John A. Nawn

John Nawn
John A. Nawn ’87 ’12 M.S.

John A. Nawn ’87 ’12 M.S. is known as Mr. Back-In Angle Parking. That bit of notoriety in the world of engineers has helped win him recognition as the 2017 Delaware Valley Engineer of the Year.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized by your peers,” says the 52-year-old civil engineer who works as a forensics engineer with Fleisher Forensics in Ambler and serves as an expert witness in liability cases.

The Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia, which sponsors the award, noted Nawn’s work on numerous projects, including back-in angle parking, over a 30-year career; contributions to professional groups, and involvement in his community of Newtown Township in Delaware County. He will receive the award, which he described as a “pinnacle achievement,” at a Feb. 17 luncheon in Philadelphia during the club’s Delaware Valley Engineers Week.

Around 2000, Nawn advocated in Pennsylvania for back-in angle parking, a style used elsewhere in the country, and introduced it to Pottstown, setting the stage for the idea’s adoption elsewhere in the state. Since then, Philadelphia—South Philadelphia in particular—has used that type of parking, and it has spread to other communities as well. He worked with PennDOT to set standards, he says.

According to Robert Wright, co-chair of the engineers week committee, Nawn’s back-in angle parking project “demonstrated that it could work and work well in many instances. I would say it is one of his more notable projects.”

Back-in angle parking, where a driver pulls past the space set at a 45-degree angle and simply backs in, is considered more efficient than parallel parking, which requires going past the spot, backing into it and then moving forward to straighten up (and sometimes going back and forth, and back and forth to get it right). Traditional angle parking, where drivers pull in forward, can prove hazardous when pulling out, often directly into traffic or bike lanes without a clear view.

“From a visibility stand point, back-in angle parking is ideal,” says Nawn, who speaks on the topic around the country.

This son of an electrical engineer father became a civil engineer in large part because he has always liked cars, trucks and trains, “anything with wheels, and I liked playing in the dirt.” In fact, his part-time job while at Drexel University was at a hobby shop that sold model trains, and he sits on the board of the private Newtown Square Pennsylvania Railroad Museum Association.

After graduation, the Upper Darby native translated his co-op experience in bridge reconstruction for Chester County into a job at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, where he designed highways facilities. After two years, he moved into private consulting and worked for a number of small and large companies in the Philadelphia region.

In 2012, Nawn left engineering firm Czop/Specter in Worcester, Pa., as executive vice president and director of engineering and joined Fleisher, where he had consulted over the years, as a full-time expert witness.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he says of his job. “I don’t fix anything anymore; I fix blame.”

Nawn also completed his master’s degree at Drexel after pursuing it part-time for many years. For the last four years, he has taught graduate-level engineering courses as an adjunct professor at Temple University.

Over his career, Nawn has promoted the engineering profession with passion, arguing that engineers must step out from behind the scenes and increase awareness. “A lot of people don’t grasp what we do and how we do it,” he says. “We make the world go around.”

Engineers, Nawn says, ensure clean water comes out of taps, bridges are sound, lights operate without a hitch and more. “The focus is on the guys who build it,” he says. “But before the guys build it, there are the guys who designed it and figured out how it’s all going to work.”

Practicing what he preaches, Nawn is president of the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers (PSPE) and a fellow of the National Society of Professional Engineers. He also is active on the civic front and serves as chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Newtown Township and sits on the board of directors for Community Transit of Delaware County. He is past chairman of the Delaware County Transportation Management Association.

In addition to this latest award, Nawn was recognized as PSPE’s 2011 State Engineer of the Year. In 2008, the Philadelphia Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers honored him as its Engineering Manager of the Year.

“Ours is a noble and honorable profession,” Nawn wrote in his application essay for Delaware Valley Engineer of the Year. “All of us who enter engineering have a desire to make the built environment a better place, to improve the quality of life. As engineers, we use our professional knowledge and skill for the advancement and betterment of human welfare.”

Arguably, Nawn’s life work so far attests to the success of that goal.

By Lini S. Kadaba