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Director named to SDSU heavy highway construction program

Gary Hemphill
Gardy Hemphill

America’s need for infrastructure upgrades and an existing shortage of engineers come just as South Dakota State University is putting more resources into its heavy highway construction program.

In January, it was announced that Beavers Charitable Trust, which is the scholarship arm of the Beavers Inc., a national heavy construction industry trade group, was making a $50,000 investment in the SDSU program for the next five years to help fund a professor of practice. Now Bruce Berdanier, dean of the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering, reports the hiring of that position.

Gary Hemphill, who has more than 45 years of domestic and international construction experience, will begin when classes resume Aug. 23.

“Gary brings a vast resume of experience from the heavy civil construction projects he has worked on not only in the United States but also internationally. This true hands-on experience from a teacher is what students desire and demand to help them in learning,” according to Gary Johnson, president of A-G-E Contracting in Fort Pierre.

Johnson also is secretary-treasurer of Beavers Inc., is a trustee with Beavers Charitable Trust and was influential in securing the donation.


Served one year at U of Memphis

Hemphill, of Aubrey, Texas, north of Dallas, said his experience is split between 40% contractor, 50% engineer and 10% owner.

Most recently, he has been professor of practice in construction management and engineering at the University of Memphis (Tennessee). He was that program’s first and only faculty member.

Hemphill was attracted to the established SDSU program, which began in 2011 and awards 10 to 20 minors per year. In 2021, 15 students received minors in heavy highway construction, according to Teresa Hall, who recently retired as head of the Department of Construction and Operations Management.


SDSU plans to grow construction program

There are five faculty members in the SDSU construction management program, but there hasn’t been a dedicated heavy construction instructor since Pat Pannell retired in 2014. Johnson said Hemphill would be a good complement to Janet Merriman and Norma Chandler Nusz, who have strong field experience in closely affiliated construction areas.

Dave Woods, executive director of Beavers Inc. and Beavers Charitable Trust, said, “If you get the right person in front of a classroom, they can be an evangelist for heavy construction.”

Berdanier said Hemphill fills that bill because of his comprehensive real world experience. “Gary’s professional experience will help him provide the link and engagement that the heavy construction students need with the regional companies. Gary also has worldwide experience and substantial academic credentials that will serve him well as he bridges between academia and industry.”

Part of Hemphill’s responsibility at SDSU will be to grow the program.

Woods said, “Right now, heavy construction contractors are busy, and with the prospect of a major infrastructure funding bill, there will be more work and a greater need for prepared individuals to enter the industry.”


Career includes informal engineering training

While Hemphill only has one year of experience as a faculty member and will need to learn the particulars of the SDSU program, he has a wealth of experience in training engineers. He often found himself doing that in foreign countries while working as a project manager and adds that during his three years in the U.S. Army, part of his assignment was an instructor of military subjects to indigenous people in his area of operations.

During the past two decades, he has held top management positions in India, Nepal and Taiwan.

In addition, Hemphill said, “I served as tunnel construction engineer on the $3 billion East Side Access Project, including tunnels and a station below Grand Central Station in New York City. Projects include a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) extension where I was the construction manager and the Taiwan High Speed Rail Project on which I was responsible for earthworks (embankments and side hill cuts) and the tunneling contract.”

A previous DART project was the construction of an underground station. “I have tunneled using all methods including hand mining tunnels,” he said.


Started with family-owned business

Hemphill grew up in a family-owned drilling and blasting construction firm in New England. For 10 years (1989-99), he was chief executive officer of Hemphill Engineers and Constructors of Houston. He operated primarily in Latin America, including Peru, El Salvador and Costa Rica, doing road building, tunneling and small building construction.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Babson College (Wellesley, Massachusetts) and a master’s degree in civil engineering from  Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute (1972) and master’s and doctoral degrees in mining engineering from the University of Idaho (1975 and 1990, respectively).