There are a number of characteristics that qualify someone for recognition. They vary in scope as much as they vary in particularity. Often times, when one is recognized for their professional contributions, their qualifications are measured by time served in the industry, coupled with merit of accomplishments during that period of time.
Great achievements however, shouldn’t just be measured by longevity, but by ambition and commitment as well.
Nicholas Hipp has worked as a plumbing engineer for just 10 years, and though he is still at the beginning of his tenure in this industry, he has stepped outside of the mere requirements of his profession, and made his presence known as an industry mover and shaker, which is why he has been selected as the 2017 Engineer of the Year.
Hipp graduated from Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, Missouri with a degree in architectural technology. “I really enjoyed drafting in high school,” he recalls. “So, I wanted to get into that field, but I had no idea what I could do with the degree after that.”
It didn’t take long for him to figure it out.
Hipp is the plumbing department head at AEdifica Case Engineering in St. Louis, and he’s been there since graduation. “I started out as the low man on the totem pole,” he says.
He calls it luck — getting a call back from AEdifica Case Engineering. At the time, the firm was looking for help with plumbing drafting, and Hipp believes it was just a matter of timing. “My eyes were then opened to wonders of plumbing engineering, and it became very fascinating to me,” he says. “I became a sponge for knowledge, learning as much as I can, wherever I can, and whenever I can.”
He saw the opportunity and committed to learning the plumbing engineering trade. “I was stamping drawings, shipping, cleaning, answering phones and doing grocery orders all while I was being trained in plumbing.”
He worked his way up by observing others and learning everything he could absorb from engineering publications. But even from the beginning, Hipp wasn’t just focused on what he could get out of this opportunity, but rather, what he could to do to expand on it. “I started teaching others what I learned, and before I knew it, I had a team of six designers.”
Whether it was luck, or a calling, he has secured his place in what he calls “a great place to work!”
According to Hipp, the rapidly growing MEP engineering firm is very supportive of its employees’ career goals and creates a great working atmosphere. “When I first started 10 years ago, I was only the eighth person in the firm. We now have more than 60 engineers and designers.”
AEdifica Case Engineering has been more than a firm where he has grown and developed his craft. Hipp also credits the firm for his involvement with the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, where he currently serves as the vice president of Technical, ASPE Young Professionals (AYP) liaison, as well as the Region 5 AYP liaison.
“My company highly encourages and supports employees becoming members of engineering societies, and management recommended I join ASPE,” he says. “I became more involved when I had an enlightening conversation with (the one and only) Joe Scott CPD, FASPE, about personal growth in plumbing engineering. He recommended that I join the ASPE St. Louis Chapter board as it would be a very rewarding experience, and he was absolutely correct. I have currently served on the St. Louis board since 2014,” he adds.
His days, for the most part, are mundane. Like many industry, he gets to the office by 6:30 a.m. He says he’s a morning person, so that’s easy for him to do. “I get in and read industry articles to start my day.” He reads Plumbing Engineer, which I agree is a great publication to get caught up with industry happenings (perhaps I’m a little biased).
Once briefed on industry happenings, Hipp focuses on finishing reviews and then plans out the rest of his day. Only after that’s completed, he sees his day as officially started, “That’s when I get busy with my management duties and design projects. Or, I find myself helping/teaching, or learning from one of the six plumbing designers who work with me.”
Hipp takes great joy in sharing his knowledge with other designers. He says, “I like to teach by discussing the theoretical response for a particular plumbing question, or where they can find the answer in the code books. Just answering a question with, ‘that’s just the way it is,’ is unacceptable to me. No one can understand a problem with, ‘that’s just the way it is,’ as the only source of the reason.”
One of the main reasons Hipp is being recognized as the 2017 Engineer of the Year is because of his involvement with outreach programs and young professional development. As the St. Louis Chapter AYP liaison, he has worked hard to form the AYP group into a very fun and close group of professionals.
