September 5, 2012
By early 2014, Dick Wenzel '71, Th'72 will watch proudly as the first tracks for the world's fastest and California's first high-speed rail are laid. The $68 billion project marks the pinnacle of Wenzel's 40-year career, planning, designing and managing for San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) before joining contractor AECOM 31 years later in 2006 to engineer the plans for and give an environmental assessment of one of nine sectors of the new 500-mile high-speed rail stretch from L.A. to San Francisco. The tracks will later extend 300 miles to Sacramento and San Diego.
"When I was hired by BART in 1979, the organization had just built the first computerized electric train, followed by the whole world having computerized trains," says Wenzel, who also holds advanced degrees in city planning and computer modeling. "I thought I missed out on developing a new transit technology, but then in the 1990s California decided to build the fastest high-speed rail line in the world, the environmentally responsible alternative to bigger airports and 1,400 miles of freeways."
Comparing his career to the Engines 21 Class he once took, the environmental jack-of-all-trades gained from Thayer the ability to excel in different project areas well—much like his son Drew Wenzel '08, Th'09, '10, who is now pursuing a M.S. in Sustainable Design and Construction from Stanford University.
"Both my father and I tend to have a little knowledge about many fields, as opposed to being experts in a single field," says Drew. "I think that usually means we tend to fill interstitial project roles, connecting people and resources as necessary to ensure progress is made towards the end goal."
Drew provides environmental building consulting guidance for planning, design, construction and operations to Google Inc.'s Real Estate and Workplace Services department. After just two years at Google, he developed a system to track and improve the environmental performance of Google's offices and buildings worldwide.
"I celebrated in 1972 when environmental quality standards were written into law with the National Environmental Policy Act. Now Drew is majoring in environmental engineering and making a career out of sustainable design," says Dick.
Both father and son are just as dedicated to the cause of their alma mater as they are to the environment. They are Annual Fund agents and Dick recently completed his presidency of Dartmouth's San Francisco Alumni Club.
"When I went to Thayer we had great professors but the school was in a small older building. We did the best we could with the labs we had," says Dick, whose daughter Shelley '14 is also pursuing a Dartmouth degree in environmental studies. "Today I walk into the Great Hall, and I see a state-of-the-art auditorium and classrooms. I donated to the school, because I just wanted other students to have opportunity that I did. What I didn't know is that one of those students would end up being my own child."