By Kevin Gray and Sharon Sanders
In the same way that a river gains strength as tributaries flow together, the merging of academic challenge and practical leadership is what John Pierce ’81 says prepared him for a highly successful career.
As vice president of real estate and facilities for Phoenix House, he oversees properties across 90 locations in 11 states for the substance abuse rehabilitation foundation based in New York City.
A civil engineering graduate, Pierce credits Lafayette’s “caliber of academic rigor” for ensuring he was well prepared to begin his career. His mentor was B. Vincent Viscomi, now Long Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“Vince challenged all of us to attain a high academic standard, press the limits, and expand our horizons,” he says. “He taught us to approach problem solving from as many different angles as we could, and he instilled in me a passion for lifelong learning.”
With a deep commitment to being a mentor himself, Pierce welcomed more than 100 Lafayette students as interns or externs during his 10 years at Turner Construction Company, where he was vice president and regional manager, Latin American and the Caribbean, before joining Phoenix House.
He is mentoring several students and recent alumni and will be hosting several externs during January.
“I’m passionate about mentoring. Helping undergraduates build their professional networks is very rewarding to me,” he says.
“Lafayette students make great interns and externs because they have been educated to be inquisitive—to ask ‘why?’ This interest makes a huge difference to the host,” says Pierce, who recently spoke to students in a course taught by David Veshosky, acting chair of engineering studies and associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.
“The blend of liberal arts, sciences, and engineering yields students and graduates who are inquisitive, thoughtful, and understand the importance of a cross disciplinary education,” he says. “This blend is a fundamental element to my professional success.”
According to many of Pierce’s mentees, the connection continues after graduation.
“John provided me with valuable insight into not only my thesis topic—the Hearst Tower in NYC—but also the industry as a whole,” says Michael Nilson ’05, a civil engineering graduate who is senior project manager at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services. “He was always available for a phone call or email exchange. We have kept in close touch and meet for lunch periodically. I value John’s feedback on my career experiences and personal and professional growth.”
Pierce says his service as kitchen commissar for Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, particularly the procurement responsibilities, aligned perfectly with his career pathway of working for a general contractor.
He managed a budget of $50,000 per semester, supervised a staff that included a full-time cook and several part-time dishwashers, and helped develop the menu for 21 meals per week and special events. “Essentially, I ran a business,” he says.
Pierce, who received the 2011 Career Services Externship Service Award for 10 or more consecutive years of participation, also serves on Alumni Council and co-chairs the Affinity Groups Committee. He and his wife Carolyn Slingland Pierce ’81 are Posse Pard-ners.