IMEG podcast: From balsa airplanes to a lifetime achievement award, Cliff Schwinger talks about his career 

IMEG Senior Structural Engineer Cliff Schwinger has come a long way from making balsa airplanes as a child. He recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). He talks about his career in the latest episode of the IMEG podcast, “The Future Built Smarter.”

“I used to build these model airplanes out of balsa wood, and they were like mini structures,” he recalls of his childhood. Though he originally had designs on becoming an aeronautical engineer, as he entered college, jobs in that field were on the downswing. “So, I somehow wandered into civil engineering. I became a structural engineer, and I haven’t looked back.”

He has seen many changes over the course of his career, primarily due to advances in technology. “I entered college with a slide rule and I came out with a calculator,” he says. “I still remember the first computer we got, and then, gradually, it got to where it is today. It’s incredible the change that has happened since 1976 when I entered the profession, and it’s all good. But there are challenges, and one of the challenges is to train engineers—in particular, younger engineers—not to put blind faith in the software. You need the computer to crunch all those numbers; however, you still need to be able to tell whether the computer is giving you the right answer.”

Cliff also talks about his interests outside of engineering. “About a dozen years ago, somehow I bumbled my way into community theater and played a bit part as an angry Roman citizen in a mob of other angry Roman citizens in a Shakespeare performance. And then another year I was a soldier in King Henry’s army in ‘Henry IV.’ ” Also an avid bicyclist, Cliff has, in the past, led unique tours for his bike club around Philadelphia. “But I wouldn’t stop at the famous landmarks—I would stop at the totally unknown things,” he says. “There’s always an interesting story behind every building. I had another ride called ‘Cliff’s Decaying Infrastructure Ride.’ “

For young engineers just getting started, Cliff offers some advice. “You have to have passion, and you have to be OK with the understanding that you’re always going to be learning.”

Listen to the podcast: