Each year, the College of Engineering recognizes outstanding alumni during Engineers’ Day—a celebration of engineers, held on Homecoming weekend. Rod Hassett is among the engineers we will honor in 2019 at an Oct. 11 banquet.
Two years into his engineering career, Rod left his job as a structural engineer with Chicago Bridge and Iron Company and returned to Madison to join John Strand Consulting Engineers, a small design firm.
It’s a path he’s never regretted taking, not only because he learned so much about the business from his mentor, John Strand, but also because he was involved in building many landmark projects that set the tone for the future in water, wastewater and transportation in Madison and points beyond.
During Rod’s 40 years with the company, Strand grew to be one of the leading Midwest full-service civil and environmental engineering consulting firms, with offices in four states and more than 300 employees. And in retirement, Rod has given back to his alma mater through a scholarship for traditionally underrepresented students, as a mentor, and in 13 years of service as adjunct professor in civil and environmental engineering.
We are honoring Rod as a respected civil engineer, visionary leader and mentor who is a passionate advocate for diversity in engineering.
Recently, we chatted with him about everything from his memories as a student at UW-Madison to his career and hobbies. Here are his responses to some of our questions.
How did you decide on your major?
As a boy, I was fascinated by the construction of buildings, bridges and roadways. In high school, I was very good at math and science, and both my father and high school counselor recommended engineering.
What advice would you give students today?
Students ultimately need to find the right fit. This may take more than one try, but they need to find something they love to do, are good at, and can make a living doing it.
Can you share a few of your best memories from your time at UW-Madison?
I met my wife there. I would say that’d be No. 1. She was a year behind me but I saw her in the hallway multiple times. I introduced myself and we started dating. I also remember walking across the stage to receive my diploma, and looking up in the stands to see my dad and grandfather waving their arms in pride. I was a first-generation college graduate.
Who has played a role in your achievements?
From the time I started with John Strand to the time he died in 1970, I worked very closely with him and he was a fantastic engineer. We spent a lot of time in his office brainstorming problems and solutions, and he taught me the whole process of thinking out an engineering solution. Little did he know that he was preparing me and a few other young engineers to continue his firm after his untimely passing.
What are your hobbies?
I’m an avid stock market investor as a hobby. I golf both in Wisconsin and at my winter home in California. Diane and I enjoy traveling throughout this country and the world.
Who are your family members?
My wife, Diane, and I have been married 57 years. We have three children: daughter Dawnene, and sons Dan and Kevin, and each of their families.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
An engineering degree from UW is life-changing and opens up an entirely new world. It is one of the most important things I have done in my life. I am proud of being a professional engineer and having the opportunity to design and construct many significant projects that benefit thousands of people. I appreciate the opportunity to teach at this great university. When I retired I had a desire to share the experiences and lessons I learned during my career. Our young engineers are the best and brightest I have ever seen. And the opportunity I have had to make a difference in the lives in many minority students is so rewarding. When one of our scholarship students gets their UW degree, it is life-changing for the student and their entire family.