Richard “Dick” Fox, chief executive officer of CDM, a global consulting, engineering, construction, and operations firm based in Cambridge, Mass., has been awarded the highest honor for alumni by the University of Maine College of Engineering.
Fox, who directed the successful Boston Harbor Cleanup from 1987 to 1992, received the Edward T. Bryand Distinguished Engineering Award for his contributions to improve conditions around the world through the application of civil engineering at a Nov. 14 ceremony at UMaine.
In his remarks, he shared his humility and honor in receiving the award, especially before an audience of current and emeriti faculty.
“I am aware of what a prestigious group I have joined. I am particularly touched because this award is given by my alma mater,” said Fox who expressed respect for professors Wayne Hall, Miranda Ghosh, Otis Sproul and Frank Woodard, as well as for the prior recipients of the Bryand Award. He also offered appreciation for his wife, Patricia Arbour Fox ‘68. And he asked faculty to encourage students to understand that “none of us is as smart as all of us.”
Fox, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering from UMaine in 1968 and 1970, began his career as an officer in the U.S. Naval Civil Engineer Corps. In 1974 he joined CDM, which currently has 4600 employees and 130 offices worldwide. Ten years later he earned a law degree from Suffolk University. President of CDM since 1998, he is a registered professional engineer in three states and a board certified environmental engineer in the American Academy of Environmental Engineers.
In addition to directing the Boston Harbor Cleanup, one of the largest wastewater projects ever undertaken in the United States, he served as program manager of the upgrade to the wastewater facilities system for Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., and as senior program advisor to the Hong Kong Drainage Services Department as part of the $900 million effort to clean up Victoria Harbor.
Through it all, Fox has never forgotten his roots. He credits the stellar education he received at UMaine for his thriving career, and says his approachable, knowledgeable professors, stimulating, enjoyable classes, and motivated classmates gave him the skills he needed to succeed in the workplace.
“The quality of the degree I got in environmental engineering is as good as you can get. The topics that the department was choosing for research were at the heart of where the industry was going,” said Fox. He noted that then Environmental Engineering Professor Otis Sproul was making a name for himself as an expert in viral inactivation, and that then Civil Engineering Professor Frank Woodard, a former Bryand Award recipient, was being hailed as a specialist in industrial waste treatment.
Calling his master’s degree program “the extra little shot I needed to get into the industry and feel confident and comfortable going into the world,” Fox said his classmates thrived on competition.
“Each of us spurred the other on and everybody was driven to a high standard of excellence. I knew that if I could go nose to nose with my classmates at UMaine, I could go nose to nose with anyone. We became really close friends and have stayed in touch.”
Someone else who had a huge influence on Fox’s career path was Environmental Engineering Professor Wayne Hall. “He was an engaging lecturer who made environmental engineering – a topic which was only then emerging – come alive,” Fox recalled. “Then, in 1972 the Clean Water Act was passed and environmental engineering took off. Looking back, I say to myself, ‘thanks, Wayne!’”
Even his UMaine athletic experience became an important vehicle for obtaining life lessons, according to Fox. As a member of the Black Bear football team which competed in the 1965 Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Fox said he learned how combined effort and hard work can produce outstanding results.
“I hadn’t played high school football, so I was still learning the game when I was at UMaine. Besides being really great athletes, the men on the team were extraordinarily helpful people and were very willing to teach me. So I learned how critical teamwork is, whether you’re on a football field or on an engineering project.”
Fox continued that theme during his acceptance speech that evening when he asked the College of Engineering faculty to encourage their students to understand that “none of us is as smart as all of us.” For example, when CDM was building schools in Pakistan after an earthquake, engineers had to rely on a sociologist to negotiate with villagers on locations for the school. Also during his speech, Fox urged faculty to instill in their students an appreciation for diversity and for other cultures.
Although Fox can cite any number of professional achievements of which he is tremendously proud, managing the $4.3 billion Boston Harbor Clean-Up Project was particularly significant for him.
“It was such a phenomenal experience – there was so much satisfaction for all of us. We cleaned up the harbor and we returned it to New England. The dolphins came back, the shellfish came back. I felt good about that. It was an unbelievably challenging project, especially because many large scale public projects had suffered from poor quality and poor management. Nobody believed it could be done, but we came in $500 million under budget and on schedule. It was kind of a first for a big project.”
After nearly 40 years, Fox still is passionate about being an environmental engineer.
“Engineers do so much for people – our mission is to make life better! You see it much more graphically when you’re working on projects in developing countries – like building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan or a water system for a village in Africa. As an engineer you feel really good about being involved in things like this which have very dramatic impacts. ”
Speaking to engineering students while on campus to receive his award, Fox said he was asked countless times by the young men and women whether to continue their schooling after graduation or enter the work force.
“I told them that it’s really important to be able to get up in the morning and like what you’re going to do that day. I told them to stop for five minutes and just think about what you really like to do. Instead of thinking about your next pedigree, think about what makes you happy. Then match your actions to that. And don’t hesitate to change. If, two or three years down the road, you find you’re not content, then get into something else.
“With a degree in engineering you can do just about anything.”
Image Description: Richard "Dick" Fox '68, '70G with College of Engineering Dean Dana Humphrey