Dr. Paul Zia was set to retire from the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) when he received some good news.
A research proposal Zia had worked on would be funded. Zia was committed to seeing it through, and a new faculty member in the department would collaborate. Zia retired, but decided to keep working on the project.
That was in 1996.
Over the next 20 years, that research project has led to others. It’s allowed Zia, who turned 90 in May, a chance to continue work as a researcher and keep his mind sharp. By collaborating with other faculty members, Zia says, with the characteristic warm smile known by anyone who has met him, he can focus on technical matters and doesn’t have to deal with much paperwork.
“As long as I am physically and mentally able, I can continue to contribute to the education of grad students here and at the same time collaborate with younger faculty members to help them become established career wise,” Zia said.
A National Academy of Engineering member, Zia is a preeminent researcher and teacher in the areas of reinforced and prestressed concrete structures, concrete materials and construction. He came to NC State in 1961 and served as department head in CCEE from 1979 to 1989.
Zia is an honorary member of both American Concrete Institute (ACI) and American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); a Fellow, Titan, and Medal of Honor recipient of Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) and served as president of ACI in 1989-1990. In 1999, the National Park Service presented him the Citizen’s Award for Exceptional Service for his work on the relocation of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
The department established the annual Paul Zia Distinguished Lecture to bring the engineers behind some of the world’s most important civil engineering projects to campus. Past lectures have had audiences of as many as 600.
Zia was a new department head and Dr. Larry Monteith a new dean of engineering when Zia proposed a new lab for large-scale structural testing that would offer the kind of space and capability that the labs in the basement of Mann Hall did not. That facility, the Constructed Facilities Laboratory (CFL) on Centennial Campus, was completed in 1996 just when Zia began that first post-retirement project.
When Zia comes to campus, the CFL is where you will find him. It’s also where students and faculty members threw a surprise 90th birthday party for him.
His ongoing involvement with his department has included annual financial support. He and his wife, Dora, have also made gifts for continuing support to CCEE in their estate plans.
Zia had planned to continue work in his field during retirement, taking on consulting work and staying involved with the professional societies.
“When I retired I intended to remain active because I didn’t want to be sitting in a rocker and withering away,” he said.
Fortunately for the faculty members and students in CCEE, staying active has Zia remaining a vital part of the department.