Engineering Corporate Citizenship

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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.

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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.


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.


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.

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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.”