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Anniversary Accolades for Bernie Jansen on 35 Years

Former Partner and Senior Project Manager Bernie Jansen is celebrating 35 years at VAA. Respected and admired by clients and coworkers alike, to say Bernie has played an integral role in the growth of VAA is an understatement.

Bernie always possessed a natural curiosity about how things were built. Having discovered drafting in high school, he graduated from Dunwoody College of Technology with a degree in Building Construction – Drafting and Estimating. He then spent six years at a construction company planning and constructing industrial facilities and gaining firsthand experience in slipform construction. Bernie’s knowledge of slipform silos and high-rise building cores augmented VAA’s familiarity with this construction method, helping to create a niche used today for many of the firm’s facility designs.

When Bernie joined VAA in the spring of 1985, the company was made up of two small firms: Van Sickle Allen and Associates, and Grain Facility Design. Bernie started out providing structural drafting for commercial building projects under the direction of cofounder Chuck Allen, migrating back and forth between the two companies as needed.

It wasn’t long before he was taking on new responsibilities. At a time when drawings were still being done with pencils and the web wasn’t yet worldwide, Bernie spearheaded VAA’s adoption of computer-aided design. “Our first CAD machine was very expensive and quite large,” Bernie remembers. He also managed the firm’s IT functions at this time.

As fax machines and pencils were abandoned for email and 3D design, Bernie’s role continued to expand. He managed all aspects of VAA’s projects, from designing process flows and refining concepts to producing contract documents and coordinating construction. His integral role in company operations led to becoming a partner in the firm.

Bernie also played a key role in growing VAA’s agribusiness sector, working alongside Gene Haldorson, cofounder Dick Van Sickle, and others. Having backgrounds in construction, Bernie and Gene in particular both had a deep understanding of the needs specific to construction companies and were able to leverage this knowledge to forge many new relationships. “If we did good work for a client, we were not shy about asking them to help us find more opportunities,” Bernie revealed about expanding VAA’s client base.

While his understanding of engineering, material handling, and construction is wide and deep, it’s Bernie’s talent for cultivating and maintaining lasting client relationships that is a hallmark of his reputation. CEO Jeff Schrock is proud to call Bernie a mentor, partner, and friend. “His genuine desire to build relationships and help people is evident in his actions. The care he brings to his client relationships has paved an incredibly successful career and bolstered VAA’s business.”

Although Bernie greatly enjoys seeing projects progress from an idea to a built environment, what he relishes most about his work are the challenges that have pushed him to break unfamiliar ground, create a fresh process, or utilize new technology. “Bernie has a remarkable ability to adapt to change and innovate,” says Brian Utoft, PE, Partner and Senior Process Engineer, who has worked closely with and been mentored by Bernie. “He’s not only been instrumental in introducing VAA to new clients over the years but also expanding the types of projects VAA pursues.”

Bernie appreciates time spent with family, outdoor activities, and working with his hands. His hands-on approach extends to VAA’s staff, many of whom he has managed and mentored during his tenure to help advance their own skills and talents. His desire to help both his colleagues and the firm succeed combined with his ability to foster thriving client relationships has helped VAA evolve into the company it is today.

Congratulations to Bernie on 35 meaningful years at VAA! Highly regarded as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced members of the firm, Bernie helped VAA’s founders make the mold, break it, and reengineer a better one.


Related articles:  25 & Up Club Bernie Jansen
                            Gene Haldorson Reaches 35th Milestone Anniversary
                            Gary Nagel, PE, P.Eng, Celebrates 35 Years

A Virtual Commitment to Community

As with many 2020 events, VAA’s Community Caring Campaign (CCC) joined the virtual world to raise dollars for local organizations. Selected by VAA’s Designing a Difference Team (formerly Wellness & Outreach Committee), the CCC’s on-line events and employee efforts raised over $40,000 dollars for three selected charities.

Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP)

A long-term partner with VAA, IOCP helps families in eight Twin Cities western suburbs overcome barriers, believe in themselves and soar to new heights.

