The University has hired Andrew Plotkin as project engineer within the Facilities Department after a two-and-a-half-year search. Plotkin’s first day was Monday, Oct. 23.
“[The position is] responsible for the safe, sustainable, and efficient planning, implementation, and operation of the mechanical and utilities infrastructure of the Wesleyan University campus,” reads a job description posted online by the University.
The hiring comes after Peter Staye left in May 2015. Staye held a more expansive role as Director of Utilities Management, which included oversight of the central power plant staff and procurement of energy resources for the University. These responsibilities have been permanently distributed to other employees within the Facilities Department. The title change reflects an effort to find a replacement specialized in energy systems, regulatory compliance, and general project management.
This desire for a unique fit meant the University’s hiring process was more difficult than usual.
“Based on average Wesleyan staff longevity, this is a once in every 15 to 20-year hiring opportunity, [and] we wanted to be sure we had the person with the right experience to join our team,” wrote facilities business manager Jeff Murphy in an email to The Argus.
In addition, the job market for engineers is tight.
“Mechanical engineers are in high demand across the world and Wesleyan is competing with many richer industries and for-profit institutions for the same, limited pool of candidates,” wrote Associate Vice President for Facilities Joyce Topshe in an email to The Argus.
In the interim, Staye’s responsibilities were picked up by other members of the Facilities Department.
“Several of our existing managers absorbed considerable, additional workload,” Topshe wrote. “In some cases, projects had to wait longer to be done.”
Plotkin comes from a background in energy generation. His first job out of college was with Babcock Power, a private company headquartered in Massachusetts that supplies equipment and services for products in the power generation industry. Yet Plotkin has always had a specific interest in green energy.
“I’ve always liked renewables—that’s one of the reasons I got into engineering to begin with,” Plotkin said.
While at Babcock Power, Plotkin worked with solar thermal power plants, which use an array of mirrors to heat water, create steam, and power a generator. He had a breakthrough when Babcock Power won the proposal for a large-scale solar thermal plant in California. Although he started off in design, he gradually moved up the ranks.
“As the project progressed and my career progressed, I moved into project engineering,” Plotkin said.
The project engineer is responsible for technical oversight of the development of a project. This includes quality control, efficiency, and fiscal responsibility from start to finish; as a result, the project engineer often acts as an intermediary between different parties.
“If there are issues that come up or questions that come up during design or construction, your responsibility is to be the communication liaison between all the different companies to make sure all the problems get solved and everything gets done efficiently,” Plotkin explained.
Although Plotkin’s current title as project engineer is the same as it was at Babcock Power, his responsibilities are not identical. Babcock Power, as a private company, hired its own engineers to conduct work, whereas the University often contracts outside engineering firms to perform work.
“This is a little bit more hands-on,” Plotkin said. “We will go out to an engineering firm to do a study. I’ll review that, make sure they’re meeting our expectations, they’ve answered our questions, and addressed the goal of the project.”
Plotkin’s role has also changed in that he has switched sides in the energy market. At Babcock Power, his work involved generating and selling energy, but he will now work on curating and overseeing energy projects for the school. As opposed to at a private company, Plotkin’s focus as project engineer is not solely to profit. Instead, his goals are to focus on coordination and adding a lot more voices to the project.
“If we’re going to build a building, for example, that means getting all the staff, all the faculty, the people that are doing the design, the people that are doing the construction on board,” Plotkin said.
This reduced focus on cost and the greater focus on stakeholder satisfaction is not the only change from the private sector Plotkin is facing. He sees a substantial difference in the colleagues he works with in the facilities department.
“The work environment is much more community-oriented,” Plotkin said. “Everyone is extremely nice, and everyone has a common goal: They want to make the University better. Everyone seems to care a bit more.”
To Plotkin, this change is what drove him from the private sector to a nonprofit environment.
“I don’t feel overworked, like my last job,” he said. “I enjoy working here because I want to be here and make a difference.”
Nevertheless, there has been a learning curve for Plotkin’s first couple weeks.
“It’s a whole new language here,” he joked. “Like, buildings have two names?”
Mason Mandell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MasonMandell.