state engineer, state public service commissioner, governor, editor and publisher of the Nevada State Journal, special adviser to the Secretary of the Interior on Colorado River development projects, congressman and senator. Scrugham died at age 65 in 1945.