Second Harvest Heartland (SHH) 

Partnering with VAA for the past decade, SHH is one the nation’s largest hunger-relief organizations that finds creative solutions to connect the full resources of the community to help hungry neighbors.

We Love Lake Street Recovery Fund

Dozens of businesses, many owned by immigrants and people of color, were damaged on Minneapolis’ Lake Street during riots following George Floyd’s death. Funds will help rebuild the hardest-hit and most vulnerable businesses in the community.

“We wanted to continue the fun buzz the campaign sparks while being responsive to the current atmosphere,” said Structural Engineer, James Snyder, PE, who led the campaign for the last two years. “The virtual CCC also created an outlet for employees searching for a way to give back and feel together while being physically apart.”

A painting class and fishing tutorial hosted by CEO, Jeff Schrock, PE, were among the events employees experienced. Team competition took the form of a school supply scramble led by VAA’s partners while an egg-drop challenge bolstered individual rivalry to create engineered contraptions. Regardless of the activity at the core of event was the desire to give back as the firm raised over $40,000 to support the Twin Cities community.

CCC By the Numbers

149 bags of school supplies for IOCP

$7,514 cash donations for We Love Lake Street Recovery Fund

$33,667 total raised for IOCP and SHH by VAA employees

Learn more about VAA's CCC in an article published in ACEC's Engineering Inc.

A Blueprint for Giving Back

VAA’s business is built on creating lasting relationships with clients, coworkers, and local community organizations. Cultivating partnerships that last decades and doing work that supports our partners’ overall purpose is at the core of what we do. One uniquely rewarding partnership is the one we share with True Friends, a local nonprofit providing life-changing experiences that enhance independence and self-esteem for children and adults with disabilities through a variety of programs and services. VAA staff—and three generations of CEOs—have been inspired by the immense positive impact of these programs to volunteer their time and design expertise in support of True Friends’ mission.

True Friends is the result of legacy providers Courage Center Camps (est. 1955) and Friendship Ventures (est. 1964) coming together in 2012 as a new organization. The agency operates five locations in Minnesota, providing outdoor experiences, respite care, therapy riding and other services to nearly 25,000 individuals each year. True Friends serves people living with any of hundreds of diagnoses including autism, cerebral palsy, and hemophilia as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How the Relationship Began

VAA’s involvement dates to the mid-1990s when VAA (then Van Sickle Allen & Associates, Inc.) founder Dick Van Sickle enlisted the Marines to erect a new building at the site that would become True Friends Camp Eden Wood in Eden Prairie. Dick was a commanding officer of a Marine Corps unit specializing in occupational training in construction and engineering. Rather than have recruits practice their skills building temporary structures, Dick sought out the opportunity to provide hands-on training for the unit by erecting a new building at Camp Eden Wood. More than 200 Marines came together with donated supplies to create a building for the camp that is still in use today.

Over the years, VAA’s engagement with True Friends has taken many forms, from volunteering, landscaping efforts and the creation of tie blankets for campers to Eagle Scout mentoring and in-kind donations. Perhaps the most valuable way that VAA gives back is through its engineering and architecture services. The firm has provided consultation and reduced-fee work for several camp improvement projects, including facility designs at True Friends Camp Friendship and True Friends Camp Eden Wood

In 2006, current CEO Jeff Schrock, PE was introduced to the organization. He assisted in designing handicap accessible trails, dining hall and dormitory upgrades and other improvements for True Friends Camp Friendship. Jeff joined True Friends’ Facility Advisory Board in 2014 and the Board of Directors in January 2019. 

“The volunteering spirit displayed by Dick Van Sickle motivated me in my initial engagement with True Friends,” says Jeff. “The mission of True Friends inspired me to continue to this day. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the joy our work brings to so many people.”

Enhancing Through Engineering and Architecture

True Friends President and CEO John LeBlanc says VAA’s support of the organization through design work is an asset, especially when it comes to managing relationships with multiple jurisdictions and building codes.

