Celebrating Jeff Rice
Jeff Rice has had a long and fruitful career, first in the U.S. and over the past 14 years as a Senior Water Resource Engineer at Urban Systems. He retired on March 31st (although plans to continue to consult on some projects) and we wanted to take a moment to celebrate him, his accomplishments, and how his mentorship and guidance has helped so many young consultants.
Jeff started working for his father, a consulting engineer, during summer breaks beginning in 7th grade. He says his dad gave him a lot of responsibility for his age, and he immediately took to the work. After graduating high school Jeff attended Purdue University in Indiana (a school that graduates more engineers than any other in the U.S.) where he studied environmental engineering with a focus on wastewater treatment facilities design. After graduation he spent some time working as a construction inspector in his home town, Springfield, Illinois (not necessarily Bart Simpson’s home town, though) – “mostly walking around nearly complete sewage treatment plants”, he explains with a laugh – then he moved to Seattle and attended the University of Washington to do graduate work. Upon finishing, he jumped into full time consulting; it was there in and also began writing best practice manuals for urban runoff and agricultural runoff.
Ever the Renaissance man Jeff then decided to enter theological seminary. He became an ordained minister and, in the midst of a checkered path of both full and part-time consulting, served a small congregation in Minneapolis. When he and his wife Sharon moved to New Jersey for her to work on her PhD (in theology), Jeff refocused more fully on engineering, continuing that path when they moved to Vancouver in the summer of 2000. He says having worked in so many different environments has helped him appreciate Urban even more.
“I worked in a variety of environments—I was a sole practitioner, I worked with firms of 5-6 people, and I worked in firms with over 60,000 employees. It’s been a wide range and it’s really given me some great perspectives. Urban Systems has a strong sense of being a networked organization. We place a really high value on that, and I think it makes us special. The financial bottom line is not the only driver. We have the luxury and responsibility of having a broader sense of what it means to be a solid consulting firm.”
The value of mentoring
One of the things many team members at Urban love about Jeff is his patience with helping new graduates and his knack for providing mentorship.
“A lot of the work I’ve done is trying to pass along to others an interest, a passion, in civil engineering,” he says. “That sparks me and gives me energy. I like to hear from younger and mid career folks and see them get excited by the things they’re interested in. I hope I’ve passed along to some a desire for technical excellence. Our clients deserve it.”
Andrew Ling, who now works for the City of Vancouver but started his career under Jeff at Urban around 10 years ago, says Jeff truly helped to shape his career by sparking in him an interest in stormwater management.
“Urban Systems was my first job out of school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Jeff introduced me to stormwater management as a field and now it’s my area of practice. He really guided the course of my career.”
“One of Jeff’s amazing qualities is that he listens and he is so patient. When I met him I was fresh out of school, a young engineer. I was asking questions and making mistakes, but he always took the time to explain things thoroughly and go into the details. I like to really understand what I am doing, so this was the perfect way for me to learn. I respect him and his knowledge in the field very deeply. Even today I consider him a mentor who I can call for advice any time.”
When He’s not Working
“When I’m not working, I’m working,” Jeff laughs. He and his wife Sharon (a former pastor and an author in the field of theology and philosophy) own a 6-acre home on Whidbey Island. They have a garden spanning almost half an acre, and a brand new orchard where apples, plums, cherries, raspberries, blueberries, pears, grapes and currants (are trying to) thrive.
They’re working on restoring a small pond on the lot to become more of a naturalized wetland. They also have six beehives, and they allow a neighbour’s sheep to graze on part of their pasture. “We feed the sheep raw kale, which they dearly love. If you wave a bit of sweet pumpkin, all six will come running to get some at top speed.” When they’re not outside, you will often find them talking about the intersection of theology and philosophy with politics, ecology, economics, the arts and life in general.
Jeff says that as his retirement date approached, he felt bittersweet about leaving, but hopes to continue providing some of his expertise and contributing where he can.
“The future is kind of open for me—I plan to keep involved in some projects and offer what insight I can for clients. My life as a civil engineer has been just that—it’s civic work. I believe in contributing to the world at large and helping create and foster places that are healthy and safe. It’s been a privilege to do that at Urban Systems.”