October 16, 2020

We want to highlight the unique relationships we share in our global community of seasoned professionals. The strength of Epstein lies in the wealth of experience shared with each other to better equip our workforce with knowledge and confidence.

From building great professional relationships to long lasting friendships, these stories speak for themselves. This month the spotlight is on Tom Suarez and Andrius Valinskas from our Chicago Structural department.

Tom is Epstein’s Director of Structural Engineering for the past 11 years. His engineering career spans over 30+ years. He is licensed as Professional Engineer or Structural Engineer in 39 states and has been designated through NCEES as a “Model Law Structural Engineer.” He has a wide variety of project experience with residential, commercial, industrial, higher education, laboratory, data center, public service, institutional, telecommunications, aviation related buildings and parking structures. Tom’s career started in the nuclear power industry where he learned the technical aspects of engineering from some excellent mentors that imparted the importance of discipline and rigor to the analysis and design of structures. He has also worked alongside a few of the “big names” in structural engineering, Carl Walker and Shankar Nair, who helped him to further his technical skills and engineering judgement.

Andrius, more commonly called Andy, is a Senior Design Engineer within the Structural department. He started his career with Epstein as a summer intern in 2014. Upon graduation he was hired as a Design Engineer for the Bridge group within the Civil Department. With a strong passion for structural engineering, he got transferred as a Design Engineer within Epstein’s Structural Engineering division. Working closely with Epstein’s John Lach for the first two years, he finessed basic engineering design aspects and Revit modelling skills while working on big industrial projects like Pork Processing Plants for Seaboard Triumph Foods (STF), Prestage Foods etc. He was promoted to Senior Design Engineer.

Andy is a member of the AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction) and within Epstein, he is a member of the SIC (Staff Initiative Committee) and ECF’s (Epstein Community Foundation) Rebuilding Together group.

Tom has been Andy’s mentor for the past four years. He noticed Andy’s drive and vigor to challenge himself to take on different projects and assigned him on a variety of projects. That variety is what motivates and excites Andy.

What is the biggest takeaway for you from this relationship?

Tom: “In a selfish way mentoring Andy, or anyone, helps to build the quality of the work delivered by the structural department and, in turn, by Epstein. However, professionally and personally it’s just the right thing to do to help a fellow professional improve their skills and become a competent and productive engineer. I get the satisfaction of seeing a junior engineer develop along their career path and become a responsible professional in charge of their own projects who then has the skills to mentor other junior engineers. It is a cycle that is very rewarding for me to watch develop.”

Andy: “As a mentee, I continue to observe and learn from Tom, taking his advice and improving my performance and quality of work. He has many years of structural engineering experience and great knowledge in various building types. Tom continues to guide me through the duration of the project while I learn what it takes to complete the project from the beginning to end.”

Could you share a memorable project you worked on together?

Tom: It’s been a real pleasure to watch Andy develop on the current Peoples Gas (PGL) projects. When the PGL Logistics Service Center project started about 2 years ago, I did the framing studies and layout and he implemented the design while he and I worked quite closely together on most decisions. Now for the current PGL South Shop Field Service Center project I can see him applying all the lessons learned from previous projects (and from the client) and performing the schematic studies and layout independently. We still work quite closely but now it is more in the style of confirming his decisions as appropriate rather than him seeking input on how to make the decisions. His development and growth in confidence has been fun to watch on this series of projects.”

What are your secrets for a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Andy: “I believe communication is the key for a successful mentor/mentee relationship. In this profession we solve problems on a daily basis and every problem has multiple solutions. You might have a solution to a problem but sometimes by having a conversation with somebody more experienced in that field you find a better solution. I believe good communication helps you grow in your profession and build trust.”

Tom, how would you best describe your mentoring style?

Tom: I strive to show people the “why” behind an answer. When you explain the reason why an answer is appropriate or what resources they can use to find the solution it teaches an independence that builds on their judgement and improves their confidence. Often people know the answer but don’t quite know why something is that way – understanding the background helps them to apply that knowledge to analogous situations that aren’t exactly covered in the textbooks. That’s what professional judgement is all about.

"I also learned a great deal about constructability and plain common sense from working as a carpenter with my home builder father when I was younger and continuing on to this day. All of these experiences have helped me to hone my ability to balance the technical side of engineering with the practical side of construction economy. It is this balance that I try to impart on engineers that I have had the privilege to mentor throughout my career."

What is the best lesson(s) you have learned from Tom so far?

Andy: “One of the biggest lessons I learned from Tom, is to be responsive to CA (Construction Administration) work, especially with RFIs and Submittals. Contractors appreciate when you quickly respond to RFIs and return submittals back. A lot of times the construction schedule is critical and speeding up the process is the key to success, especially in design build projects.”

In your opinion, how can mentors build a strong relationship with their mentee?

Tom:First of all you need to establish that you know what you are talking about and that you can be trusted as a source of reliable information. Next you need to build trust with the mentee that you are there as a role model to make their work/career/life better. Better to teach rather than preach. Once it is understood that the mentor truly wants the mentee to grow as a professional and reach their goals then the trust develops and the teamwork relationship takes off."

Something I appreciate about my mentor…

Andy: “Tom has great listening skills. As a growing professional I feel like I can always express my thoughts and be heard by Tom."

One word that describes Andy…

Tom: “Ambitious. When presented with an intellectual challenge on something new he really digs in to find the answer. As his experience grows I can see his confidence build and he has shown a great ability to understand field issues and present very constructible solutions."

A little known fact about Tom…

Andy: “Tom loves watching comedy movies in his free time. His favorite actors are Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell.”