“It’s a unique way of giving back and it’s a companywide dedication,” John says. “VAA has walked with us so we’re not alone; they’ve been in it for the long haul, transcending leadership at both organizations to help us serve people with disabilities.”

The firm’s efforts with True Friends continue with several projects currently in progress. The conversion of an existing dormitory into an educational facility at True Friends Camp Courage will add needed program space.  VAA is reviewing the underutilized building for structural capacity and spatial renovations. Two recently completed cabins at True Friends Camp Friendship add modern sleeping and program functions at a scale that fits the wooded environment of the site. Nestled among the existing cabins, the new cabins can each house five guests and one staff membe

Sr. Architect Travis Beck, AIA, NCARB worked closely with True Friends on these recent projects and enjoys the opportunity to provide lasting value for the nonprofit.

“There is no better use of your talents than to help those who have the capacity to help so many,” Travis says.

Continued Support During COVID-19

As an organization that serves a medically vulnerable population in large group settings, True Friends has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Summer programs have been canceled but the agency continues to serve a handful of high-care respite clients and about 15 independent riders in its horse therapy program. Through their retreat program, True Friends recently launched a new feature, cabins equipped with kitchens are rented out to families with individuals with disabilities to serve them as single households to minimize contact.

The cancelation of summer programs is not just a lost chance to make summer memories; True Friends’ programs provide an essential service in the continuum of care, respite for caregivers and life skills development opportunities for campers.

“They’re developing skills that improve their lives; it’s a step towards independence to build friendships, confidence and courage,” says John.

As True Friends and VAA have grown together over the decades, both organizations have continued to find creative ways to partner on efforts to improve the experience and environment for campers and their families.

“Using our talents as engineers and architects to help others is inspiring to me and our employees,” Jeff says. “Truly designing and making a difference that will be felt by so many in the decades to come.”

Visit to learn more about True Friends.

National Safety Month Highlights Workplace Safety During COVID-19

June is National Safety Month and this year the National Safety Council (NSC) is focusing on worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSC is a nonprofit committed to reducing preventable injuries and deaths at work, on the road and at home. In the past, NSC has observed National Safety Month by providing free educational materials and articles associated with a weekly theme. This year, the organization will provide “real-time, relevant resources on a variety of topics for keeping workers safe in our new normal.”

Materials covering issues like mental health, ergonomics and promoting a safety culture will be available via NSC’s website during the month of June. A series of guides with recommendations for workplaces as they prepare to reopen is also available.

Since its inception in 2015, VAA’s Safety Program has provide training for individuals to recognize hazards and protect themselves from injuries in the workplace and on jobsites. As the firm begins a phased return to the office following an extended period of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of employees remain top priorities. VAA has implemented enhanced sanitation procedures and employees will be required to practice social distancing, wear masks and adhere to CDC guidelines on hygiene practices.

See these FAQs to learn more about VAA’s ongoing response to COVID-19.

Additional Resources:

National Safety Council Resources

CDC Recommendations for Employers

MDH Resources for Businesses

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Employee Funds = Nearly 10,000 Meals

During our annual Community Caring Campaign, employees can pledge a portion of their payroll to selected partner organizations. Amid COVID-19, VAA expedited these contributions to support increased demand at Second Harvest Heartland (SHH) and Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP). Employee contributions recently aided SHH in distributing nearly 10,000 meals.

Scholarships Awarded to Dunwoody Students

Supporting industry education and giving back to our community are highly valued at VAA. The Haldorson and Jansen Scholarship program reinforces both goals and recognizes our enduring community ties to Dunwoody College of Technology (Dunwoody). Founded in 2014, the program includes two scholarships named for current VAA Principal and Dunwoody alum Bernie Jansen and former Partner / Dunwoody alum Gene Haldorson, who retired in 2018 after nearly 38 years at VAA.

The program has awarded a total of $20,000 to Dunwoody students since its launch. In addition to the monetary award, the scholarship recipients visit VAA for an office tour before being treated to a celebratory lunch.

