Alumni Spotlight: Richard Labasky ’76

I applied to Webb because I had the idea that I would want to learn about the engineering principles needed to design underwater structures.  Pretty idealistic, and probably naïve, especially since I think I was the only one in my class who had never been on a boat of any type before!  But Webb did seem to be the right place to be for my plans at the time.

After graduation, I started working in the research section as an ME at Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock near Philadelphia.  It was a good place to start, especially since I wasn’t pigeon-holed in a specific role.  Plus, I had a great group of co-workers and mentors, including a few Webbies of various decades, one of whom was Webb’s recently appointed Dean, Rick Neilson.  (Yes, I’m of that older generation!)      

Despite these plusses, after three years I realized that being an engineer was not my dream career and decided to change course and go to medical school.  There weren’t many practical hurdles to getting in since Webb’s curriculum covered all the basic sciences well, except for a year of biology and organic chemistry.  I did my residency in Urology (just another branch of hydrodynamics and pump theory!) and landed on the faculty at the University of Utah School of Medicine.  After ten years as a professor (and earning an MBA), I opened my own private practice in Salt Lake City.  Along the way I’ve also had the chance to work with a range of medical organizations, even having the privilege to serve as president of the Utah Medical Association and my hospital’s Medical Staff.

I have no doubt that my Webb experience prepared me well for the unexpected paths I’ve taken.  It was a unique environment with high expectations that helped me develop the discipline to handle long hours of hard work and study, and learn a clear process of thought and problem solving, while having a fair amount of fun along the way.  These provided an excellent foundation for medical school and surgical practice that I use every day. 

Would I do it again or advise my kids to do so?  If someone is interested in starting college in engineering with at least some focus on NA/ME, it’s an excellent choice.  I’ve never heard any of my kids’ friends or other parents anywhere say engineering is easy, so Webb is not unique in its academic rigor.  It’s a beautiful environment, and if one can handle the social limits and isolation, it’s hard to beat.  Finally, there is the financial reality of Webb’s paid tuition, a significant issue when I was a student, and certainly now as a parent!