After a long career managing engineering and construction projects, recent Hall of Distinguished Alumni inductee Brian Reilly is helping to build a better future for Rutgers engineering students.
By Sean Downey (Photo by John O’Boyle)
“It’s interesting how your life turns on small things,” says Brian Reilly. “If you look at my career, I’ve done many different things, but it was always with the goal of doing something that’s not ordinary.”
He says it all started when he took a Rutgers engineering course on construction estimating and planning. “The professor saw that I liked it and said, ‘There’s this company called Bechtel that you should look into.” Over more than four decades at Bechtel, Reilly ENG’80 led the design and construction of some of the world’s most complex megaprojects, including a radiological and chemical waste treatment plant, a uranium processing facility built to replace Manhattan Project-era infrastructure, and other clean energy-related projects, such as the Vogtle plant in Waynesboro, Georgia. When the Vogtle Plant is completed at the end of next year, it will be the largest nuclear plant in the United States, capable of producing enough energy to power over half a million homes.
Now retired, Reilly ENG’80 and his wife, Stacey DC’80, devote their energy to more personal projects, especially Rutgers endeavors such as the Reilly Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community, the Reilly Program at the BOLD Center, the Reilly Scholarships for Women in Engineering, and most recently, the newly launched Rutgers Summer Service Internship Initiative.
Built to succeed
Growing up as a Jersey Shore kid in Toms River, Reilly thought about a career in architecture after graduating high school, but soon found his calling in the Rutgers engineering program. “I had always liked taking things apart and putting them back together, seeing how they tick,” Reilly says. “So engineering was kind of a natural fit for me, but it took a little bit for me to find that.”
Competitive by nature, Reilly succeeded working through a demanding curriculum as an engineering major, but in retrospect concluded there was a better way. “I was kind of a lone wolf going through, figuring it out as I went by myself,” he says. “And years later I realized that was the hard way to do it.”
Reilly remembered this experience when it came time to lend his philanthropic support to Rutgers. “If you look at the kinds of things that my wife Stacey and I support, it’s things to help students take the next step in their career and provide them with a structure by which they can get the support they need to succeed.”
An excellent example is the Reilly Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community, which provides first-year women engineers an opportunity to live together in a structured learning environment that includes alumni mentors, tutors, and professional development programs. “As a high school teacher, Stacey saw firsthand the smart, technically savvy young women who didn’t pursue engineering because they thought the hurdle was too high with it being a male-dominated profession,” Reilly says. “And I saw it daily at Bechtel as we tried to get women into leadership roles. I believe this program can really impact that.”
More than 250 students have come through the Reilly Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community in its first ten years, and 98 percent have received their engineering degrees. “Almost all the women in the program go on to the second year and most stay involved as mentors, tutors, or advisors,” he says. “So, it’s really a huge support group for women engineering students.”
Helping students live up to their potential is Reilly’s way of paying forward his own Rutgers experience. “The four years I spent here at Rutgers had such a profound influence on me—not just engineering, but how I approach life,” he says. “When you go through something that’s that impactful, it really leaves a mark on you. And to me, that mark is scarlet.”