Krizek Shares Lessons Learned as a 'GeoLegend'

The Master of Science in Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) program director was recently featured in Geostrata magazine.

It was not a passion for design or a long-held interest in engineering that inspired Raymond Krizek (CEE ’63) to pursue a distinguished career in the field. Instead, he says it was, in large part, his responses to a series of interventions by fate that led him to this line of work.

Since his family could not afford college and need-based scholarships were virtually unknown in the late 1940s, his only hope was to win a scholarship via competitive exams. After taking many exams, success finally came his way when he won a full tuition engineering scholarship to Johns Hopkins University. Motivated by his desire to build things, he chose civil engineering and eventually geotechnical engineering. This episode was the first step that serendipitously launched a career that is now in its sixth decade. 

Krizek recently looked back at his professional journey in a "Lessons Learned from GeoLegends" interview published in Geostrata, the official magazine of the Geo-Institute, a membership organization within the American Society of Civil Engineers. Among the topics discussed are the evolution of geotechnical engineering and the importance of mentors in helping to advance one’s career.

Simultaneous with earning his bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins, Krizek was commissioned as an officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers. One of his primary duties was teaching in the Engineer School at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Although he didn’t realize it at the outset, this assignment ultimately changed the course of his career. This was a second role of fate. 

“I truly enjoyed this assignment and decided that teaching at the university level would be my career, which prompted my return to graduate school,” Krizek said in the Geostrata article.

After completing his master’s in civil engineering at the University of Maryland, a third influence by fate led him to Northwestern for his PhD, also in civil engineering. Upon completion of his PhD, he joined the McCormick School of Engineering faculty, which was not his original plan, but turned out very well. Over the years his research interests varied from the engineering properties of soils to the disposal of dredged materials and other slurry wastes, from the soil-structure interaction of buried pipe to the lifecycle costs of bridges and tunnels, as well as a host of other topics.

“I got into geotechnical engineering largely for two reasons,” Krizek said in the interview. “The first was the influence of my mentors, and the second was my interest in the rheological properties of soils and how particulate natural materials could be characterized by concepts from the theories of elasticity, plasticity, and viscoelasticity.”

His research has contributed to solving several of the infrastructure problems confronting our country today, such as environmentally acceptable methods for disposing of large-volume industrial wastes and sediments.

Since 1994, Krizek has been the program director of Northwestern Engineering's Master of Project Management (MPM) and Executive Management for Design and Construction (EMDC) programs. This role has allowed him to work directly with graduate students and researchers who share his passions. 

"I've been privileged to work with the best group of graduate students with whom a professor could ever hope to interact." — Professor Raymond Krizek

Krizek’s career in engineering may have started with some good test scores and a few favorable encounters with fate, but its longevity is due to his tremendous passion for research and hard work. He has earned several prestigious awards throughout his career, including Civil Engineer of the Year (Illinois Section) from the American Society of Civil Engineers, election to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering (one of the highest honors bestowed on an engineer), and an honorary doctorate from the University of Cantabria in Spain.  Earlier this year he received an OPAL award for lifetime achievements in education at the 2020 Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) awards gala.   

Nowadays he doesn’t do a lot of big time building and has focused his efforts on smaller projects like a treehouse for his grandson and adding a room in the attic of his son’s garage. 

He believes that his greatest legacy is the multitude of graduate students whom he has endeavored to inspire and challenge to make their mark on the world.

“I’ve said many times that my graduate students are the jewels in my crown,” Krizek said. “I’ve been privileged to work with the best group of graduate students with whom a professor could ever hope to interact. These folks represent the best that we have to offer, and their impact on our profession will be felt for many years to come.”

McCormick News Article