Dean Towl, LEED AP (BSCNE '91) Scheduling Manager and Training & Development Manager, Mortenson Construction

Alumnus Dean Towl has made a successful career with M. A. Mortenson Construction Company. Here, he shares his personal thoughts on an industry that continues to grow despite the economic downturn.

Dean TowlHow did you become interested in construction engineering and management, and what inspired you to pursue a career in the field?

Interest in building has always been in my blood. I’m embarrassed to admit that constructing things in the sand box was my favorite activity late into adolescence. My sand box has just grown larger over the years. It was sheer luck that I decided to study engineering at Purdue. Donn Hancher and the late Lloyd Jones caught my attention in Engineering 100, and it was history from there!

How has the industry changed since you first entered the field? Do you see these as positives or negatives?

The exponential increase in facility construction complexity has driven a corresponding increase in the pace of change. The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” has never been more apparent. Ingenuity is
mandatory to compete in this new marketplace. Our customers have come to expect effective on-the-fly response in the face of these ever increasing challenges. New technologies mark a shift from the traditional brute force paradigm of previous decades. We’re catching more potential conflicts in computer simulations versus paying tradespersons to inefficiently force errant materials to fit into place. We are better able to keep challenges from becoming show-stoppers.

I’m also happy to see our customers’ openness to alternative project delivery methods like design-build and integrated project delivery. It’s much more rewarding as a builder to get involved early in the design of a facility. These are both very positive changes that I hope to see evolve further in the coming years. 

Attention to environmental impact is a hot topic in the industry today. How do you feel the construction engineering and management field is addressing those concerns?

The current interest in building “Green” may prove to be this decade’s buzzword like “TQM” or “Partnering” of prior decades, but this generation has the opportunity to make it our legacy. And clearly it’s the right thing to focus on. If you don’t buy in yet, take a trip to our oceans, focusing on the ever-increasing quantity of indestructible plastic assaulting the shores. A recent visit to Southeast Asia highlighted the need for a global environmental focus for me. Thankfully, interest in sustainable development, embodied in the USGBC’s LEED standards, continues to increase. We have some maturing to do as an industry, but there will be a day when this circle closes and today’s sustainable “best” practices become tomorrow’s “standard” practice. An ancient Kenyan proverb begs us to answer the question: Are we making an adequate commitment to the environment that our children and grandchildren are loaning to us?

What have been the key motivating factors for you as a leader in the industry, in other words, what keeps you going to work every day?

Hanging on to that childhood love for constructing helps me see past the daily speed bumps. Seeing the physical fruits of our labor as constructors is somehow internally satisfying and motivating beyond any external factor. Watching a facility take shape after months or even years of preplanning makes it all worth it. The old saying “the more you know, the less you know” proves to be true every day. My thirsts for variety and learning never fail to be satisfied. Implementing new technology and sharing learning really helps complete the circle of fulfillment for me.