Alumni Profiles
Alumnus Manages Brown Expansion
He’s completed plenty of tough assignments for the engineering division, but this is the toughest. Thankfully, he’s the one getting paid this time.

Mines is spending $33 million on the 78,000-square-foot Brown Hall addition currently under construction, and mechanical engineer Scott Hodgson ‘03 is the person responsible for overseeing about $10 million worth of the work.

It’s not his first project at Mines, but it is the biggest. Hodgson laughs at the irony that he’s practicing what he learned in Brown Hall on Brown Hall: “It’s a complicated job. That building gave me headaches during school and it continues to now. Demolishing the old lecture hall on the west side felt pretty good though. I think everyone who ever had a class or took a test in there had nightmares later.”

He works for Shaffer Baucom Engineering and Consulting, based in Lakewood, Colo., which won the contract for designing all the electrical, heating/cooling and plumbing systems for the addition. The most expensive single item is a 2,000-ton water-cooled chiller plant that will be able to serve eight surrounding buildings along with the addition. Surprisingly, the economies achieved by installing the two 325-kilowatt chillers may help win the building a higher LEED rating, says Hodgson. With numerous energy-saving elements incorporated into the addition’s design, the design team was originally aiming for silver certification, but they could now achieve LEED Gold.

Hodgson has found a job he loves in a place he loves, but like most, the path hasn’t been straight. Growing up in Indiana, he knew from an early age that he wanted to be an engineer: by 8th grade he was changing oil, replacing brake pads, and installing water pumps on his parents’ cars. But by 12th grade, he still didn’t know where he wanted to go to college.

That question was answered about five minutes after arriving on the Mines campus for an interview with the athletics department. “It was everything I was looking for in a college,” Hodgson says, referring to size, the surrounding area, the small town, Mines’ reputation, and a track team with a scholarship on offer. The pole-vaulter, who rose to 7th in his state when he cleared 14-foot-6- inches during his senior year of high school, stayed on the track team for three of the four years he attended Mines.

After graduation, his first job was with the aerospace and defense contractor ATK, where he worked as a quality engineer on reusable solid rocket motors for NASA space shuttles. But while space shuttle engines sound exciting, he didn’t like being a quality engineer. “I wanted to get into a more design-intensive area,” says Hodgson, who was able to transfer to the company’s facilities management group that was responsible for the 500-building ATK campus.

The constant variety and challenges of his new job suited Hodgson well. Outside of work, he earned his MBA and passed the PE exam the first time around, which made him a licensed professional engineer.

But Hodgson didn’t feel at home in Utah; his sights were set on moving back to Colorado. An opportunity came when he attended his five-year reunion at Mines in 2008 and met up with classmate Steve Maxson ‘03. Employed by Shaffer Baucom, Maxson offered to show Hodgson’s resume to his boss, and a few months later, he was happily U-Hauling his life back across the Rockies.

Hodgson now shares the house he bought in Golden with his Jack Russell terrier, Wrigley. When he’s not pulling long hours to keep up with the Brown Hall addition, visiting his girlfriend in Texas, or volunteering at Mines track meets, he’s quick to load skis, hiking boots or a mountain bike into his car and head up I-70 to enjoy the mountains he’s come to love.

“I feel like a very lucky guy: to be able to live in what feels like the perfect spot for me, to have a great job, to be able to enjoy all that Golden and Colorado have to offer, and to be able to give back to the school that has given me so much,” he says.

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Giving Life

The decision to offer one of his kidneys for transplantation to any suitable recipient didn’t happen overnight. It came in stages for George Taniwaki ‘81, who is a software program manager and contractor on assignment with Microsoft.

“A couple of people I worked with were kidney donors for people they were genetically related to,” says Taniwaki.
“Then, about 12 years ago, the guy in the cubicle next to me needed a kidney, and the guy two cubicles over donated his. I was inspired.”

Taniwaki became more intrigued about five years ago when he read an article about altruistic donors. “I’ve been a blood donor most of my adult life. So, I’m comfortable with giving part of myself to someone I don’t know to save their life,” says the former editor of The Oredigger. The article got him thinking seriously about donating. But giving blood is one thing, and giving a kidney is quite another. A numbers-and-data guy, Taniwaki diligently researched the personal risks, and his findings have helped quell his wife’s fears. “There’s the surgery, which is low-risk, manageable and reasonable,” he says. “And then there’s life after the surgery, with only one kidney. Almost all the data show that the effects are minimal,” he adds, citing a national study of 80,000 donors over 15 years. Published in the May 2010 Journal of the American Medical Association, the study found that people who donate one of their kidneys are likely to live just as long as those with two healthy kidneys.

Since he dismisses the medical and surgical risks as negligible, Taniwaki identifies only one long-term cost to donating a kidney: because of the risk of injury to the remaining kidney, donors must give up contact sports. “That’s okay,” he jokes, “I don’t do them in the first place.”

For him, the numbers have also helped reinforce the need: more than 90,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in the U.S., and thousands die each year before receiving one.

In 2007, Taniwaki made the commitment by signing up on two national donor registries. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until March of this year that he was matched with a recipient through the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. After surgery scheduled in June was delayed to allow time for additional tests, the transplant is now slated for September 29.

There’s no certainty that he’ll meet the person who receives his kidney; the decision to make contact is left up to the recipient. But he’s clearly not in it for the “thank you.” After surgery, Taniwaki plans to conduct education and outreach. He’ll naturally be looking for ways to encourage people to offer a living donation, but he’ll also look for ways to encourage patients with end-stage renal disease to be open-minded about receiving one.

“There are so many people on wait lists for kidneys from deceased donors,” Taniwaki says. “People wait three, five, up to 10 years. Many people aren’t aware that they have the power to get a live donor. They don’t want to ask because they don’t want to hurt anyone. My hope is that if they see me, fine and healthy, it will make them less nervous to ask.”

“Anyone who’s moderately healthy can donate a kidney,” he says. “If you know anyone who has end-stage renal disease or is on dialysis, just offer. Really, at very little cost to you, you can literally save someone’s life.”

To read more about George Taniwaki, go to his blog:

(Following publication of this story, Taniwaki wrote to Mines magazine and pointed out a couple of inaccuracies. One is corrected in the text above. The other he explains as follows: "I believe I jokingly told Anne [the writer] that the one change I would have to make after the donation was 'I can’t take up kick boxing.' She asked if I was really planning to and I said 'no.' She interpreted it to mean that I don’t participate in contact sports. Actually, I hold a black belt in ITF taekwondo and a purple belt in ryobu-kai karate."

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