Engineering Corporate Citizenship

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Raising money for local charitable organizations has long been important to VAA. Over the years our employees have had many ways to get involved and give back to their community, whether by participating in home building, packaging meals, donating blood, or volunteering time to students. The largest financial impact, however, is always made during VAA’s annual two-week Community Caring Campaign (CCC), and this year’s hybrid campaign was no exception.

Each year VAA’s Designing a Difference Team selects two or three Twin Cities charities on which to focus its fundraising support during the campaign. This year VAA’s participants raised money for three local nonprofit organizations: Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners, Second Harvest Heartland, and the Sabathani Community Center. All three organizations work in our local communities to support families and neighborhoods, providing food or other important resources to people in need.

During the 2021 CCC, which was held the first two weeks of August, a calendar of fun events, activities, and competitions was planned to get staff engaged and excited about donating. “Working during a pandemic is a challenge, and with many employees teleworking or coming into the office part-time, it’s not always easy for people to know where or how to give back,” said Project Manager Paul Antila, PMP, who led this year’s fundraising campaign. “Integrating VAA’s CCC events into normal working hours and then making sure they’re a lot of fun helps motivate our staff to participate.”

Aside from making a financial pledge, some of the ways employees could get involved this year included playing virtual Bingo (always a big hit with our staff!), participating in a silent auction, taking a paint class, purchasing sweets from a treat trolley, or attending VAA’s outdoor barbeque and taking their turn at dunking our CEO and company partners.

This year’s CCC exceeded VAA’s goal of $45,000 and then some! A total of $59,726 was raised by VAA’s generous staff, partners, and clients. These funds will go a long way towards helping the 1 in 10 people (and 1 in 7 kids) currently experiencing hunger in our state. For example, the portion of donations raised for Second Harvest alone can provide up to 94,419 meals.

CCC 2021 by the numbers:

  • $22,051 raised for IOCP

  • $32,643 raised for Second Harvest

  • $5,032 raised for Sabathani Community Center

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


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This spring VAA took to the streets with our furry friends to raise money for the Animal Human Society’s Walk for Animals 50th anniversary charity event. Although it was the second year in a row the AHS fundraiser was held virtually, it didn’t give anyone “paws.” The VAA Egrets team was one of the top five Corporate Team Challenge companies, raising over $1300 that will go towards food, shelter, and medical treatments to support animals in need while they sniff out their forever homes.

What can every $1,000 donation do? It can pay to transport 25 dogs from overcrowded shelters in the South to an AHS facility in Minnesota. Or it can cover the cost to spay 20 cats, reducing the number of kittens that will need care and placement. Or it can fund on-site X-rays for 15 animals who may need specialty services or surgeries.

“I enjoy volunteering for this event because I love animals,” says Cheri Axel, PHR, SHRM-CP, Senior HR Generalist and VAA’s team captain for the second year in a row. “Many of VAA’s staff were excited to get involved and help with fundraising. I have always had a big heart for the underdog (pun intended!), so working for a company that encourages support for the welfare of animals is wonderful.” VAA is proud to support such a wonderful cause and grateful to everyone who participated.

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


Tina joins VAA as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Director of Operations, a newly created corporate finance and operations position for the privately held multidiscipline engineering and design firm.

The combination of introducing a 10-year, 2030 Vision and modifying the company's governance were catalysts to adding the newly formed CFO/Director of Operations position.

"With Tina on board, this allows other members of ownership to focus on what they do best - concentrate on client relationships and strengthening our service teams to bring their best to project execution," said Jeff Schrock, PE, CEO. "I am a firm believer of having the right people in the right seats, and Tina's ability to analyze and forecast our efforts will be a tremendous help as we move towards the 2030 Vision."

Tina will oversee the financial activities of the company that is nearing 200 employees. She will also manage the firm's human resources, information technology and administrative departments. 

"My role is to help build a strong financial and operational foundation that engages our people and builds upon the areas the company is doing well already," said Tina. "I'm excited to tap into my analytical background to see where processes can improve efficiency or remove barriers to improve the working environment for our employees and clients. The commitment to a long-term vision with an emphasis on corporate culture are standout qualities of VAA that fit me personally and professionally."

Tina, whose previous role was Chief Financial and Administrative Officer of a pharmacy benefit consulting and auditing firm, brings 25 years of financial and operational leadership in various professional service industries to her newly formed role. She is a graduate from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities with a B.A. in international relations, and holds an MBA, majoring in accounting from Minneapolis' University of St. Thomas. 

Learn more about Tina in our leadership section where she shares what inspired her to join VAA.

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It has been said the best view comes after the hardest climb. But why not enjoy the views on the way up?

On the highest hill in Mazatlán, Mexico, sits an observatory that could previously only be accessed via a difficult climb up steep and rugged terrain. Hill Hiker designed an inclined elevator system that offers visitors a secure (and fun!) 260-foot ride to the top. Keeping safety at the forefront, the design successfully addressed the challenges of a 30-degree incline, uneven landscape, and constant ocean salt spray.

The track and car along with general layout services for the mechanical equipment at the top of the elevator system used VAA’s engineering.

Rising to the occasion on 40+ projects predominantly on the United State's West Coast since 2016, team leads Kelsey Brown, Aaron Fortunato, and Duston Foth continue to support Hill Hiker’s team and are thrilled to be part of Elevator World’s Project of the Year for 2021.

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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.


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