“I have been openly communicating with a lot of the young professionals who come to chapter meetings to find out what interests them so that I can gauge what would draw bigger crowds to AYP events,” Hipp says. “The more they find that the AYP is fun, the more benefit they will see in joining.”
Through his efforts, the St. Louis chapter has grown with a couple of new faces. For Hipp, it’s not so much about the quantity of new members, as much as it’s about the impact it makes. “Being a small chapter,” he says, “one or two new people is a big jump. It’s about creating a climate where you have a group of individuals from different companies able to connect; share stories, ideas and experiences; and all grow together.”
Growing together and as an industry is important to Hipp. In addition to his efforts with the AYP group, he also takes time to facilitate presentations at local high schools and colleges about plumbing engineering. “My goals are to spread the knowledge that not only is plumbing engineering a career option, but there are so many different areas one can go in engineering. Being able to share that with students will hopefully spark their interest and guide them to the best engineering career for them,” he says.
Recently, he spoke to an engineering class at Mehlville High School in St. Louis, Missouri. “I shared with them the wide varieties of engineering fields that are out there as well as the awesomeness that is plumbing engineering. I showed the class pictures of my plumbing travels and the ridiculous and amazing plumbing designs I have seen, as well as explained to them that plumbing engineering is critical to public health.”
Hipp’s passion about the trade isn’t a secret. His understanding of its necessity, not only at home, but abroad, is evident in the work he puts forward. You don’t need to look far to find peers who are willing to attest to that.
“I think his strongest attribute is his enthusiasm for plumbing design, expanding his knowledge of it and sharing it with others” says Paul Hellickson, McClure Engineering. “He brings a great young energy to the society, which has a median age range of somewhere in the 50s. Nicholas is ASPE’s future; he is embracing that role and running with it full steam ahead.”
Bryan L. Hutton, CPD, piping system consultant for The Lubrizol Corp., and ASPE Region 5 director says, “During 2017, Nicholas has had a tremendous year balancing intriguing design projects while expanding his influence on society through his leadership in engineering outreach programs, young professional development and participation in Community Plumbing Challenge in Indonesia, providing design assistance for waste and domestic water systems.”
Hipp recently had a great opportunity to participate in the 2017 Community Plumbing Challenge, hosted by IAPMO and IWSH in Cicau Village, Cikarang, Indonesia as a part of the design team. The team was tasked with designing a sustainable upgrade solution for water supply and wastewater systems along with new toilet facilities and a new septic system at a local grade school.
“Being able to participate in this challenge is my biggest accomplishment to date,” Hipp says. “Designing a new septic system and water storage system for a struggling school will greatly improve their lives. It is very rewarding to know that someone will have a more sanitary school experience because of something I did.”
Hipp does a lot to advance not only the industry, but those who work with him as well. Luke Wild, P.E., mechanical engineer, project manager at AEdifica Case Engineering, says Hipp is always striving to learn more about plumbing engineering and design systems, which he then spreads to his team to help them grow as designers, too.
“Nicholas’ strongest attribute is his desire to know and understand everything about plumbing systems,” Wild says. “Even outside of work hours, he is always reading anything he can get his hands on to expand his knowledge base. This is his strongest attribute because any time a new situation presents itself either in design or construction, he has a good idea how to solve it or where to find the answer.”
Being able to stay ahead of the curve is another reason Hipp is being recognized as the 2017 Engineer of the Year.
With less than 10 years in the industry, Hipp has accomplished a tremendous amount growing as a designer, is a valuable member of his firm, and has risen as a leader in ASPE.
“Everyone should know that Nicholas didn’t just get lucky; he has been working extremely hard to build his educational resume as well as professional resume through sound decisions, networking and acceptance of opportunities to grow,” Hutton says.
Hipp has designed a wide variety of projects ranging from repurposing abandoned schools into multifamily lofts to hotels, factory waste treatment renovations, surgical centers and restaurants. He uses the new information he learns as the industry progresses and incorporates it into his designs.
