Greer receives Lifetime Achievement in Engineering Award

3/9/2021 2:11:54 PM

Charlie Greer. Courtesy of the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers.
Courtesy of the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers.

Charles “Charlie” Greer, P.E., F. ASCE (BS 71, MS 73) received the 2021 Lifetime Achievement in Engineering Award from the Georgia Society of Professional Engineers in a virtual ceremony February 23, 2021. He has served as an Adjunct Lecturer in CEE at Illinois since 2016.

After earning his master’s degree in 1973, Greer reported to Fort Belvoir for the U.S. Army Engineer Officer Basic Course. He then joined Law Engineering in Atlanta, and spent a 42-year career at the company (now known as Wood PLC), retiring in 2015. He rose from Staff Geotechnical and Materials Engineer to Director of Engineering.

Greer has worked on a wide range of projects around the world, calling himself “a jack of all trades and master of none.” Pavement engineering is his real love, he said. His career included more than 40 years of all types of civil engineering projects at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Among these were reconstruction of a departure runway that is still in use more than 45 years later.

“This runway has probably served more aircraft departures – an estimated 200,000 per year – than any other runway in the world,” Greer says.

Other notable projects include an 18-foot-diameter, 800-foot-long tunnel that runs 18 feet below an active runway and taxiway; a one-and-a-half-mile underground Automated People Mover structure; and the development of what has become one of the most sophisticated pavement management programs in the world. The program is credited with saving the airport an estimated $100 million in capital costs by allowing extension of the service life of the two main departure runways by more than 20 years.

Other accomplishments include the successful evaluation of 46 miles of roadway to facilitate the safe movement of two, 3-million-pound nuclear reactor pressure vessels – accomplished with 384 tires under the transport trailer system. When the project was executed in 1979-1981, the loads were thought to be the heaviest ever moved across paved roads in the U.S. Another noteworthy project was serving as Senior Technical Reviewer for the relocation of the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The masonry structure, 200 feet tall and weighing 10 million pounds, was moved 2,900 feet across loose dune sand and set on a new mat foundation without damage. The project received the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award for 2000 – what Greer calls the “Civil Engineer’s Oscar Award.”

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the move.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the move.

In 1989, when Greer moved to a new position as Division Manager for the Roofing and Paving Division of Law Engineering, his colleagues in the Atlanta office named him Chairman of the Board of the AAA Club (also known as “Any Client, Anywhere, Any Time”). Except for the Atlanta Airport, his clients and projects were usually somewhere other than the Atlanta area and needed immediate response. He once cancelled a 10-day trip to Spain two hours before the plane was to leave in order to respond to problems on a major construction project.

Greer spoke about his career on campus in 2013 in a talk titled, “A Once-in-a-Lifetime Project Every 10 Years.” He was a speaker at the Kent Lecture Series in 2019 and also spoke to CEE professor Scott Olson’s CEE 484 class about some case histories in geotechnical engineering. He returns to his alma mater every summer to teach Case Histories in Infrastructure Engineering (CEE 498CH).

Greer was a recipient of the C.C. Wiley Traveling Award as part of his senior year at Illinois. He received the GSPE Engineer of the Year Award for Georgia in 1987 and was named an Honorary Member of the International Society for Concrete Pavements in 2014. In 2016 he received ASCE’s prestigious Horonjeff Award for contributions to Airfield Engineering. He has published and presented more than 100 technical papers on a wide range of technical and professional topics at conferences in the U.S. and around the world.

Greer’s advice to today’s students is: “Get as much experience as you can as fast as you can.  New engineers should learn both the technical and management aspects of the company or organization so that they will be able to fill multiple roles and be more valuable and adaptable as change occurs.  Engineers at all levels should find a way to “proof test” their designs before they go to full production or construction.  Students should ‘give back’ to the profession by ‘giving forward’; they should return and give talks about their careers and projects so current students can see what is ahead for them.  They should also donate (no matter what the amount) to scholarships and funds to help students coming behind them.”

He recommends that new engineers and students join technical and professional organizations such as ASCE and become active by volunteering and participating in committee activities and programs. 

“Since these are volunteer organizations, it will not be long before you become a leader,” he says.

New engineers should also stay in touch with their professors to keep up with what is going on, as the engineering world changes at an ever-increasing pace.

Greer credits his Illinois professors -- Thompson, Barenberg, Dempsey, Robnett, Herrin, Marek, Hay, Danner, Peck, Mesri, Ireland, Thornburn, Davisson and numerous others – with instilling a problem-solving approach to engineering issues that has served him very well during his career. 

“A CEE degree from the University of Illinois is a door opener around the world,” he says.