“How many people in the course of their careers are acknowledged by the President of the United States for making a significant impact with what they do and then get the opportunity to actually sit down and discuss it with the president?” said John R. Hillman, P.E., S.E., M.ASCE, about being named by the White House as a Champion of Change for transportation technology. “Just knowing that the president would take time to listen to what we have done as Champions of Change; it’s truly humbling.”
Hillman, CEO and chairman of Wilmette, Illinois-headquartered HCB Inc., is one of two ASCE members selected this year by the White House. Jose Holguín-Veras, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, the William H. Hart Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., also has been honored for his transportation innovations. Both joined nine other Champions of Change on May 8 for a meeting with President Obama where they were able to discuss their work.
“I was surprised but pleased to be honored,” says Holguín-Veras. “And I read this honor as recognition on behalf of not just myself but all the individuals who I work with, toward making transportation systems better, which not only contributes to the economy but it also improves the quality of life and the environment.”
The White House Champions of Change program highlights the stories and examples of ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things for their communities, their country, and their fellow citizens. The Champions of Change represent a wide range of people, including service industry innovators, individuals who are fighting AIDS, battling obesity, dealing with immigration integration, and contributing to the design and development of new transportation infrastructure, and small business owners, educators, health care providers, parents and mentors, and Peace Corps and other community volunteers. Champions for Change alumni include ASCE Past President Kathy J. Caldwell, P.E., F.ASCE.
Hillman invented the Hybrid-Composite Beam, a breakthrough in structural technology that helps make bridges stronger, lighter, safer, and more sustainable. Holguín-Veras, known as a global leader in areas of freight demand modeling, transportation economics, and humanitarian logistics, was chosen for his leadership in developing an off-hour freight delivery system in New York City that combines global positioning system (GPS) remote sensing monitoring with GPS-enabled smart phones.
President Obama said in a statement that “by making their communities better places to live, our Champions are helping people to ensure that our country’s best days lie ahead.”
Hillman has worked tirelessly for the last 17 years on the development of the Hybrid-Composite Beam (HCB), originally conceived in 1996. Nights, weekends, holidays, and vacation time have been consumed with the pursuit of commercializing HCB and changing the way engineers rebuild the world’s infrastructure with better, stronger, and more sustainable bridges. Currently he holds 4 U.S. patents for this unique bridge technology and over a dozen foreign patents or patents pending.
In addition to being recognized as one of the Top 25 Inventions by the Modern Marvels Invent Now Competition in 2007 and one of the Top 10 Inventions of 2008 by Popular Science magazine, Hillman has now won many of the major national design and construction awards available in the United States, including a national Grand Award in 2009 from the American Council of Engineering Companies, the 2010 Ace Award from the American Composite Manufacturing Association, the 2010 Award of Excellence from Engineering News-Record, and the 2010 Nova Award from the Construction Innovation Forum. Hillman also won ASCE’s 2013 Charles Pankow Award for Innovation.
Hillman was nominated to become a Champion of Change by ASCE President Gregory E. DiLoreto, P.E., P.L.S., D.WRE, F.ASCE. He is the son of a civil engineer and has been employed as a structural engineer in the inspection, construction, and design of unique bridges for more than 27 years. Among his more notable assignments was managing the construction of a 1,263-foot incrementally launched bridge in Puerto Rico in the early 1990s. More recently, Hillman served as conceptual designer and project manager for the award-winning 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge over Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, IL. He is also a senior bridge engineer with exp US Services Inc. Hillman received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1986 and his master’s degree in civil engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1990.
Despite the accolades he’s received, for Hillman, meeting with the president is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It is a huge honor to be selected as one of the 11 Champions of Change and not only represent the transportation industry but also represent the civil engineering profession and bring awareness of what we do to the general public,” says Hillman. “For me, the greatest satisfaction about being a Champion of Change is: if I have a better idea, I am free to take it as far as I want.”
Holguín-Veras has led multidisciplinary teams that investigated the cause of logistical failures in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake in Japan. He is the director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment and the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Urban Freight Systems at Rensselaer. According to the White House, he was honored for his “exemplary leadership in developing or implementing transportation technology solutions to enhance performance, reduce congestion, improve safety, and facilitate communication across the transportation industry at the local, state, or national level.”
Holguín-Veras received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, his master’s degree in transportation from the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and his doctoral degree in transportation from the University of Texas at Austin. He is president-elect of the newly created Pan-American Association of Transportation Research, an elected member of the Council of the Association for European Transport, and a member of the boards of directors of the Intelligent Transportation Society of New York, the University Transportation Research Center, Transportation Infrastructure Research Center, and the Community University Consortium for Regional Environmental Justice. Additionally, Holguín-Veras was appointed by former New York State Governor David Paterson to serve on the New York State Thruway Authority Board. Holguín-Veras is a fellow of the International Road Federation, Japanese International Cooperation Agency, and the Organization of American States.
“Being a Champion for Change gives me a boost of energy,” says Holguín-Veras. “I have been toiling in that area [of hour freight delivery systems] and this selection has given us a bit of a spotlight; it is like a validation that helps raise awareness of what we do and what could be done [in the area of transportation technology solutions]. And that is going to help to push for a transformation of freight delivery systems.”
Holguín-Veras has an impressive record of awards and honors. In 2001, the National Science Foundation recognized Holguín-Veras with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. In 1996 he received the Milton Pikarsky Memorial Award from the Council of University Transportation Centers, and in 2001 he was the recipient of a proclamation from the City Council of New York, honoring his research accomplishments and contributions to local communities.
In a statement, Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson said, “It is a tremendous honor for Dr. Holguín-Veras to be recognized by the nation’s highest office as a Transportation Champion of Change. His transformative, multifaceted research in the area of traffic and freight systems is a shining example of the world-class, world-changing research taking place at our university.”
“A common factor among all of us [Champions of Change] was to be ‘crazy’,” says Holguín-Veras. “To be pushing forward with innovative ideas in spite of opposition and the naysayers. To push for something that the wisdom of the time was saying is not needed, and that was the common thread in all of our stories.”