STOKES SPOTLIGHT: We Send Aage Schroder III, PE off on his Retirement!

This month’s Stokes Spotlight features Aage Schroder III, PE, as we send him off on his retirement. Congratulations on an amazing career and enjoy your retirement! We asked Aage a few questions about his career and the following are his responses.

Where are you from, where did you go to school, and how long have you been at Stokes?

I am originally from Savannah, Georgia. My family moved to Fort Myers, Florida, when I was 10 years old. I was in the first graduating class of North Fort Myers High School in 1965. I attended Stetson University for two years before transferring to the University of Florida to study engineering. I earned a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree in 1970 and joined the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). I completed the FDOT Professional Engineer Training Program in 1972 and then went back to the University of Florida and earned a Master of Engineering degree in 1974. I became a registered Professional Engineer in Florida in 1975.

I met Joanne Stokes in 2015 while she was vacationing in St. Augustine, and I was in my second retirement. Stokes had recently begun working in Florida with New Jersey staff, and Joanne was looking for some Florida people who knew the FDOT and Florida consultants and contractors. She offered me a job, and I joined Stokes Creative Group later that year.

Tell us about your position here at Stokes.

I began working part time in business development as a senior transportation specialist to grow the Stokes Creative Group business in Florida. I had never thought about working for a marketing firm but knowing that Stokes specialized in transportation projects was important in my decision to go back to work. I learned over my career how important it is to tell your story and sell your project to gain community and stakeholder support and the political will among elected and appointed decision makers to implement the project. It is so important to reach out to all stakeholders, understand their needs, and keep them informed about the benefits of implementing a project and the consequences of not implementing that project. It is critical that all understand why a project is needed, what the alternatives are, and what happens if nothing is done. I have seen many good projects stopped and opportunities lost, because the owner/implementor failed to adequately inform the community and get the needed support to move forward.

Community outreach and information dissemination have come a long way during my career. Fifty years ago, there was very little public involvement with stakeholders. Owners like FDOT were the experts. They thought they knew what you needed, and they selected a project for you to satisfy that need. It was more like show & tell. Today that approach doesn’t work, because moving a project forward isn’t that easy even if it is a good project. This where Stokes come in. A great deal of communication and information sharing is critical to gaining support and selecting the right project for implementation. Stokes is very good at reaching out to a diverse group of stakeholders, sharing alternative concepts back and forth, and helping owners find a consensus. This is the best way to success for an owner.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career before coming to Stokes?

As a civil engineer, I have been involved in many disciplines during my career, but transportation has been my focus. When I graduated from college, I thought I wanted to work in construction, but I wasn’t sure. My summer jobs during high school and college days were mostly surveying and construction (houses, docks, seawalls, swimming pools, and roads). I decided to work for the FDOT and enter their Professional Engineer Training Program, because it would expose me to many roles over a two-year period and allow more time for me to decide what I really wanted to do with my career. This program helped me gain an appreciation for the many roles of engineers and other transportation professionals. I chose to specialize in transportation planning and had the opportunity to manage a major planning study for my home county (Lee County Transportation Study).

I spent many years at the FDOT Central Office in Tallahassee managing planning studies to forecast future travel demand on highway networks 20–25 years in the future. After graduate school I became interested in traffic operations and changed jobs in 1978 to manage an office responsible for traffic engineering research and studies. In 1981 I had an opportunity with Alachua County Public Works in Gainesville to get closer to my University of Florida Gators.

In 1988 I had an opportunity to return to FDOT in Northeast Florida as District 2 Director of Planning and Public Transportation in the Jacksonville Urban Office. I learned that travel demand, traffic management, traffic operations, and transit usage were misunderstood by most of the public and elected officials. Travel demand and mobility are so closely tied to the type, location, and intensity of the land uses being served, but this is often overlooked by decision makers who champion a specific road, bridge, or transit service. Making good decisions is so dependent on understanding the intended and unintended consequences of improvements to the transportation system. I also learned that all transportation improvement projects were not necessarily improvements and that the consequences of the wrong decision, a late decision, or no decision sometimes did not satisfy a need and sometimes resulted in negative and/or costly consequences.

In 2001 I was appointed District Secretary for FDOT District 2 in Lake City, Florida, responsible for 18 counties in Northeast Florida (1200 square miles, 2500 centerline miles, 8100 lane miles, and 1206 bridges). This was a great opportunity to use my broad background in transportation and the appreciation I had gained for the roles of 1,000 employees, as well as numerous consulting firms and highway and bridge contractors working to meet the transportation challenges of Northeast Florida.

I retired from FDOT in 2005 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida. I then worked for several engineering firms in business development roles until briefly retiring again in 2015, before Joanne recruited me to join Stokes.

What was your favorite part of working with us at Stokes?

The people. Stokes is blessed with a team of interesting and talented people starting at the top with Joanne Stokes. I have enjoyed working with these great people, and I have learned so much. They know what it takes to tell the important stories about projects and programs, and they do it very well. It has been a pleasure working with the Stokes Florida team, and I know big things are in store for Stokes here in Florida.

Now that you will have some more free time, what will you be doing? What is your favorite hobby?

I am looking forward to playing more golf and doing more fishing. I prefer “catching” to “fishing,” but fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors even if you don’t catch many fish. Florida has great golf courses, amazing fishing, and lots of good weather to enjoy both. I also hope to travel more around this great country.

If you could have dinner with any person, who would it be?

This is a tough one. Other than family who I don’t see often enough, I would say Clint Eastwood. I liked his movies, and he gave some great advice for people as we age. On the golf course he told Toby Keith that he stays young because “I don’t let the old man in.” Toby Keith was inspired that same day to write a song (“Don’t Let the Old Man In”), later recorded by Willy Nelson. As we get older, we must keep our minds and bodies active and go as strong as we can each day. Otherwise, we are letting the old man or old woman in.

What’s next on your bucket list?

I would like to travel to parts of the USA that I have not yet visited. I want to take a leisurely trip to the West Coast and the Northwest with no real schedule, so I can see lots of places and stay for as long as I want when I find something interesting. There are many national parks like Yellowstone that I want to visit. I plan to drive and stay off the interstate highways as much as possible so I can see the small towns and other destinations that have been bypassed by the interstate system. The interstate highway system is great for moving people and goods quickly, but one can better see America on the smaller and more scenic roads.

Do you have a piece of parting advice?

Enjoy your work and work hard to make a difference and have fun while you are at it. Spend quality time with your family and friends. They are the most important parts of your life.

Aage George Schroder III, PE