Roy Abe made his first connection to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Engineering as a student and has maintained a close relationship to his alma mater as a mentor, lecturer, and donor throughout his long career as a civil engineer.
Abe was honored at this year’s annual College of Engineering banquet with the Dean’s Award of Excellence for alumni for the impact he has made not only on the engineering profession, but also for his support of the college and for educating Hawaiʻi’s future engineers.
Abe says his education at UH provided the cornerstone of his engineering career. He graduated from the College of Engineering in 1979 and earned a master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley before embarking on a long consulting career specializing in sanitary engineering.
He has served his profession by being a mentor for the civil engineering senior design class, participating on the UH civil engineering Industry Advisory Committee, taking on leadership roles in the Hawaiʻi Water Environment Association and assisting with various professional organization committees.
As a donor, he created the Roy and Amy Abe Endowed Fund for Civil Engineering Labs to help defray the cost of maintaining the engineering laboratories that are so essential to attract talented faculty, secure research funding and ensure the future viability of the department.
Although he retired eight years ago from engineering firm HDR Inc., he continues to work part time there. “That’s because Roy is so committed to training the next generation of engineers and really teaching them well so that they can carry on the tradition at the company,” said friend and colleague Sheryl Nojima of Gray Hong Nojima & Associates.
Abe recalls how his professors were so exacting and tough that he dropped out of an early engineering class that his classmate David Ige breezed through. Many of his classmates retook classes one or more times before they passed. However, in the end, it all paid off as so many of his classmates went on to top graduate schools and very successful careers.
“Roy would not be afraid of taking classes from the toughest professors. In fact, he thrived on stuff like that,” Nojima said. “These professors, even though they were demanding, they taught well, they knew the material and that’s what Roy really wanted, to strive to be the best that he could be.”
Robert Grace, who retired in 2013 after more than 45 years of teaching at the college, was one of more than a dozen civil engineering professors who demanded excellence from their students. “He was one of the last really tough professors,” said Abe, who was instrumental in establishing the Robert Grace Endowed Fund, named for the late professor. Abe wanted to encourage current professors to be tougher and have them realize that they will be appreciated once students begin their careers.
Abe recalls having another professor who gave extremely difficult exams but did not always lecture very well. Abe feels this professor was invaluable to his career because he was taught the value of putting in extra time and effort and doing more than the minimum to gain proficiency in solving challenging problems.
Since UH is Hawaiʻi’s only engineering school, Abe feels it’s essential for UH to turn out knowledgeable and competent engineering graduates. This results in a win-win outcome for employees, employers, and the public.
Abe also believes it’s up to alumni to help students better understand and appreciate what they need to know by offering internships and mentoring. He recommends practicing engineers provide helpful feedback to the college through the Dean’s office or directly to the professors.
“Roy’s dedication and passion for our college, our students and the engineering profession is inspiring,” said Dean Brennon Morioka. “He was a natural choice for the Dean’s award this year.”