Elected by ASCE members in May, 2021 President-Elect Dennis D. Truax, Ph.D., P.E., DEE, D.WRE, F.NSPE, F.ASCE, will assume his duties in October. Truax has spent four decades on the civil engineering faculty at Mississippi State University. Since 2006, he’s served as the James T. White Endowed Chair and Department Head.
And, as has become tradition, ASCE News greeted the incoming president-elect with a series of questions guaranteed to reveal the real Dennis Truax.
Of what are you most proud in your career?
While I might say the 500-plus wastewater treatment facilities I consulted on, or the environmental protection work I have done internationally, or even the EWB successes I have been part of, what I am most proud of is the positive impact that over four decades of former students have made, and are making, on the lives of others. As an educator, helping give the next generation of civil engineers the skills to succeed, and seeing their successes, can’t help but make one proud.
“Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles” and “The Illustrated Man” – all by Ray Bradbury. … Bradbury was the first author who caught my imagination about what we could become, rather than what we were. To me, he saw the human condition from both sides and framed options that showed how bad it could be if we were not diligent in our efforts to make things better for the next generation. We choose our destiny, and we decide our future … if we invest the critical thought and personal energy to do so.
Are you a cat person or a dog person?
Dog. I don’t hate cats as much as I say I do. I grew up with cats. But I don’t need attitude from my pet, and I had a trauma when I was 8 where a cat scratched my face very badly.
Dogs are forgiving, easy to talk to and give more than they receive. Let me introduce you to our current family member … Bernie. Named after my dad (who never went by Bernie, or even Bernard, but “Bun”), Bernie is a Bernese Mountain Dog, or a Berner as most say. A larger breed, Bernie was 140 pounds until knee surgery forced him to slim down to a “skinny” 115 pounds. They love everyone, give hugs, hope for treats and can be goofy at times.
Seafood – crab, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels. After all, I grew up in Maryland.
Favorite sports team?
Mississippi State University Women’s Basketball.
Do you play any musical instruments?
I learned music on trumpet, played every brass instrument that had valves, but enjoyed French horn the most of all. I tried out for the Virginia Tech marching band in 1971 and made it, but they required I cut my hair and shave my mustache off, so that ended my musical career.
What initially sparked your interest in civil engineering?
I saw civil engineering as a profession of serving others in creative and innovative ways. I grew up in a family where serving others before self was valued; helping others was expected.
I found the environmental and water resources aspects of this profession to be of particular interest, and they remain so today. However, I also recognize how 40-plus technical areas that make up this complex discipline contribute to planning, designing, building and maintaining our quality of life and economic engines.
At the end of a long work-day, how do you relax?
The drive home is the start of the process; enjoying the ride and listening to music. Then I brief, or vent to, Jeanie (my wife) after I have spent a little time at the house in my mental man cave. If it isn’t too late, Bernie and I take a walk so that he can prepare for the evening, and we can talk about our day’s events. Bernie being our dog, conversations tend to be a little one sided.
What is your favorite civil engineering landmark?
Victoria Falls Bridge, Livingstone, Zambia.
Most used app?
Real Racing 3. Yes, a game. Either that or Weather Radar.
Go-to pizza topping?
Favorite Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor?
Cherry Garcia. Fruit is your friend, and so are the Grateful Dead.
When you were younger what did you want to be when you grew up?
Air Force pilot. For my fifth birthday, my mother bought tickets on an Allegheny Airlines flight from Hagerstown, Maryland, to National Airport. During the flight, the pilot invited me into the cockpit, and I was allowed to “fly” the plane. From that point forward, I wanted to fly, but my eyes and size prevented me from pursing flying as a career. It not, however, stop me from becoming an instrument-rated private pilot, and I fly every chance I get.
Ideal vacation spot?
A city that offers experiences in the day and entertainment at night. I have never been to a city anywhere in the world that I have not liked. But, if I were pick my top five: D.C., NYC, Baltimore, Istanbul and San Francisco.
Favorite television show?
One thing ASCE members would be surprised to learn about you?
I didn’t start out to be a civil engineer. I was going to be an architect because I wanted to be creative. I went to college for architectural engineering so I could use my math and science skills and be creative, which I thought engineers would never be. My university canceled the program as I arrived for my freshman year.
Once I found a place for me in civil engineering, I decided I wanted to go into consulting. I loved the problem solving and the creation of new things. As a result of going for a graduate degree so I could go into consulting, I have been in academe for four decades, proving life happens in spite of our best intentions or plans.
What was your first car?
1968 Ford Mustang coupe with a 302 4V (230 HP) engine in Gulfstream Aqua. My first vehicle was a Sears motorcycle. My first four-wheel vehicle was a 1956 Chevy C3100 half-ton pickup.
If you were a Harry Potter character which one would you be?
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
What is one thing on your bucket list?
Spend a year traveling with Jeanie, preferably in our plane, and completing her bucket list to visit all of the states.
Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” This has been the basis for many aspects of the music genres that I still like: instrumental, harmony, rock, jam band, etc.
When you spend time with family, what do you all like doing?
Visiting new places and experiencing new things, learning and enjoying each other’s company.
What is the most challenging project you have ever worked on?
Developing a comprehensive water quality model for 140 miles of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Mississippi. We had to develop hydraulic models that accounted for advective transport based on tributary flows and lock and dam operations, characterize a host of physical chemical and biological water quality reaction processes, rewrite Fortran code for use on a PC and allow any kind of input at any point in the reaches modeled to allow determination of the waste load allocation and water supply quality.
We worked in snow and 110-degree summer humidity, “MacGyvered” equipment failures, avoided waterway traffic and developed new methods for characterizing processes.
If a movie were made about your life, which actor would play you?
Nicolas Cage. I was once approached by a talent agent about being a movie double for him, while standing in line at a KFC in Arizona.
What is the quality you admire most in someone?
Integrity. If you have integrity, you are trustworthy, professional, a servant; you keep promises and understand the importance of doing so.