Recent scholarship recipients David Thompson and Hazel Wolf applied for the program in 2019 and their awards will go towards their spring 2020 semesters. The candidates were interviewed and evaluated for commitment, academic achievement, benefit from scholarship, community involvement and previous employment. David Thompson was awarded the Haldorson Scholarship and is enrolled in the Architectural Drafting and Design Program. Hazel Wolf received the Jansen Scholarship and is enrolled in the Surveying and Civil Engineering Technology Program.

Congratulations to both 2019/2020 scholarship recipients. 

VAA Wins Wellness by Design Award

VAA received a 2019 Wellness by Design award for excellence in worksite wellness at a ceremony hosted by Hennepin County Public Health in November. As a silver-level award recipient, VAA was recognized for making “employee health a priority through creative and effective wellness initiatives.”

Wellness by Design awards are presented to Hennepin County employers that demonstrate accomplishments in management support, wellness infrastructure, communication, and programming directed at improving employee health. VAA joins over 70 organizations that were recognized with awards for workplace wellness this year.

“VAA is honored to be recognized by Hennepin County for our commitment to creating a healthy workplace for our employees,” says VAA HR Generalist Cheri Axel, PHR, SHRM-CP. “Receiving the award affirms VAA’s dedication to fostering an environment that promotes diverse wellness programs that meet a wide range of personal health needs while developing a workplace culture focused on celebrating and improving the quality of life for all employees.”

Each organization’s wellness program is assessed in 10 categories ranging from senior-level support to policies and employee engagement. This is the fifth time VAA has accepted a Wellness by Design award, demonstrating the continued growth of its social, mental, physical and financial well-being programs.

Wellness offerings at VAA include a structured mentoring program, charitable PTO, education reimbursement, profit-sharing, teambuilding outings, an onsite fitness room, quarterly healthy snacks, book club, and annual ping pong and basketball tournaments. The firm is also committed to community wellbeing; employees regularly participate in a variety of community-based events from Habitat for Humanity projects to hosting an annual Community Caring Campaign that raised over $50,000 for local nonprofits in 2019.

New additions to the wellness program this year include freshbenies, a heath concierge service offering a holistic suite of options to provide employees and their families with cost-effective healthcare services.

Worksite wellness programs are of value to both the employee and employer. They can improve employee performance, increase engagement, lower healthcare costs, and build community. Effective programs create a culture of health that affects all employees. To learn more, visit the Wellness by Design website.

25 & Up Club: Shawn Shahriar

Shawn Shahriar, PhD, PE, Principal / Sr. Structural Engineer, is our final “25 & Up” 2019 Club member.  Shawn’s influence on new employees, veteran engineers and VAA’s ag and industrial projects comes from the same place – an intense drive to help and the heart to do what it takes to make it happen. A phenomenal fixture in VAA’s structural engineering services, his technical skill with seismic design, forensic engineering and many areas in between are significant and appreciated. Thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
As a Project Engineer at Kiewit (formerly T.E. Ibberson Company) in 1992-1993, I was managing two major agribusiness projects where overflow drafting was subcontracted to VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates): Gene Haldorson (former VAA Partner and employee for 37 years who retired in 2018) and Bernie Jansen (former VAA Partner and current Sr. Project Manager). They impressed me and I felt we had good chemistry working together. Later in 1994 I contacted Gene about employment opportunities when I was looking for a change in my career. He introduced me to Dick Van Sickle, PE, and Reg Silverthorne, PE – the rest is history.  

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
“I think, therefore I am.”  -- Rene Descartes

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
As a Partner from 1998-2018, I am proud to have helped build VAA’s reputation as a highly specialized and reliable design-oriented engineering firm capable of supporting clients’ engineering needs, particularly on one-off, complex agri-business and industrial projects. 

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?

Successful: When I started at VAA in 1994 it was a 17-person operation. To see the firm steadily grow in revenue and to 140+ employees is testament to the dedication of our Partners and competence of our work force.

Organized: It takes coordination and organization to execute the best service possible to our clients and internally to our staff.  Through the years, we’ve stepped up and delivered success through our strong engineering performance and project organization, not to mention in-house accomplishments such as office moves / expansions, maintaining continuous operations around the 2016 office flood, healthcare benefit challenges, etc.

Niche: A specialized firm with unique knowledge and competency that distinguishes it from its competitors.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now (other than company size).
At its roots VAA was a structural engineering firm. Today, we are a multi-discipline practice offering a full suite of services.  

Where is the most beautiful and/or enjoyable place you have visited?Zihuantanejo, Mexico. This city found fame as the destination at the end of the movie, Shawshank Redemption. It is inviting, peaceful, friendly and authentic Mexico.  I can count on two hands the times I have returned for vacation – truly breathtaking!


25 & Up Club: Jeff Ferkinhoff

Our second featured “25 & Up” club member in 2019 is Structural Engineer, Jeff Ferkinhoff, PE. Reliable and steady are a few words to describe Jeff’s M.O. He takes pride in thoroughly understanding what VAA’s agribusiness clients need and providing designs that translate into the field. Often seen in the office with a massive red mug of tea, he is a valued resource for engineering and the latest stats on local sport teams. Thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
I applied to structural engineering firms within reasonable driving distance of where I lived. After I submitted my written resume, I followed up with a phone call that resulted in an interview.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
Listen to clients so you can understand what the issues are in the field and make sure the design is buildable for the guy/gal in the field. On paper things fit like a glove, but in the field that is not often the case, so it helps to have some ‘wiggle room’ in the design.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
Supporting one of VAA’s longest client relationships has been my greatest accomplishment. It has been rewarding to know my efforts on the team have helped this design-build contractor be satisfied with the firm for many years.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?

VAA often shows generosity towards employees and the community we live and work in. For the employees – substantial profit sharing, HSA contributions and educational opportunities are a few examples. For the community - the annual Community Caring Campaign and supporting employee participation in various outreach activities like Feed My Starving Children or Habitat for Humanity.

Relationships Whether it be with existing clients, new clients or company employees, relationships are important to VAA. The firm strives to deepen relationships to better serve the client and/or employee. Examples include the Egret Party (annual client event); the company holiday party which includes spouses and/or significant others; and past summer family picnics.

Growth When I first joined VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates), the company services were limited to structural and civil engineering, some architectural design and equipment layouts. The company has since expanded in all the previously mentioned disciplines and added electrical, mechanical and process engineering to its service offerings.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now (other than company size).
The extent of services VAA provides clients and quicker turnaround time on projects. 

What was your favorite toy growing up?
Pretty much any kind of ball - whiffle balls, basketballs, footballs, baseballs along with accessories like bats / gloves. This became a big influence for me as I coached my sons and their friends in a variety of sports as they were growing up.

Jeff will be retiring at the end of 2019. We appreciate Jeff’s many years of dedication and wish him some well-deserved relaxation and enjoyment in his retirement.


Interested in the stories from our other 25 & Up Club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.

25 & Up Club: Terry Mahr

Terry Mahr is our first 2019 Club member. His memorable laugh and soft-spoken approach are valued by Terry’s teammates, his commercial / retail clients and the new technicians and designers he welcomes to VAA.

With a genuine interest to propel the firm forward, Terry is a steadfast resource for the firm’s recruiting efforts and a guide to others wanting to take their career to the next level. Thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates) posted a position on the job board at Dunwoody College of Technology – a piece of paper on a cork board ad. One of my instructors at the time, Jim Roehl, brought the posting to me and said, “I think this is the one for you.” He sent me off with a foundation plan and foundation details to meet Gene Haldorson (former VAA Partner and employee for 37 years who retired in 2018) of VAA. Twenty-five years later, here I am.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
When I began to put drawings together more independently, Dave Johnson, PE, VAA Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer shared a simple, but very useful tidbit. “When developing drawings, put yourself in the contractor’s shoes and think about what information he / she is going to need to build the building.” This line has been used countless times over the years with the technicians I’ve had the privilege to train.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
Being a member of the 25 & Up Club is my greatest accomplishment. To be with a company this long is a pretty great feeling. The stability to me and my family is very important. I appreciate Gene Haldorson taking a chance on me many years ago and am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had since my very first day at VAA.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Dedication, service, growth. VAA is dedicated to its clients and employees. We strive to meet the needs of clients and approach each project as though it could be the last - a project is a project no matter how small. Through our service approach, VAA has established long-term relationships with contractors, owners and architects that began 40 years ago and continue to grow.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now (other than company size).
I would have to say the biggest difference is the impact of technology in the industry. The pen plotter and fax machines are long gone!

What is your favorite sports team and why?
Born in Wisconsin, it’s hard for me to choose, but it can depend on the season.

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Interested in the stories from our other 25 & Up Club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.

Trick or Chili

Ghosts, ghouls and even a Greek goddess roamed the halls at VAA’s Plymouth office on Halloween. In addition to a costume contest, our Wellness and Outreach Committee hosted a Chili Cookoff and Dessert Bakeoff for employees to show off their culinary creations.

With nearly 20 costume-clad participants in the running, it was a tight race for the 2019 costume contest. Employees also engaged in a friendly competition for the Golden Spoon and Golden Whisk awards. For a $5 donation to Fur-Ever Home Rescue, employees received an all-you-can-eat pass for chili and desserts and a vote in selecting the top three winners in both categories.

Helping Hands for Haiti

Our Wellness and Outreach Committee organized an opportunity for VAA to participate in a Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) event. A group of volunteers hand-packed 6,480 meals for children in Haiti. Meals of raw products, dried vegetables and minerals were sealed and prepped for shipping.

Visit FMSC’s website to learn about volunteer opportunities for individuals and organizations to help feed those in need.

Paddling with Purpose

Volunteers and paddlers recently gathered at Hidden Falls Regional Park to participate in the 9th annual Great River Race (Race to Close the Achievement Gap). The race funds the Canoemobile Minnesota outdoor education program, addressing the achievement gap in local schools and reaching 15,000 kids annually. The program connects youths with outdoor experiences and learning activities that cultivate environmental stewardship and appreciation of the natural world.

The Great River Race features 26 teams in cedar Voyageur canoes paddling a stretch of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers around Pike Island.

For the third year, VAA sponsored a boat and several staff members plus friends and spouses participated in the race as rowers. VAA’s team came in first place (also for the third year in a row). The friendly competition is part of the fun, says Dave Olheiser, VAA Partner / Sr. Mechanical Engineer and race participant. Other members of the A/E/C industry are longstanding event sponsors / participants and taking part in the race alongside them is a great way to give back while enjoying the outdoors.

“It motivates VAA to work hard when participating with a great company like Ryan Companies to raise money for a great cause,” Olheiser says.

This year’s Great River Race surpassed its $100,000 fundraising goal with the help of 29 sponsors and dozens of volunteers. The race is a joint venture between Wilderness Inquiry, a local nonprofit that connects people of all ages and backgrounds to the natural world through shared outdoor experiences; the National Park Service; the McKnight Foundation and other partners.

Engineering the Next Generation

VAA hosted several high school students at its Minneapolis office for a job shadow experience. The firm’s technical staff provided an in-depth look at a multidiscipline soybean processing plant and answered students’ questions about engineering career paths, college courses and more.

The students learned about each discipline (civil, structural, mechanical and electrical) and saw the value of using REVIT to integrate services together. Technical staff shared how engineers, designers and technicians collaborate to deliver a complex industrial processing facility.

Senior Mechanical Designer, Taylor Clark, notes the job shadow provided an important opportunity to inform students of the many career options under the umbrella of engineering.

“I think a lot of young people believe they have to have an engineering degree to get into the business, so it’s a great opportunity as a designer to present the students with another path into the field of design / engineering,” says Clark. “It’s also a nice chance to show the students what we do and to answer any questions they may have on the roles of designers and engineers.”

Britnie Thieschafer, aPHR, HR Assistant at VAA, says hosting job shadows and other learning opportunities is valuable for students and the engineering industry.  

