Trailblazers return to the place it all started

Alumni family rallies behind environmental innovators and student mentor

Richard Cairney - 20 September 2019

(Edmonton) Developing new technology and cleaning up some of the world's most contaminated sites. Eliminating waste from the construction industry. Giving engineering students the guidance and tools they need to bring their ideas to life.

These are the achievements three Engineering at Alberta alumni are receiving University of Alberta's Alumni Awards as Alumni Weekend 2019 springs to life.

Reza Nasseri, Bruce McGee, and Steven Knudsen were among UAlberta alumni honoured at the Sept. 19 event.

Nasseri, who graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1970, cares for the environment. The founder and CEO of Landmark Group of Builders is eliminating waste in the construction industry. Through industrialization of the construction process-pre-fabricating sections of buildings the assembling them on site-reduces waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Reducing waste in the construction industry reduces demand for products upstream in the supply chain, he says. Less wood being wasted at construction sites results in fewer trees being harvested, fewer trucks hauling logs, less fuel being burned, and fewer greenhouse gasses being emitted. What happens on a construction site, Nasseri says, affects everything upstream as well as downstream.

"An ounce of waste (on a construction site) looks like an ounce of waste but it's tons," he says. "My motivation is to lower carbon emissions and waste associated with residential construction, to increase sustainability and to improve the quality of homes ."

In 2014, he established the Nasseri School of Building Science and Engineering at the U of A, seeding the teaching and research centre with a generous $10-million gift to the Faculty of Engineering.

Nasseri was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for his advances in the construction industry and support of education.

Read a full profile on Reza Nasseri.

Decontaminating toxic sites

Chemical engineering alumnus Bruce McGee has always been a believer in continuous education, returning to school during economic downturns school to deepen his knowledge and gain new professional credentials. He has four engineering degrees (three from the University of Alberta and one from Calgary).

Ground-breaking electrothermal technologies developed by McGee while studying at UAlberta Engineering remove pollution from the ground safely, reliably and rapidly, ensuring clean water sources.

Over 24 years his company, McMillan-McGee Corp., grew from a basement startup to a global company working with energy and environmental industries to clean up the world's most contaminated sites.

McGee received the Alumni Honour Award for his impact on the environment.

In an interview with Engineering at Alberta in 2015, McGee said graduate studies paved the way for his success-and he highly recommends it.

"Some would say they don't want to take on the risk of going back to school, quitting a job and not knowing the outcome of their effort," he said. "For me, that was never a question. I recognized that someone would always hire an engineer."

Supporting student dreams

Steven Knudsen, who graduated with a computer engineering degree in 1984, believes youth innovation will drive the future economy.

In fact, the R&D consultant has cheerfully driven thousands of kilometres between his home in Bragg Creek, Alberta, to the U of A to support two Engineering at Alberta facilities-The Pod innovation lab and the Elko Engineering Garage makerspace-that help bring student ideas to life.

Knudsen has become recognized as a favourite alumnus among students in part because of his support of the Computer Engineering Club's annual Hackathons. These 24-hour events bring students from all fields of study together to design and build a product-whether a stand-alone software program, or programming that operates a physical device-in 24 hours.

Students attending the hackathons benefit from presentations delivered by industry sponsors, but also from Knudsen's mentorship and advice. Through these volunteer activities, he became an important player in establishing The Pod, an innovation and mentorship centre in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a supporter of the Elko Engineering Garage.

He received the UAlberta Alumni Service Award for his support for students.

Knudsen and his classmates have long been helping out young engineering students. Members of the computer engineering class of '84 and '85 joined forces to establish the Peer of Peers Award in memory of Michael Lazare, a classmate who passed away.

The award, as it turns out, recognizes the same qualities Knudson exemplifies.

"Academic performance is one thing but success is more about what you are like as a person," Knudsen said in a 2013 interview with Engineering at Alberta. "We didn't want to create an award solely on scholarly achievements but to identify those people who, if you were given a choice to work with them 15 or 20 years later, you would jump at it."