Paul Randall-Grutter grew up in Salem, Oregon and attended North Salem High School. He was the youngest of five children and his mother was a school teacher. Midway through high school, Paul took a drafting class and thought he wanted to be an architect, but later realized his mind was geared more towards the science of building things than the art. So he switched gears and decided to study civil and structural engineering in college. Recruited for football, Paul had two options for college at the time, Oregon State and Oregon Tech. He preferred the smaller class sizes that Oregon Tech had to offer and moved to Klamath Falls.
Playing tight-end for the Hustlin’ Owls football program was a fun experience for Paul, but perhaps his favorite recollection of his college days is the fact that Oregon Tech felt like a big family. There was only one residence hall at the time, everyone congregated in the College Union building, and there was always someone to hang out with. Paul met his wife Pia during his last year of school at an off-campus party and six years later they were married. Pia was a nursing student at Oregon Tech who graduated in 1989.
Although Paul did not participate in any externships during his college days, he did have a unique experience working with one of his professors. A church in downtown Klamath Falls caught on fire and Professor Zbinden hired Paul and another student to take measurements and conduct a site assessment of the space as it was being renovated. Before his final term at the university was completed, Paul landed his first job at a small structural engineering office in Portland. Paul’s wife also had a job waiting for her at Providence Medical Center in Portland after she graduated. Taking a break from their careers to get married, Paul and Pia’s honeymoon consisted of driving a VW camper van around the United States and Mexico for six months as they had already planned to move to Alaska.
Paul currently holds the position of County Engineer for Skagit County, Washington. He oversees all of the maintenance and capital projects for the 800 miles of roads and over 100 bridges within the county. The Washington State Association of County Engineers recently awarded Paul as County Engineer of the Year for 2020. Paul has been in the industry for over 30 years, ten of those years in the private sector. After all this time, he still derives pleasure from seeing projects he works on come to fruition for the benefit his community.
The years at Oregon Tech armed Paul with the real-world education that he was able to use right away. More importantly though, he says college is about “learning how to learn.” His advice to current and future students of Oregon Tech is to keep an open mind. Paul explains that what you are passionate about as an 18-year old may change over the years as you delve deeper into your career. When Paul left college, he was designing warehouses and homes on hillsides. Thirty years later, he is designing roads. He adds, “Be open and flexible in your career.”
In addition to his professional achievements, including serving as president of the Washington State Association of County Engineers and completing the Public Works Leadership Fellow and Public Works Manager programs through APWA’s Donald C. Stone Center for Leadership Excellence in Public Works, Paul has been involved with the Bellingham chapter of Engineers Without Borders and volunteered as a mentor for the student chapter at Western Washington University. Trips with the organization have taken him to Guatemala and Ghana.
Paul and Pia look forward to traveling more once they retire, a shared passion of theirs. For now, Pia continues to work as a nurse for the Medical/Surgical unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham where she has witnessed the coronavirus pandemic firsthand. Paul and Pia have two children; their daughter, Tirsa, graduated from Montana State University in 2018 and is now applying for medical school and their son, Rowan, is in his final year at Central Washington University, studying philosophy and psychology.
We are so proud of Paul for his recent awards, for his volunteer work and his many leadership roles. Likewise, we are proud of Pia, who is on the frontlines providing healthcare during such challenging times. Go Owls!
~Becky Burkeen, Alumni Relations Manager