“For his ability to effectively communicate technical issues to the public, fellow engineers and Members of Congress, his demonstrated leadership in forensic civil engineering; and for his significant contributions to structural assessments following catastrophic events."
This citation was read April 22 when the American Association of Engineering Societies presented the Norm Augustine Award for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Communications to Dr. Paul Mlakar of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory.
The ERDC-U.S. Military Academy (USMA) endowed chair in civil engineering said he was overwhelmed when he learned he would receive the prestigious award.
“It is probably the most significant award I have received or will receive in my engineering career. I am very humbled by it,” he said.
He feels the award is not for him as much as it is for the Corps of Engineers.
“Anything that I have done in the area of effective communications, I’ve done on behalf of the Corps of Engineers with assistance from our very effective public affairs professionals,” Mlakar said.
The award also is a reflection of his mentoring skills with students and young engineers. He is the West Point Class of 1953 endowed chair in civil engineering at the USMA.
The award recipient splits his time between the GSL and USMA. Mlakar explains his involvement at USMA was by invitation and with approval from the Corps of Engineers. “By mutual agreement of both organizations and me, it started out as a one year event. About half way through that first year, we all decided that I should do this a little longer. I am in my third year now, and I will do it one more year,” he said.
Mlakar and his fellow ERDC engineers understand the value of outreach.
“All of us have connections to universities, certainly the university where we did our graduate schooling. In our work with professional societies we serve on committees with people with similar technical interest. Through that we will find ourselves time to time near our alma maters and it is very easy to accept an invitation to give a seminar. That is good for the ERDC because that gives us an opportunity to educate our colleagues at universities about what we are doing, and it is also a source for recruiting very good talent as well.
“The most important point that I try to convey is that we are doing good, state-of-the-art research here at ERDC in all fields of civil and environmental engineering and related science. And it is for the benefit of the engineering profession and for the public that profession serves,” he said.
Mlakar has fond memories of the cadets he has met and mentored throughout his career.
“When I think about students that I have mentored, immediately, one student comes to mind. He was young man who graduated from high school the same year as my son. As a West Point graduate, I met him as a high school senior. I talked to him about the challenges he would face and sort of gauged his reaction. I told him that he was applying to West Point for the right reasons. I thought that I helped make sure he was right in the sense that West Point was right for him and vice versa,” Mlakar said.
He did not expect to hear much more from the young man, but throughout his time at West Point, he kept in touch. After graduation, he served six years active duty in the Army. “I would hear from him much more frequently than I thought I would. He was assigned to Korea twice. He would call from Korea, which meant he was time zone flipped around to give me a phone call. I have absolutely stayed in touch with him” Mlakar said with a smile.
“Another student I remember was a West Point cadet who graduated in 1979. In 1978 he came here for a summer assignment, one of the first cadets to do so. He went on to a full army career. He is now the head of civil and mechanical engineering at West Point. And we have stayed in touch through the years. In fact, when I am at West Point, I am actually working for him now,” said Mlakar.
Mlakar joins an elite group of Norm Augustine Award recipients, to include engineering notables as Neil Armstrong, Bonnie J. Dunbar, Congressman-physicist Vernon Ehlers and Celeste Baine.