IEEE-USA in Action

Volunteer Spotlight: On Keith Grzelak, VP of Government Relations

Q:  Tell us a little about yourself, Keith.

A:   I am currently a patent attorney in private practice with a law firm that I co-own in Spokane, Washington.  I have a law degree and three engineering degrees, one of which is a Master’s degree in electrical engineering.  I like to tell people that I am only “a quarter bad.”  I am a former safety and crashworthiness engineer–I worked in that capacity at both General Motors Corporation and Ford Motor Company (both of which paid me to go to law school in the evening while working).  I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, while my father was in graduate school.  But I was mostly raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where my father was a professor at Michigan Technological University.

Q:  What did you want to be when you grew up?

A:   I knew that I wanted to do something in the medical field.  I also liked taking things apart–all the signs were there.  Before I knew it, I was the grad student that had a freezer full of body parts”¦ My first job was as a Safety & Crashworthiness engineer at General Motors Corporation.  My first graduate degree was in Engineering Mechanics, but the thesis work was really in the biomechanics field, evaluating ways to mitigate shoulder sports injuries (acromioclavicular separation).

Q:  What’s a misconception people have about engineers?

A:   I don’t believe that the general public holds any misconceptions about engineers.  I’ve been hearing jokes about engineers and scientists all my life (my father is a retired electrical engineering professor– he taught computer architecture).  Take, for example, the current network hit, Big Bang Theory.  There are no misconceptions.  However, the general public does have an under-appreciation for what engineers do in our society.  Where our society makes fun of engineers and scientists, other societies hold them in high regard.  For example, emerging national economies in Asia (and around the world) have placed engineers and scientists on a pedestal, because they understand what they do for society.  In contrast, here in the United States, we waste our time watching “reality television””¦feeding our children with anything BUT reality.  I truly believe if we don’t reassess our priorities, we will not maintain our historic standard of living.


Q:  What’s the best thing about living in Spokane, Washington?

A:   It is one of the best places in the country to raise a family that enjoys the outdoors, yet is close enough to have the amenities of a college town.  We have five mountain ski areas in our local region.  We are also surrounded by mountains and lakes.

Q:  Describe your most excellent adventure.

A:   There isn’t only one, so I will just pick one.  It was 2003, and we were racing “Twisted Mister” in the Melges 24 Worlds Championships in San Francisco. Half way through Race 8, after turning left at the leeward gate (mark), we were hit broadside in the aft port quarter, another boat punching a hole in the hull (and narrowly missing my spinnaker trimmer).  Kuli (Vladimir Kulnichenkov) immediately got us to move to the starboard side of the boat to prevent us from sinking–all with a calmness that only comes from having raced around the world in Whitbread and Volvo Ocean races.  We made it back to shore (still heeling the boat in to keep the hole out of the water) under high speed tow–from the Berkley Circle to St. Francis Yacht Club, where a crane hauled us out before we sank.

Q:  What is always with you?

A:   I don’t give up, and I make sure to find balance between vocation and avocation by somehow (in many cases) making them the same.


Q:  Broken item you cannot part with.

A:   I don’t keep broken things– fix them.  I literally cannot think of a single broken thing that I have kept (that I do not intend on fixing or am not in the process of fixing).  If I can’t fix it, it’s gone.  That said, I have a lot of tools in my garage.  The last item that I fixed was one of my Husqvarna chainsaws.  It left the shop set on “full lean” and the piston seized, so I put in a new can and cylinder.  It’s now running like a charm.

Q:  What’s on your reading pile?

A:   Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction

Q:  What’s your hobby?

A:   I moved to Spokane because I grew up ski racing.  I had once driven through Spokane on my way (from Michigan) to a summer ski racing camp at Mt. Hood, Oregon.  However, I love racing one design sailboats, and when I found that there are more than 50 lakes around Spokane (and neighboring city, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho) I was sold on the location.  Then, I sold my family on the move from Michigan.  I also enjoy paddling sea kayaks, sculling, hiking, mountain biking, river rafting, fly fishing, and bow hunting for elk.  We are fortunate to live in an area where these activities are a normal part of life.  Truth be known, my real hobby (shared with my wife, Carol) is taking our three daughters to ski races, soccer games, basketball games, etc.  Our oldest daughter is now a sophomore at the University of Montana.

Q:  Leave us with your personal motto, Keith.

A:   Each day is a gift and a blessing, too valuable to waste.  As an old continuum mechanics professor once told me:  “The best thing in life is to truly excel at something–it may not be continuum mechanics, but it should be SOMETHING.”

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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