LAWRENCE — Award-winning 1983 University of Kansas School of Engineering graduate Ronaldo “Nick” Nicholson, who has led some of the most prominent bridge and highway projects in the shadow of our nation’s capital, returns to campus this month to lecture on “Engineering as a Profession.”
As vice president and Mid-Atlantic Region manager for Parsons Transportation Group in Washington, D.C., Nicholson specializes in helping clients deliver transportation infrastructure mega projects and programs. He will share his insights for success at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 in Spahr Classroom of Eaton Hall for the seventh annual J.A. Tiberti Family Lecture.
“Our profession is a noble one, one that has helped advance civilization throughout the centuries,” Nicholson said. “What are the thresholds for excellence? How do you know you’re doing everything you can do to achieve them?”
Nicholson will focus especially on three “E's” — expectations, ethics and excellence.
“It is important for today’s students to know whether they go into the public sector or the private sector, what those different sectors will expect from them and how they should react — what things they should be looking for in the early stages of their careers,” he said. “The work doesn’t stop when you have the credentials and your degree — you have to continue the hard work and be true to the profession.”
Nicholson earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from KU and later his master’s degree in structural engineering from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
His career has included work in the public and private sectors. At Parsons, he is responsible for projects and pursuits in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Prior to that, he served as deputy director/chief engineer for Washington, D.C.’s Department of Transportation, overseeing hundreds of employees and multibillion dollar infrastructure projects that were some of the largest in the city’s history.
Earlier in his career, Nicholson was the transportation program director for the Northern Virginia District of the Virginia Department of Transportation. He helped VDOT earn several honors, including the 2008 ASCE Outstanding Projects and Leaders Award (OPAL Award), the 2008 American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials America Transportation Award and the 2009 International Bridge Conference Gustav Lindenthal Medal.
In 2010 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials awarded him as a “Trailblazer in Civil Rights.”
Nicholson credits KU with helping prepare him for success in a challenging career.
“For me, it was being in a diverse situation,” he said of his time at KU. “I came from East St. Louis, Illinois, and it was the first time I was around people who weren’t like me. It gave me the opportunity to see different races, religions, classes of people. There are a lot of similarities, and you shouldn’t shy away from the differences.”
Coming back to campus is a source of pride for Nicholson, and he intends to offer some wisdom to today’s students.
“It’s an honor to walk Learned Hall again and to tell folks that 30 years ago I was just like them — making some lifelong friends and, what I didn’t know then, getting some basic educational tools that can take you far in this complex world,” he said.
The Tiberti Lecture was begun in 2011 through a contribution from members of the Tiberti family to the KU Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering. Speakers focus on ethics, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and issues for the education, personal growth and professional development benefit of students.