AFE — May/June 2012
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AFE Spotlight
Talisa Thomas-Hall

AFE interviews Harold Olsen, AFE member & faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin- Madison

AFE: You’ve been an AFE member for over 30 years. Who were your early mentors in the profession and what kind of values did they instill?

Harold Olsen (HO): My first job in engineering was at Allis Chalmers, which was then a large manufacturer in Milwaukee. My boss encouraged me to keep current in education. Thankfully he saw the value of learning and staying current with systems and new technology and he instilled those values in me.

During that time friends and colleagues introduced me to AFE (then the American Institute of Plant Engineers) and other organizations. AFE provided the information and training that helped me to be a greater value to my employer. Through the years I became more involved in AFE and helped mentor others in the profession. I served on the national membership committee, professional development committee, and as a chapter officer for AFE Chapter 161.

AFE: What are some of the major initiatives you’ve seen the AFE undertake, and what impact has the association had on your career and the profession?

HO: AFE’s relocation from Cincinnati to the Washington,

D. C. area was a wise decision. T e organization needs to be involved where the politicians are located. Our group [made up of facilities engineering professionals] requires having a presence in D.C.

The Facilities Engineering Journal also has a major impact upon the profession. The Facilities Engineering Journal has improved a lot over the years. I look forward to each issue; my favorites are the articles about various practices in the industrial plants.

Another beneficial and constantly developing offering from AFE is the technical training. I earned my CPE and it has helped to establish me professionally. I do mechanical systems design and I train others in this area of engineering. It’s mandatory that I stay current. In addition to the certification programs, the webinars and articles are a constant source of learning.

AFE: What technological advancements have had the most significant effect on the profession and how?

HO: I’d say computer controls and communications technology. My computer is a window to learning and finding best practices. Technology in this regard is ever evolving. Communicating has completely changed, even within the past five years thanks to new communications technology.

AFE: What is one of the most significant effects you’ve had on the profession through your participation in AFE?

HO: Through keeping myself current, I’ve been able to train plant engineers in technical topics. I’ve been doing it for quite a while at the University of Wisconsin. I get a lot of letters of appreciation. That’s rewarding and I make myself available to those who call with various related questions because it’s important to me to help others to grow. That’s what’s most important to me .

AFE: Aft er 21 years, you are retiring from the University of Wisconsin. What legacy are you leaving behind?

HO: I’ve had the wonderful fortune of training a lot of people over the years — those who have called upon me and referenced me for technical topics and issues. I’d like to believe I’ve helped them to improve their job performance and know-how and encouraged them to always seek learning opportunities. I hope that’s my legacy.

AFE: What are your plans for the future?

HO: I want to take time to do some writing and short topic talks for AFE and the University. Traveling in the United States is something I also look forward to. I’ve seen quite a bit of the U.S., but I’d like to see a little more. Maybe I’ll have time to do a little gardening [he chuckles], also some volunteer work.

AFE: Do you have any words of wisdom for those entering the profession?

HO: Keep up to date. Don’t become obsolete. Time and technology march on so you have to stay current in your knowledge. Once you’re obsolete you’re unemployable.

Harold L. Olsen, CPE has an extensive history in the facilities engineering and education professions, including being president and chief mechanical engineer of Olsen and Evans, Consulting Engineers, Inc., from 1954–1978. For the past 21 years he’s been employed part time by the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he serves as a faculty associate — teaching and training people to design and operate mechanical systems for buildings and industrial processes. He is a registered professional engineer in Wisconsin and Illinois, and is also nationally registered through NCE. Olsen’s portfolio includes having been responsible for the design of over 1,000 mechanical systems ranging from under $100,000 to over $1,000,000.

Olsen’s resume is extremely impressive; his contributions to the profession are too numerous to detail. He has earned a BSME from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and an MSME from Purdue University in Indiana. In addition to being a member of AFE for over 30 years, he holds memberships with ASHRAE, CSI, ASPE, and NFPA. He proudly served his country as a member of the U.S. Navy (aviation) during World War II.

Talisa Thomas-Hall is AFE senior director of membership and operations. One of her primary responsibilities is to serve as the staffliaison to AFE chapters and regions. She can be reached at 571-203-7236 or via email at Tthomashall@afe.org.
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