Engineering Discipline: Studied Marine Engineering, Works in Mechanical Engineering
Job Title: President of James L. Gallagher, Inc.
Current Place of Employment: James L. Gallagher, Inc.
Current Residence: Little Compton, RI
Hometown: Binghamton, NY
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are now?
My name is Jim Gallagher, and I am the president of James L. Gallagher, Inc. Our company designs and builds custom automated machinery which are used to manufacture various products. Although my degree is in Marine Engineering, my work is mostly related to mechanical engineering. I grew up near Binghamton, NY and currently reside in Little Compton, RI.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I am a graduate of NY Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, NY. I studied marine engineering which is focused on ships and the mechanical systems that make a ship function. These would include the main propulsion engines, electrical generators, fuel systems, and all the other auxiliary systems which support life on the ship. Many of the courses of study were the standard engineering courses, but the area of interest was how these applied to ships. In addition to an engineering degree I also received a license to work as an engineer on board a ship of unlimited horsepower. Part of our education involved spending 3 summers at sea on the school training ship. These voyages provided an opportunity to gain practical experience in how to operate a ship.
What drew you to become an engineer?
I didn’t grow up thinking about engineering. In fact I had decided to study liberal arts and was all set to go to a small Catholic school for this. However, in my senior year of high school I had an outstanding teacher for Physics and Calculus. At one point in the spring after I had already committed to a liberal arts program he pulled me aside and asked where I was going to school. He told me he thought I should consider engineering, and marched me down to the guidance counselor. As a result of that I ended up changing my plans and getting an engineering degree. I have always been extremely grateful for him, since he steered me in a new direction which I hadn’t considered. As a result I went to Maritime College, met my future wife, started in my career, and the rest is history.
How did you choose your discipline?
My father was an avid sailor and passed that love to all of his boys. We would sail every Sunday on the lakes of Upstate NY. This love for sailing led many of my brothers into the Maritime industry. Four of my brothers went to Webb Institute and received degrees in Naval Architecture (the design of ships) and Marine Engineering (ship systems). And another brother and I went the NY Maritime College. I loved being out on the water and the Marine Engineering degree gave me that opportunity.
Can you give us a history of your career as an engineer?
I started off as an operating engineer working on large oil tankers. This involved several months at sea working in the engine room of the ship. I would stand regular watches and also work doing maintenance and repair. After I was married and had our first child I decided I didn’t want to be out at sea 6-8 months/year, so I took a job at a test engineer at a shipyard. I worked on the startup and testing of the systems on the ship. Eventually I became the manager of the test department for a shipyard in RI. At that time shipyards in New England were closing because of lack of work, and I took a position in a startup company which was making carbon fiber windsurfing masts and composite pipe for the oil industry. I ran the manufacturing and designed our own machinery since we needed custom machines which we couldn’t go out and buy. Eventually I started my own company focused on designing and building custom machines. Because of my background in composite materials and the marine industry a lot of our work has revolved around these areas. We have been in business for 18 years now.
What do you do for a job now?
Although I still work as an engineer, I work more in mechanical engineering. A large part of my job involves running the company and interacting with customers. I am heavily involved with the big picture concept design, but still do some detail design work.
Can you tell us about your faith journey?
I was very fortunate to grow up on a solid Catholic family of 13 children. Both of my parents were committed to their faith. Daily Mass and Rosary have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents did not have a TV in the house and we were surrounded by good books, classical music, and a regular practice of the faith. I thank God that I have never fallen away from that upbringing, and have attempted to give my children a similar upbringing.
Has your faith played a part in your work as an engineer? Or the other way around, has your work as an engineer played a part in your faith?
My work designing machinery has taught me that all design is a series of tradeoffs i.e. weight vs. strength, performance vs. cost, number of features vs. time to market, etc. Each design decision has an effect on other areas of the design, and the challenge is to find the optimal compromise that satisfies all the requirements. If it is a complex system this becomes an even greater challenge. I often think of this when I look at creation and its incredible complexity. Yet somehow everything works together from the atomic to the astronomical level. Or consider the human body with all of its various components and life systems. They are all designed to be complementary and to work together in all of their complexity. If you study any single system it is ingeniously designed and yet somehow all the systems function together as a unit. I am constantly amazed at the Masterful Designer and what a wonderful display of engineering genius creation is. There is no way that creation could ever have come about by a random series of mutations and accidents. It could only be the work of a supreme being.
And then I often look at a simple object that I come across in everyday living. Take for example the plastic dish soap bottle which is sitting on my counter. It is a simple object which you never even think about, and yet there is an engineer somewhere who probably spent months focused on that one object. He designed it, made drawings, designed tooling, prototyped it, tested it, presented it for approvals, and eventually got it into full scale production. That one item was probably his work’s focus for weeks or months. You can look at any man-made object around you and it will be the same story. Someone put a lot of thought and effort into it. Most people who design and create things will only do a few things during their careers. The rare creative genius like Michelangelo might make a couple dozen masterpieces. And then I again consider creation and its immensity and vast scope of objects and am just amazed. Look at a field of wild flowers or the sky at sunset or any beautiful scene in nature and compare that to the greatest works of art which an artist spent countless hours creating. God creates innumerable displays of beauty which far surpass those great works of art. Some of his creation is fixed and unchanging, but a lot passes in a moment almost as if they are throw away scenes. When I consider that from my engineering and design background I have a profound appreciation for the great creativity of the Almighty.
It is because of this that each day I pray to the Lord for the success of our business. I ask Him to enlighten our minds and guide our hands so that we can develop products which serve our customers well, give honor to Him, and in some small way reflect His creative genius.
What advice would you give to young engineers who are passionate about their faith and want to live a life of virtue as an engineer or make a difference in the world?
I would say that the career of an engineer is rarely glamorous. It rarely is highly lucrative. The standard of living of an engineer is not the highest, but the quality of life can be. Engineers live out of the spotlight, but make a profound difference in the world. I live in a rural community and I often see a bumper sticker that says, “No farmer, No food.” When I see those I always think, “No Engineers, All farmers”. 200 years ago over 90% of Americans worked as farmers. Today that number is in single digits. What caused the change? The development of machinery, fossil fuels, fertilizers, etc. made farming so efficient that a relatively small number of farmers could produce enough food for the majority. This freed many people to use their creativity in other areas and contribute to society in many ways. Thus the standard of living rose at an exponential rate. Engineers played a large part in this, and continue to do so every day. It is exciting to see all the new technological developments and to be a part of it, even if it is only in a small way.
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