Engineering Corporate Citizenship


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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.”


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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


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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.


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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.