Rolfe graduated in Civil Engineering from the University of NSW in 1974 and subsequently went on to obtain postgraduate degrees in engineering from UNSW and from Stanford University in the USA. He spent his early years as an airports civil engineer with the Department of Civil Aviation before moving to the Department of Defence in 1987. Rolfe headed the Directorate of Environment and Heritage in Defence until moving to the private sector in 1995 to undertake the management of large public sector infrastructure and environmental projects.
How long have you been a member of Engineers Australia?
I joined as a student in 1972.
Why did you pursue a career in engineering?
I was always fascinated by the ability of engineers to provide infrastructure and services that greatly benefit the community, in particular in the transport sector. I also loved the challenge of analysing and solving problems.
How can Australian communities/people/society benefit from your work now and in the future?
My work in the environmental area with the Defence Department enabled the decontamination of a number of previously contaminated Defence sites (including explosives factories) which have now been re-purposed for public open space, community facilities and housing. This work has enabled the expansion of urban facilities while maintaining community safety. I also oversaw the development of Defence procedures for the use of training areas which ensure the protection of community and environmental values while maintaining important Defence capabilities.
What is the most challenging or interesting project you’ve ever worked on to date?
Probably the design and construction of facilities associated with the security protection of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Why did you become a volunteer?
I felt it was important to put something back into a profession which has given me so much.
Also, engineering can only maximise its benefits to society if it combines technical excellence with ethical behaviour and integrity – I wanted to assist with and strengthen this approach.
I was the President of Canberra Division in 1998 and the National President in 2007. I am currently the Chair of the National Membership Committee and an Assessor for the chartered title of Engineering Executive (EngExec). I also participate in the accreditation of tertiary engineering programs through the Australian Engineering Accreditation Centre.
After my term as National President I was also Commissioner for Ethics and Discipline for Engineers Australia and oversaw EA’s ethics and disciplinary processes. In 2010 I was responsible for a complete re-write of the Engineers Australia Code of Ethics, as well as a subsequent re-write of the Code of Ethics of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO).
What do you see as one of the biggest issues facing the engineering profession?
Climate change, both mitigation and adaption. It is engineering, in my opinion more so than other professions, that has the analytical and technical skills to produce effective solutions for the world’s greatest challenge.
What excites you about the future of the profession or what opportunities do you see for the future?
I am continually excited by the diversity of engineering and the way the profession has embraced (and frequently led the way with) new technologies. Many of the disciples of engineering that exist today did not exist when I graduated. Arguably, no other profession other than medicine has expanded its horizons the way engineering has. In an increasingly complex world, engineering has an increasingly important role to play.
Who is your engineering hero?
Sir John Monash. Engineer, soldier, citizen, he is one of the greatest ever Australians.