February 21, 2023
Throughout the year, Epstein's DE&I Committee highlights the unique relationships among our 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. Today, we highlight Raveesh Varma, PE, SE and Tom Suarez, PE, SE from our structural engineering department.
Tom Suarez, PE, SE, is a Senior Vice President and Director of Engineering, and has been with Epstein for 14 years. Raveesh Varma, PE, SE, is Epstein's Chief Structural Engineer, and has been with the company for 15 years. Both Tom and Raveesh are members of the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).
Their work spans a variety of project types, from providing structural engineering services for industrial and commercial building projects, to supporting civil structural engineering projects. Raveesh recently worked on Riverfront Brio, Pursuit Collection's Flyover Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority's ASAP Program, and Hickory Riverwalk, which is currently under construction.
Epsteiners may remember the mentor-mentee spotlight involving Raveesh Varma and Anthony Dary, which underscores how the roles of mentorship can have several layers, further strengthening the development of skills and experience among members of the Epstein team.
Describe how you saw your mentor-mentee relationship forming?
Tom: Raveesh was already working here at Epstein when I joined, so our relationship began right when I started as the supervisor of our structural engineering team. Raveesh sought me out as a mentor and I guided him along a path that I viewed as his strength as a technical leader. Solving problems on projects is where I see him excel, and our relationship grew from there. I saw his leadership through specialization as Chief Structural Engineer on our team.
Raveesh: One can only learn so much at University. Among the first things Tom taught me was post-tensioned concrete design, as I had very little experience in this area. He gave me enough information to get started and then gave me space to read-up independently, experiment with computer models and hand calculations until I arrived at a valid and a constructible answer. He would share his experiences and project drawings with me so that I could understand what plans and details should look like and learn construction practices from them. Tom’s insight into construction and constructability has consistently helped me achieve more practical results in my projects.
Describe how you work through a project when you may not agree on style or approach to problem-solving.
Raveesh: Given the diffuse, theoretical, and practical nature of structural engineering, analysis methods and the production of drawings, two engineers can disagree at a number of places. As Tom’s Chief Engineer, my approach has been to be professional in my delivery. I consider it my responsibility to present and persuade if I have an approach that I see as valid. I have learned that through discussion we both find new aspects of the project to consider that we may not have found on our own. So, discussing our individual approaches may produce a better, more unified result. However, at the end of the process, the decision must be the one acceptable to the Engineer of Record.
Tom: A unique element of structural engineering is that it is very code-based and fact-oriented, with little room for disagreement or interpretation. A lot of debates in our work are how to achieve the desired result. For me, it comes down to mutual respect. Raveesh will describe his approach and anticipated solution. Many times we agree and there is almost no debate. Other times, we have differing opinions, and we are open to discussion. We both come to the conversation thinking our approach is correct, but neither of us is too proud to consider the other person’s perspective. I often approach projects with the mindset that “the structure is not built to soothe our ego. The structure is being built for the client’s needs.” We always bring the discussion back to “what is the best solution for the client?”
What mentorship activities come to mind that are not tied directly to a project scope, deliverable, or deadline?
Tom: Our experiences in the world are based on different backgrounds, but an example that comes to mind is that we both have children. When my kids were younger, they were involved in the scouting program, and I was a scout master during that time. When Raveesh’s son reached a similar age, I encouraged Raveesh to be involved and was glad we were able to share that. Raveesh has a global perspective on world affairs; he has a friends and relatives across the world, and sees things through a lens for how it may affect people in all of those places. I view things more locally, and this helps me see things through a more global lens.
Raveesh: With Tom it has been a variety of things over the past 10+ years that we have worked together. I have grown to trust his judgment in a variety of circumstances. Even in personal matters, Tom has very often offered level-headed advice when I, for whatever reasons, have been less-than-clear in my approach. I want to encourage younger engineers to grow and enjoy their work, and Tom has been a good teacher as to how I can do my job with patience, good cheer and a personal touch.
Thank you to both Tom and Raveesh for providing a little insight into their working relationship!