Alumni & Donors

WSP’s Bernie McNeilly Returns to Stevens to Inspire Future Leaders

Originally published by WSP. Reshared with permission.

Bernie McNeilly (right) and civil engineering senior design teams at WSP.
Bernie McNeilly (right) and civil engineering senior design teams at WSP. CREDIT: Leslie Brunell.

When Bernie McNeilly entered college, he realized it would be a transition from being a top high school student to being one of many talented students. His learning process would need to change in order to achieve academic and college success. But he welcomed the challenge and became a three-year starter on the Stevens Institute of Technology basketball team, a sports editor of the weekly newspaper and the senior yearbook, and a deejay at WCPR Castle Point Radio. When he wasn't setting picks or arranging bands and mixers, he was president of the student council. Getting the most out of his college experience was important to him and defined him in many ways. He was excited at the opportunity to join the Board of Advisors at the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science at Stevens—and to be part of the process that helps shape the school’s programs and operations to further advance students and their future.

What is your first order of business?

The Board of Advisors meets two to four times a year as an advisor to the dean of the Schaefer School, which is by far the largest at Stevens. Dr. Jean Zu has embraced an advisory board, comprised of various disciplines and including alumni and professions with related backgrounds and perspectives to continue increasing the brand awareness of Stevens, which has had good success as an "Innovation Institute." This year, they accepted over 1,000 students for the freshman class as they strive to be a 4,000-person undergraduate program over five years (from 2,500 students). Maintaining a vibrant graduate program is key because it promotes growth that will bring both opportunities and challenges.

What problem areas need more focus? Why?

Stevens has a strong reputation in the greater New York and New Jersey area, but is not as well-known beyond that. The ability to attract and retain key talent, whether it’s faculty, researchers or students is the goal. We need to have a healthy relationship with Stevens in countless disciplines as we continue to bring strong talent into our workforce and industry.

The Schafer School of Engineering & Science’s strategic plan is entitled Power the Future. Empower the Mind. What does this mean for you? And if you think back on your career, how have you applied this principle both personally and professionally?

It is not enough to rest on your laurels or your history or your reputation. At WSP USA, we are only as good as our reputation today with our clients. The same is true for Stevens. Continuing to being an institute that challenges its faculty and students and is always adjusting to be ready for the needs of today and tomorrow—not just what has worked in the past—is key to transformational change.

Increasing collaboration, enhancing reputation and fostering a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship – all key ingredients to success. Can you provide examples in your career where you’ve engaged in collaboration, enhanced reputation and fostered a spirit of innovation?

Teamwork is critical to what we do and how we act. It is a strong foundation of WSP USA. It is refreshing to consistently hear "we" and not "I" and I do recall the same spirit in play at Stevens. It is an approach that continues to be embraced. I felt all along I did better in a team environment, regardless of the role, and it has helped guide my insights as I advance in my career.

Can you name a professional at Stevens who became your mentor? What qualities do you admire about this person?

Ken Derucher was the civil engineering department head and he helped me enjoy engineering and not have it feel like nothing but numbers and data. It reinforced practical applications, which I valued.

Dr. Jean Zu’s research is focused on mechanical vibrations and dynamics and mechatronics, particularly in areas of biomedical instrumentation and energy harvesting. What about her work is most fascinating to you and why?

Dr. Zu is a very positive person. Although her personal discipline is different from mine, I like that she is passionate about who she is, what her role is and what she can do to lead the Schaefer School. I believe she will bring a balance of teaching and research faculty to the school, with an emphasis on learning. It is essential that we expose ourselves to different perspectives and to have an open mind.

If you could identify one thing that Stevens has taught you and you have always carried with you, what would it be?

Stevens provides a well-grounded start in engineering, regardless of the discipline you focus on. This broad-based perspective ultimately helped shape my development, although I may not have known that initially. I have interest in all disciplines at WSP and with my new role leading the program management and construction management services, this all-encompassing approach will provide a seamless transition.