“I find every project intriguing,” he says, “but the most interesting project this year was relocating a casting factory’s waste water treatment plant.”
Hipp says it was challenging to survey the existing piping systems and learn how they had put together the old treatment systems over the decades. He took all that information, combined it with a study, and built a newer, more suitable system for their needs. “I learned that on industrial facilities, a designer/engineer should ask a lot of operational questions and really budget their time on being as thorough as possible when surveying the existing conditions,” Hipps says.
Always looking for the lesson. Always looking to pass it on.
“He is constantly learning and growing,” Hellickson says. “If you see him in a technical session at a symposium or convention, he is taking notes and working to retain the information being presented. He is not one of those that is just going along for the ride.”
Hipp says he feels there is not enough knowledge sharing and development in the industry from current designers/engineers to the next generation. The average age of a plumbing engineer is in the mid-50s, and within the next 20 or so years, that vast collection of wisdom will be retired and out of the industry.
“My grandmother always told me to never teach anyone all your tricks (knowledge) unless you want them to take your job,” Hipp recalls. “Well I disagree with that notion! You should teach the younger individual everything you know as you strive to learn more at the same time. There is only a plateau in plumbing engineering knowledge if you make it a plateau.”
Always looking to grow. Always looking for the next challenge.
For most, balancing a full-time career with the need to constantly learn and grow, all while looking for ways to pay it forward, can be exhausting. So how does Hipp do it?
“I cry, fully dressed, under a cold shower,” he laughs. “Balancing all the duties does have its challenges, but coming in an hour or so early to get all my volunteering duties done seems to work the best for me. Volunteering is hard work, but if you can help spark the interest of a student’s mind or to make plumbing engineering fun for a young engineer, it makes it all worth it.”
Unfortunately, Hipp says his efforts with young minds hasn’t come to full fruition yet, but he’s willing to wait to see where they will be in a couple of years when they get through college.
In ten years’ time, Hipp hopes to still be learning new technologies and design systems. He’s not only excited about the future, he ambitious about it, too. “I see myself being a director of engineering and having a bigger role within the company. But, most of all, I see myself still loving what I do every day.”
He doesn’t really have a “dream project” since he says he tends to have fun with all the projects he works on. “But, if I had to choose,” he says, “I haven’t had the opportunity yet to design a building over seven stories tall. So, I would say a high-rise multi-use building would be a dream project right now.”
This past year, Hipp has shown an immense amount of passion and dedication to the plumbing engineering industry. “I think he brings new and fresh ideas,” Hellickson says.
Hipp has stepped up to any challenge that’s he’s been presented with, and he’s looked for ways to share the knowledge he picks up along the way. The plan going forward is to stay on that course.
He says to the next generation of engineers coming into, or considering, the industry, “Never be complacent. Ask a lot of questions and always be curious as to how things work. You never know, you may ask the right question to the right person at the right time, that opens a lot of doors for your future.”
According to Hutton, Hipp is in line to be a future president of the St. Louis Chapter of ASPE. “He will be following a long line of difference makers in the region, but what will separate him is his understanding that he can affect a much larger area.”
In his own words, Nicholas J. Hipp, says he is passionate about plumbing engineering and the future growth of the industry. “I am always striving to build strong relationships with clients to develop a stronger team and design for all our projects. I am always learning, and teaching others to build a stronger engineering team. Outside of work, I would just say I’m a pretty cool dude.”
We think he’s a pretty cool dude, too. He’s worth knowing, and recognizing, because his greatest achievement is yet to come. He has built a solid foundation in which we wish him the greatest success going forward. Through his success, the industry as a whole, will benefit.
Congratulations to Nicholas Hipp for being the 2017 Engineer of the Year! l
Read about Nicholas Hipp’s 2017 Community Plumbing Challenge.