Engineering alumnus helps build footbridge in Panama

UIC alumnus Robert Ryndak helps build a footbridge in Panama.

By David Staudacher

Embracing and partnering with the community is one of the key elements of UIC’s strategic priorities. And civil and materials engineering alumnus Robert Ryndak (BS ’81, MS ’82) is proving this to be true.

Recently, he was part of a team that built a footbridge for a community in Rio Grande, Panama. In partnership with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), Ryndak, who is a senior construction manager for California-based Parsons, was one of 11 employees to visit the small community of 200 people outside of Panama City — to build a 155-foot suspension footbridge over the Rio Grande.

“The logistics of working at a remote site was a challenge for our team. Because we were more than an hour drive to the nearest large town, we had to ensure that we had all the tools and supplies that we needed to perform the work,” Ryndak said. “The river level was a challenge because some days we could not cross with our vehicles to work on the other side so we had to wade across on foot. There were two days where the locals had to carry floor beams and decking across the river by horseback.”

Apart from the logistics, the volunteers took on challenges that deviated from their usual roles as managers.

“My day-to-day work is on the management side of bridge design and construction, which typically involves correspondence and coordination in an office or construction inspection and oversight,” Ryndak said. “For the Panama B2P Bridge assignment, our team did the manual labor required to erect the bridge superstructure. With help from the local community, we assembled the scaffolding, erected the towers, pulled the main cables, fabricated and erected the floor beams and suspenders, bolted the decking and tied the fencing.”

Before going to Panama, Ryndak was the project manager for construction of the Lusail City bridges in Qatar, and construction manager for the new Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Ohio River in Prospect, Kentucky. While these projects are much larger than the Panama project, the foot bridge challenged him to in a different way.

“The physical labor was intense particularly given the heat and humidity,” he said. “It gave me a whole new appreciation of how great an accomplishment it was to complete the Panama Canal.”

The team, which included project managers, engineers, and safety specialists, worked for two weeks constructing the bridge. With the project completed, the community has access to schools, government and medical services, and markets all year. Before the bridge, access was nearly impossible when the river was swollen.

“No words can describe the fulfillment I felt being able to work on a project of such significance for the local community and seeing the smiles on their faces at the opening celebration,” he said. “This bridge will save lives and improve the quality of life for generations to come.”

According to Ryndak, UIC provided a solid foundation for him to build a career, and he developed a clear understanding of structural and mechanical engineering fundamentals. And through Parsons Gives Back Program, he has the opportunity to contribute his skills and expertise to make a real difference in communities worldwide.

“Even though I have been with the same firm for 30 years, my career path has constantly evolved,” Ryndak said. “I have been fortunate to work on some of the most significant bridge projects in the world. Success comes from noticing opportunities and stepping up to challenges as they come. Next, I will be in Mexico City helping assess damage resulting from the recent earthquake.”