Campus Closeup: Robert Ryan

As a kid, Robert Ryan (Engineering and Planning) played in C.B. Hedgcock when it was a physical education facility. He went swimming in its pool and enjoyed its gymnasium. Later he attended concerts in that building and even saw Jay Leno perform there. As the project engineer for NMU, he handled the renovations that transformed it into a student services center.


His desk and windowsill are lined with stacks of papers. Each pile represents a project he's involved in. They can range from smaller-scale tasks, such as adjusting the number of rungs on the PEIF roof access ladders, to larger projects, such as new building construction.


“There are a lot of steps to every project, even the little ones. Sometimes the little ones are harder than the $50 million projects because of all the coordination involved. Sometimes it takes as much effort, which seems kind of odd, but that’s the way it is,” Ryan said.


His primary duties are to work on new construction and renovations and consult with university maintenance staff. As a mechanical engineer, he coordinates with building designers, construction workers and Northern personnel to complete projects. Ryan is involved with every stage, from inception to completion.


“Projects are a team effort. It isn’t just one person, but one face at the university has to coordinate every project, be it me or someone else from my department,” he said.


Ryan’s first major project, the one he was hired for in January 1998, took two years. The $40 million project was to build the Seaborg Science Complex, which included the New Science facility and the renovation of West Science.


His other NMU project experience includes Quad 1, the Marketplace, C.B. Hedgcock and miscellaneous projects that come up, such as replacement of the roof at the Summit Street apartment pump house or installing fire protection sprinklers. Currently two big projects are eating up his time: building a new control room for TV 13 and the pulper project. The pulper will press the food waste at Quad 1 into a dry product that can be used as compost or landfill rather than releasing it into the city sewer system.


Ryan also assumed responsibility for the university heating plant about a year and a half ago. He supervises the seven employees, orders materials and coordinates all maintenance and operations there. In addition to heat, hot water and air conditioning, the heating plant provides a pass-through for about 80 percent of the university’s power, Ryan estimated.


“I like working here because of the variety of people I work with—trades people, various faculty, staff and students,” Ryan said.


Before work every morning, he gets up early to squeeze in his daily run. Every year Ryan runs Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., and the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, Wis. He started running in 1974 and has continued ever since. His job at Northern keeps him running, too.


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Updated: September 12, 2007

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