Theresa Card Is Named PM Engineer’s 2020 Plumbing Engineer of the Year

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of PM Engineer.

Strategic Energy Solutions’ Theresa Card, PE, CPD, GPD, LEED AP, fell in love with buildings at a young age. It all started with Legos.

“I remember my first set of Legos,” she says. “I was a big Lego fan. I thought I wanted to be an architect, but I really liked math, so my parents suggested going into some sort of engineering. I went through that typical teenage ‘I want to get away from my family,’ so I moved to Chicago and went to Illinois Tech and studied architectural engineering.”

The rest is, as they say, history. Card has been a well-respected and involved member of the plumbing engineering community for the past 14 years, and is the immediate past president of the ASPE Eastern Michigan chapter. She is also the recipient of the 2020 PM Engineer Plumbing Engineer of the Year honor.

Getting to Work

Theresa Card is a well-respected and involved member of the engineering community and is the immediate Past President of the ASPE Eastern Michigan Chapter.

After graduating from Illinois Tech, Card worked as a project engineer for a general contracting firm in Chicago.

“I realized really quickly that I preferred not doing that,” she says.

She was looking at moving to Texas when she met her husband and ended up moving to his home state of Michigan instead. She’s spent the last two years of her career at Strategic Energy Solutions (SES).

“We solve problems, that’s what we do in the grand scheme of things — and that’s always the fun part,” Card says. “The key to being successful is maintaining perspective. You have to know where the architect, contractor and owner are all coming from. Many people get frustrated easily or angry at other people. You have to take a step back and remember what it’s all about, which is making the owner happy.”

Much of the work Card does is on commercial buildings and K-12 schools with the occasional healthcare and hospitality project thrown in.

“We’re slowly getting into health care, which I love,” Card notes. “I did a lot of that in Chicago. With health care, you have to do a good job — you have to know exactly where connections will be, and where the nearest shutoff valve will be. They pay you so you can do that job well.”

According to Card, the No. 1 goal when working on a project is to make the client happy at the end of the day.

“The things that make a project successful is completing it on time, on budget, with no RFIs,” she notes. “When your client is happy, everything works.”

One project Card is particularly proud of lies inside Detroit’s MGM Casino. The casino unveiled its new Moneyline Sports Lounge last fall, complete with 60 TVs, couch and high-top seating, personalized game sound and a wraparound digital marquee that shows off daily sports game schedules. Eventually, should Michigan legalize sports betting, the venue would also function as a sports book.

Theresa Card performs the initial site visit to MGM Grand Detroit in 2018 for the Moneyline Sports Lounge project. Photos courtesy of Theresa Card.

“It’s just the coolest-looking project I’ve ever done here [in Michigan],” Card says. “We did the plumbing and HVAC design. It was unique because there were very particular ceilings, so everything needed to be routed very specifically. We had to do a custom HVAC layout for the huge wall of TVs because we couldn’t have anything visible on the ceiling. Sprinklers were fun because we actually had to lay out the sprinkler heads because they had to look nice and blend in with the surroundings. We had an architect who would listen to us, and we had great contractors — for a project that could have had so much go wrong, it went very, very smoothly. It was a high-profile project, which just makes it fun. And now, when I see a billboard advertising it on the street, I’m like, ‘I did that! If you’re comfortable, I made that possible.’”

Card also recently finished designing a multi-tenant residential project in Toledo called Fort Industry Square.

“They purchased this big block of buildings and it used to be one large building, originally,” she says. “They are creating one large multi-tenant building, with the corridor going the length of the block. There are a whole bunch of different facades and heights with the buildings, and with all the different levels, you can just imagine the crazy amount of coordination that went into this project. It’s under construction now, so we’ll be happy when it’s done and can take pictures.”

Card says she tries to get out to the construction sites as often as possible, but it’s not as often as she would like.

“I think you learn the most by getting field time, but it’s hard to find the time, because usually, as soon as something goes out for permit, you’re onto 10 other projects.

Changing Times

Theresa Card poses with four 500-ton chillers at a Ford Motor Co. plant in 2017.

One of the biggest challenges Card faces is the labor shortage that continues to batter the skilled trades industries.

“We’re losing talented contractors and it affects us every day,” she notes. “The generation gap is huge —I guess it’s on the engineering side, too — and all the people who really know what they are doing are aging out.”

When asked about plumbing and HVAC advancements that have made her job easier, Card points to Revit.

“I’m sure I’ll get flak from some people about that — but I’m a Revit fan,” she notes. “CAD has its place. I still do a lot of AutoCAD projects, but Revit has really helped — especially younger engineers — understand the amount of space what we do takes up. If you’re just drawing in a single line CAD, you can say, ‘Oh, an 8-inch pipe down drop, here you go.’ In Revit, you get a more accurate picture of the size. You really have to think about how big something is, and Revit has been great for that.”

Additionally, manufacturers have made great leaps in product advancements.

“All of our equipment is becoming much more sleek, small, compact and better put together,” Card says. “It’s more easily serviceable with higher efficiencies. Plumbing fixtures have come a long way — they’ve fixed the whole low-flow problem.”