“The job shadow with the MCA students was a great opportunity for VAA to give back to the engineering community. Of course, we talk about VAA, but our main objective is to give students insight into the different disciplines so they can better determine what they might want to study after high school. We try to give them an idea of what they could do if they choose to work in this industry,” Thieschafer says. “They may never work or intern for VAA, but if they join the engineering community, that’s a win.”

The Heart of Giving Back

The VAA Plymouth office hosted the Community Caring Campaign (CCC), a variety of events and volunteer opportunities for employees over the course of two weeks. Championed by VAA’s Wellness and Outreach Committee, the CCC surpassed its $50,000 goal along with providing supplies to those in need. 

In line with the firm’s commitment to community, the CCC aims to entertain employees while encouraging donations, pledges and volunteer time to support two selected local organizations:

Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP)
Partnering with VAA for the past decade, IOCP helps families living in eight Twin Cities western suburbs overcome barriers, believe in themselves and soar to new heights.

Second Harvest Heartland (SHH)
Partnering with VAA for the past decade, SHH is a local food shelf that leads through innovation, finding creative solutions to connect the full resources of our community with our hungry neighbors.

CCC By the Numbers

440 cups of rice portioned for IOCP

790 loads worth of laundry detergent packaged for IOCP

$9,624 cash donations

$50,581 total raised for IOCP and SHH by VAA employees and clients

Going Fore A Winning Design

Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska is hosting the KMPG Women’s PGA Championship for the first time. With a long tradition of hosting major championships, Hazeltine was a natural choice for the tournament, which focuses on empowering women on and off the golf course.

Almost 10 years ago, VAA provided civil and structural engineering services in the complete rebuild of Hazeltine’s clubhouse and surrounding site. The revitalized space melds the club’s history with its future, preserving original elements while setting the stage for events like the Ryder Cup and this week’s tournament.

Large timbers salvaged from the original 40-year-old structure were used in the new clubhouse entryway, ceilings and mantel pieces of the 50,000 SF facility. A pair of steel trusses creates aesthetic functionality by framing a mechanical equipment well and column-free ballroom. With transitions from the hardscapes near the clubhouse to the rolling hills at the first tee, Hazeltine welcomes locals and spectators from across the world.

The site of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team’s victory in 2016, Hazeltine will become the first U.S. venue to host a second Ryder Cup in 2028.

Hammerin’ with Habitat

Ten employees recently volunteered with Habitat for Humanity (Habitat) to build a home in North Minneapolis. The group helped construct the house’s front porch roof, sanded and painted interior walls and trim, stained spindles and installed blinds throughout the home. By the end of the day, the house was nearly move-in ready for a family.

The VAA team also helped on a neighboring Habitat house by unloading prefabricated wall sections.

Michael Jagerson, an Electrical Technician and one of the VAA outreach event organizers, says these builds are a valuable opportunity for service and team building.

“Participants benefit from having a direct impact in the build of the home and knowing the work they are doing will provide a wonderful home for a family in need,” he says. “VAA has had a great experience volunteering with Habitat for Humanity the past few years, and we hope to continue to volunteer with them for years to come.” 

Habitat for Humanity works to bring affordable housing to communities and the families that live in them. Locally, Habitat helps low-income families in the Twin Cities community through programs like Habitat Homebuilding, A Brush with Kindness and Family Support Services. The organization operates worldwide, dedicated to empowering families by helping them “acquire the access, skills and financial education necessary for them to be successful homeowners.” Learn more about the organization’s work or volunteering on the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity website.

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Gary Nagel Celebrates 35 Years

Gary Nagel, PE, P.Eng, recently celebrated his 35th year at VAA. The Sr. Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer is the longest tenured employee currently working at the firm, and he’s well-known among co-workers and clients for his commitment to quality work and collaboration. Gary is an invaluable asset to the VAA team, bringing a wealth of expertise to every project.

