When Brandon Johnson graduated from Saint Martin’s University’s engineering department in 2004, the campus looked very different than it does today. He can tell you exactly how different. As a Principal at SCJ Alliance’s Centralia office, Johnson has been involved in all the building and renovation projects that have occurred on campus in the last twelve years.
“I’m pretty jealous, honestly,” he says. “Everything we’re designing is amazing, from the rec center to the engineering building and the walking paths that are part of the north campus. It’s been pretty cool to use the training I got at SMU to help make the campus what it is today.”
Of the 95 employees at SCJ, an award-winning Lacey-based firm, 18 are alumni of SMU’s engineering department. The connection between SCJ and SMU is strong and mutually beneficial, starting with two of SCJ’s three founders – Perry Shea (class of 1984), Bob Jewell (class of 1990) and Nick Mayfield (class of 2019).
The impact of SMU’s Benedictine values and teaching style reverberates through SCJ today. Unlike many large public universities with hundreds of students per class and little interaction with faculty, SMU has intentionally kept class sizes small, a decision that SCJ’s alumni appreciate. “There’s definitely some DNA from Saint Martin’s at SCJ,” says Shea. “We learned to work together and develop trust and it was a safe environment to express your opinions. The culture at SCJ is very creative and our staff expresses ideas without worrying about getting shut down.”
Johnson agrees. “There was no hiding behind a 200-person classroom at SMU,” he says. “You needed to be ready to answer questions at any moment. It definitely kept me engaged in a way that I wouldn’t normally have been at age 19, and that transferred into my work ethic.”
Hands-on experience was also a key according to Maddie Knecht, Design Engineer (class of 2017). “SCJ has a lot of collaboration and SMU’s small classes helped me to improve in that area,” she says. “My internship at SCJ offered a chance to not only learn the science behind real-world engineering but apply it. That was really helpful.”
Since graduating, SMU alumni have invested time and focus into their alma mater through teaching, classroom visits, sitting on advisory boards and mentoring. “Community support is very strong and Perry is a big part of that,” says David Olwell, Dean of the Hal and Inge Marcus School of Engineering. “SCJ is very active with internships and contributing to our annual Gala.” The Gala is SMU’s signature fundraising event for student scholarships.
Ten years ago, SCJ’s third founder, planner Jean Carr, was instrumental in the creation of SMU’s campus master plan. “Saint Martin’s didn’t really have a document to show them how to connect all their spaces and to use as a blueprint for growth,” Carr says. “SCJ prepared an integrated master plan that’s allowed them to be more thoughtful and deliberate about future steps.”
As part of that plan, two game-changing facilities have been added for the engineering department. Cebula Hall, the new engineering building, opened in 2013 and is the highest scored Platinum LEED educational facility in the Western Hemisphere. In 2016, the Panowicz Foundry for Innovation and the E.L. Wiegand Laboratories was dedicated. It added 17,363-square-feet of laboratories and design space where the University’s engineering and computer science students can apply what they learn in the classroom.
SCJ’s planners, engineers and landscape architects have also worked on the Father Alfred J. Hulscher Courtyard, Harned Hall, new residential housing like Spangler Hall, renovations and updates of existing structures, and transportation improvements.
Despite all the upgrades, one thing hasn’t changed: class size. “In the new buildings, one of the design considerations was maintaining those small class sizes that create those personal relationships,” says Olwell. “The result is a capacity constraint. We’re never going to have 2,000 engineering students, but it preserves the ability of the community to know and help each other.”
SCJ is clearly a case in point, providing internships for junior students and directly hiring seniors who are about to graduate.
For more information, visit the SCJ Alliance website or call 360-352-1465.