In this Q&A, seasoned engineer Jeff Cichonski sheds light on his passion for mechanical engineering and healthcare projects. His commitment to positively impacting communities through quality healthcare facilities shines with the help of his inspirational team.

What sparked your passion for mechanical engineering?

My father is a mechanical engineer, and when I was young, he taught me how to draft on his drafting board in our basement. Additionally, in my senior year of high school, I had a physics teacher who made it easy for me to understand how the physical world connects to math and how we use math to predict and explain movement and forces.

These experiences changed everything, and I realized engineering would be a fulfilling career path. My father always seemed to enjoy what he did for work, so mechanical engineering felt right.

What advice would you give a new college graduate in mechanical engineering?

First, engineers looking to land their first job should find opportunities to meet people through internships, interviews, or relevant experience. Finding the right fit in your first job out of school can be difficult, but it is possible. The more information you gather, the better prepared you’ll be when stepping into your career.

Second, interviews are as much for you as they are for the prospective employer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, talk candidly, and ensure their values align with yours. If you don’t get a positive vibe in the interview process, there’s a good chance the company is not right for you. It’s okay if you and the company don’t have the same values and you move on.

Third, when you begin your career, aim to do more than what is asked of you, take risks, and look for ways to support your team even if it’s not in your job description.

Lastly, remember that as much as you learned in school, you have a whole career (and it will be your whole career) to learn every day. Your mentors, teammates, and supervisors know you don’t know everything, so there’s no reason to pretend you do and miss out on learning opportunities.

How do you stay updated on the latest regulations and developments in mechanical engineering?

As you become familiar with mechanical engineering concepts later in your career, continue learning. Attend conferences and webinars and read articles to stay updated on product developments, building design, and engineering practices worldwide.

Also, read new regulations and codes and read the code when reviewing specific project situations. Early in your career, you spend a lot of time understanding what codes are relevant and then understanding them as you work on projects.

Tell us about a project you’ve participated in that you’re especially proud of.

The most recent example is the surgery modernization project at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. This was a complex project, building 26 new operating rooms with various specialties, including interventional radiology, and 60 new patient bays for pre- and post-operative care in an 80,000-square-foot shell space. We designed all the infrastructure to support the loads (including new custom air handling equipment, an expanded chiller plant, new medical gas source equipment, and two new generators) and helped to modernize the client’s surgical operations and build a more resilient infrastructure.

As always, a good project relies on strong partners who work in a team environment. Baystate Health is one of the best organizations at building teams and creating a collaborative and constructive work environment. Our team designed the space with Perkins & Will as the architect and spent a lot of time coordinating the limited space above the ceilings for all the services in the operating rooms. Together we produced a design that was buildable and maintained the programmatic and functional features the space required.

The result was a new space that benefit the community. I know several people who have been treated in the new operating rooms, and it is satisfying to know that they are receiving a high level of care in a surgical environment that our team was able to play a role in.

Salas O’Brien has continued to team with Perkins & Will on more improvements at Baystate and is currently working with DPR Construction on a new patient tower at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, one of the most impactful projects we’ve ever worked on in the Hartford area.

Can you tell us how the work you do is helping solve our clients’ biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges our clients face are budgets and long-term operations. Many clients have long lists of improvements that they need to keep operating efficiently and effectively but don’t usually have the budget. During the design process, we work with our clients to prioritize their infrastructure needs and advocate for the systems that best suit the project and the long-term operation of their facility. Ultimately, we’re working as a team to choose the most advantageous solution.

One of the things we focus on for the operational side is finding the simplest solution with the most impact on performance. However, many clients don’t have the resources to maintain complex systems. When we evaluate options, it is critical to find the highest-performing system that uses the fewest resources and is most likely to still be operating at peak performance in five years.

Tell us about your career progression at Salas O’Brien.

Straight out of college, I joined BVH Integrated Services, which merged with Salas O’Brien in 2021. I interviewed at several firms, but the leaders at BVH felt the most genuine, welcoming, and helpful, which reflects the Salas O’Brien culture.

I worked as a junior engineer in several different markets, primarily health care, higher education, and commercial offices. I had a very supportive manager and team, tried to get involved with as many things as possible, and never said no to anything. This earned me opportunities to take over more senior design and project management tasks. I was promoted to project manager six years into my career, managed a team for several years, and was then advanced to a senior leadership role.

In my current role, I help maintain a strong culture and support exceptionally talented team members on all types of projects in many different markets. My work in the healthcare industry, especially, brings me great joy given the impact hospitals have on our communities.

What does our tagline “engineered for impact” mean to you?

The tagline takes on a dual meaning that describes our approach to design. First, we work on projects that positively impact our communities, both locally and globally. The built environment and processes we design and commission have an outsized contribution on most projects, and we consider that impact in all aspects.

It is also our approach to engineering for resilience. Our systems need to consider the reaction to an impact, whether it’s a power outage, pandemic, or change in building use, and find solutions that will allow the client flexibility to operate their building under stress and react to changes in operating conditions.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?

I spend as much time with my family as I can! My daughters are now in college, so my interests are shifting as my wife and I have more time together. I enjoy hiking, gardening, and playing guitar (to no one but myself).

I am just coming off a long stretch of coaching my daughters in fastpitch softball. I learned a lot from that experience, which was all-consuming at times. I take the team-building skills I learned and apply them at work. Girls and women in sports don’t get the recognition or credit they deserve. The players on the team are strong, supportive of each other, and resilient. It was such an enjoyable side job, and I’m glad I could share that experience with my daughters.