“He’s worked in all the markets we serve and has a very broad experience level,” says Principal / Sr. Project Manager Bernie Jansen. “Gary quickly gains the confidence of the clients he works with by doing good work, and he is always there for younger engineers to help answer their questions.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and an M.S. in structural engineering from the University of California – Berkeley, Gary worked for an engineer in the Wesley Temple Building in downtown Minneapolis. VAA was headquartered in the same building, and Gary joined what was then Van Sickle, Allen and Associates just seven years after the firm’s inception.

Gary has seen the firm grow from six people to 150, and he attributes much of that growth to the quality of the firm’s work and the value placed on building strong relationships.

“Gary hardly ever says ‘no’ when asked to help; he is always willing to take on new challenges,” adds Bernie.

In fact, Gary says client visits and traveling (especially to Canada) are two of his favorite parts of the job. Client connections, working on a variety of projects big and small and assisting less experienced engineers have kept the job fresh and challenging, but work-life balance has also been a priority.

Outside of the office, Gary is likely to be found outdoors, either up at the cabin or staying active by hiking, cross-country skiing or kayaking. Even in his spare time, Gary is a builder, enjoying woodworking and home improvement construction projects.

In recognition of Gary’s nearly four decades of service, current and former VAA executives presented him with a custom plaque featuring a rebar frame and a quote from a longtime client.

Pictured, left to right, are: Quin Vincent, Partner; Bernie Jansen, Principal / Sr. Project Manager; Gary Nagel, Sr. Associate / Sr. Structural Engineer; Gene Haldorson, past Partner; Jeff Schrock, CEO; Scott Stangeland, past President / CEO.

Thank you for all your hard work and congratulations, Gary!

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Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

For the third year in a row, VAA employees raised funds and participated with their canine companions in the Walk for Animals, the nation’s largest human / animal walk fundraising event. Thousands of people, pets and other four-legged friends took part in this Animal Humane Society fundraising event to help support animals in need in our community.

VAA’s “Team Egrets” raised $1,320 for the Animal Humane Society, and the 2019 Walk for Animals event surpassed its goal of raising $1 million. Every dollar raised helps provide medical treatment, behavior rehabilitation programs and care to the more than 23,000 animals served by the Animal Humane Society’s four Minnesota shelters each year.

“Many of our employees are very passionate about animals, and it’s amazing to join thousands of other people and animals gathered for such a good cause,” says Lacey Anderson, Project Assistant, and one of VAA’s outreach event organizers. “This is a fun, interactive event for our company to participate in, and it’s also great to be able to help an organization right in our area.”

To learn more about the event or volunteering, visit the Animal Humane Society website.

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Podcast: Explore Doors Open

On May 18-19, the inaugural event allows the public free, behind-the-scenes access to 115 buildings in Minneapolis that are architecturally, culturally or socially significant.

In a podcast, VAA’s Jeff Schrock, Paul Murphy and Bridget Reynolds of Dunwoody College of Technology discuss workforce development in the A/E/C industry and how agribusiness influenced Minneapolis’ history. Use Spotify, iTunes or LibSyn (Doors Open Minneapolis) to access the conversation.

Mayor Jacob Frey announced the first-time event inviting the public to explore the city’s history through its buildings. “Our city is home to some of the most spectacular architecture anywhere in the nation – through Doors Open Minneapolis, we’ll highlight it,” said Major Jacob Frey.

Doors Open started in 1984 in France and over the years spread throughout Europe and North America. Other U.S. cities have successfully launched similar initiatives. Neighboring Chicago and Milwaukee have hosted a similar event where the Minneapolis event’s inspiration stemmed.

Open House Chicago began in 2011 and last year over 100,000 individuals visited 257 sites in the city and two nearby suburbs. Doors Open Milwaukee also began in 2011 and last year 26,100 visited approximately 170 sites as part of its tour.

Comcast is the presenting sponsor for the event with the City of Minneapolis, American Institute of Architects Minneapolis (AIA-Minneapolis), Minneapolis, Foundation, VAA and others sponsoring.  

To learn view the list of participating venues, visit