However, while much of the industry is moving towards greener, more energy efficient products, the green movement is not as big of a deal in the metro Detroit market as it is in other areas around the country, Card notes.

“Growing up in California, dealing with droughts was a huge thing,” she says. “And even when I went to college, sustainability was still very much present in the big bustling city of Chicago. I’m a LEED-accredited professional and I was able to work on LEED jobs. Here in Michigan, it’s different. Nobody pushes for it. Detroit is making a comeback, but it’s a really slow one. It will get there, eventually, and energy modeling will be more prominent here, as it is in Chicago.”

Additionally, Card sees a coming shift in the industry, especially with the latest recession, where many mechanical contracting firms are hiring engineers and architects.

“I think in the future, consulting engineering firms are not going to be as plentiful as they are today,” she says. “Engineers like myself will get absorbed by contractors wanting to do design-build, because that is really the most efficient way to do everything.

Passion for the Industry

Theresa Card performs a site visit to investigate an RFI on one of her projects, the Albert Kahn Building in Detroit, which is currently under construction. The historic building is being renovated into multi-tenant residential apartments. Photo courtesy of Theresa Card.

Pamela Hartsell, CPD, PMP, project manager at Strategic Energy Solutions (SES) and president of the ASPE Eastern Michigan Chapter, met Card five years ago as a fellow ASPE volunteer. She has worked with her for the past two years at Berkley, Michigan-based SES.

“Theresa is almost always calm and optimistic,” Hartsell says. “She is truly focused on solving problems and getting things done. I am fortunate to be surrounded by talented, hard-working, intelligent people.  Theresa, however, uses her gifts to do more than just make a living. She uses them to make the world a better place.”

Bob Taylor, technical services manager — upper Midwest, McWane Plumbing Group, also met Card through ASPE. “Theresa shows incredible dedication for what she does as an engineer and really seems to understand that education never ends. Her work within the ASPE community and the roles that she has taken shows a great devotion to the profession. You can tell by talking with her that she loves what she does with a passion. It takes a special person to be good at what you do, have passion for how you do it and have the devotion to give your time for the pursuit of knowledge. That is Theresa Card.”

“Theresa is always quick to answer a phone call, email or text,” notes Andrew White, sales engineer for Johnson Controls. “She is also very involved with ASPE and ASHRAE, and takes responsibilities in those organizations. That has allowed her to develop relationships throughout the industry and gain respect as an engineer. I think her involvement in those organizations sets her apart from her peers. I have enjoyed working with Theresa over the past year and look forward to continuing our friendship. She has taught me a number of technical and personal lessons throughout our time working together. I cannot imagine a more deserving recipient of the Plumbing Engineer of the Year award.”

Zvonko Dimitrieski, fire protection sales specialist – Southeast Michigan for Victualic adds that Card’s knowledge, attention to detail, creativity and willingness to be a team player set her apart from many.

“Besides understanding technical complexities, Theresa also has the knack at interpreting into layman’s lingo when communicating to both clients, workers and suppliers such as myself,” he says. “I admire that Theresa is always striving to make this industry the best it can be, her relentless positive action in being involved in

the industry even on her free time has been noticed and appreciated by myself and I’m sure many others.”

Bob Thomas, outside sales, Diversified Spec Sales in Oak Park, Michigan, notes that Card is always open, wanting to learn, teach and share with others what she knows.

“She has great knowledge of the plumbing and mechanical industry and is open to new products and ideas,” he says. “On a personal note, she has a personality that invites you into her circle, is kind and considerate and always seems happy.”

Being Involved

Most people who know Card knows she is a huge Dave Matthews Band fan. They also know her as being very involved with ASPE.

“Something I’ve been known for my whole life was my love of horses and the Dave Matthews Band,” she says. “Now, I think people just see me and think ‘ASPE,’ which is fine, too.”

Card first became involved with ASPE in 2008 thanks to a mentor of hers in Chicago.

“About two years into my career, one of the older engineers at the firm said, ‘Hey, you should look into ASPE,’” she explains. “Then, when I left that firm and went to the last place I worked in Chicago, Grumman/Butkus Associates, they had a whole bunch of active ASPE members, and they pulled me in. I got very involved in the Chicago chapter, and that was amazing. I totally loved it.

“It’s great being around your people,” she adds. “It’s about going to conventions and symposiums and sharing a cab ride at 2 a.m., but talking very passionately about grease interceptors and concrete versus plastic, right? Those are the times when you’re like, ‘That was so great!’ Our job is so boring to many people. My parents and husband don’t really know what I do, so it’s great to be around a whole group of people that you can just nerd out about whatever you want. It’s so fun.”

Her advice to aspiring engineers is to get involved with their professional societies.

“They are your biggest resource — it’s the best way to grow yourself and your career — just do it,” she says emphatically. “Be a secretary or just attend all the meetings — be as involved as your schedule allows you to be. You will get so much out of it.”

This article was reprinted with permission from PM Engineer.

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