Dr. W. Lee Shoemaker, Ph.D., P.E.: A Man of Many Titles and One Passion

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At first glance, one might look at Dr. Lee Shoemaker's family history and conclude that engineering is simply in his blood — after all, his father, both his brothers, and all three of his sons are now engineers. But engineering is much more than a family cottage industry for Shoemaker, who currently serves as director of research for the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA). It is the cornerstone industry of innovation, an industry which Shoemaker has consistently and systematically sought to further through research and groundbreaking studies that have led to the expansion of exciting new endeavors.

Having served as principal-in-charge for more than 30 research projects, Shoemaker has led every MBMA research endeavor since 1995, overseeing the entire process and coordinating all aspects of research.

Shoemaker first considered engineering as a profession back in the early days of his college career when his father encouraged him to major in engineering because it would open up a field of many opportunities and career options. He attended Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, which he refers to as a “great environment for engineers.”

“It is one of the few schools where engineering is fully integrated into the university experience so that you get a well-rounded education,” he observes.

While at Duke Shoemaker involved himself in a number of extracurricular activities, including playing an active part in reestablishing the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which had been dormant for a number of years. In addition to his undergraduate civil engineering degree from Duke, he completed his master’s degree in civil engineering at Tulane University.

After graduation he immediately transferred to the shipbuilding industry, where he spent the next six years getting his foot in the door and learning the challenges and rewards of a career that would eventually take him to his present position in the metal-building industry.

The significant decision he made during this time, however, was to further his academic credentials, which he did by returning to graduate school at Duke to pursue his doctoral degree after spending six years in the industry. He spent much of his time there as a graduate teaching and research assistant, teaching and learning at the same time.

Among the more notable accomplishments of Shoemaker’s career is the time he spent as a professor in Auburn University’s civil engineering department, where he taught for seven years. Though he ultimately decided to return to the industry, he remains especially proud of the time he spent at the front of the classroom.

“I was awarded tenure and several awards for teaching and serving the professional engineering society that I am very proud of,” he says.

Professionally, Shoemaker has spent time working in manufacturing as a structural engineer with Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans and as chief engineer and vice president of manufacturing at Cornell Crane Manufacturing in Woodbury, New Jersey. While working at Avondale he was able to put his finite element skill analysis to use.

“It was very interesting work to do finite element analysis and then go out in the shipyard and see the fabrication and construction of my designs take shape,” he recalls.

Since he assumed his current position at MBMA, Shoemaker has been able to guide the company’s research efforts beyond standard observation and into industry revolution:

“Much of our research impacts all low-rise buildings, not just metal building or roof systems. A lot of associations haven’t stepped forward to provide leadership in research. Because of our multitude of research, and the oversight of the certification program, metal buildings are designed to the highest standards and latest information, sometimes even before it gets into the codes. Our buildings are more thoroughly engineered than many other buildings.”

As a highly qualified expert in the metal-building industry on engineering and design issues, Shoemaker has been involved in a number of high-profile industry activities. He has been a part of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 7 Committee on Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) Specifications Committee and Research Committee, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) Committee on Specifications for the Design of Cold-Formed Steel Structural Members, and the American Society for Testing and Materials Committee E6 on Performance of Buildings.

And what’s the most important lesson he’s learned over the years as a respected industry member and professor?

“Don’t worry about your salary or title — do your job to the best of your ability, and others will notice and reward you accordingly. And those raises and promotions are the best — the ones you don’t have to ask for.”

Like all successful professionals, Shoemaker could not have made it alone and was the beneficiary of many invaluable mentors whose guidance has helped him thrive. Two of his professors at Duke stand out as being particularly notable for their influence on his career: Dr. Senol Utku and Dr. Robert Melosh.

“If they hadn’t been so supportive of me returning to graduate school, I would never have pursued such a challenge at that stage in my life and career,” he reveals.

In the end, it all boils down to fulfillment, which Shoemaker points to as the guiding factor in his advice to young professionals just starting out:

“You must enjoy what you are doing. If it gets stale or you don’t enjoy going to work in the morning, it’s time to make a change.”

Q. What do you do for fun?
Golf, hiking, biking.

Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
Alison Krauss.

Q. What is the last magazine you read?
Well, I just read the ASHRAE Journal, but not for pleasure.

Q. What is your favorite TV show?
The Sopranos.

Q. What makes you laugh?
Stand-up comedy — Jerry Seinfeld is the best.


On the net:Metal Building Manufacturers Association
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