John O'Keefe receives Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John O’Keefe, who received his bachelor’s degree (1987) in architectural engineering (AE) from Penn State, was recently named one of the 12 recipients of the 2019 Outstanding Engineering Alumni (OEA) Award.

The College of Engineering’s highest honor, the OEA Award was established in 1966 to recognize the extraordinary professional success of engineering graduates.

O’Keefe is an executive vice president and chief operating officer of Clark Construction Group, LLC, as well as the chief executive officer of Guy F. Atkinson Construction, LLC, a subsidiary of Clark Construction Group. John also serves as a member of the Industrial and Professional Advisory Council for the College of Engineering. He will receive his award, along with the 11 other recipients, at a ceremony on April 8 at the Nittany Lion Inn on Penn State’s University Park campus.

“Chuck Merica, an associate professor in AE, suggested I intern at Clark between my fourth and fifth year, and I’ve been here ever since,” O’Keefe said. “We were a small, tight-knit group in AE. He got to know me, and he thought I’d fit well with the company. He was right. I’ve been here more than 30 years!”

O’Keefe recognized the value of matching students to companies where not only would students learn, but they could make immediate contributions that would benefit the companies — and the industry.

“The instructors in the engineering programs at Penn State understand the current needs of the industry. They tweak the curriculum to make sure their students are prepared for the professional world when they graduate,” O’Keefe said. “Students graduate from AE, and they’re sought after. Companies know that these students understand how the theory they’ve learned applies in the real world and they can put it to use immediately.”

Now, O’Keefe helps facilitate the mutually beneficial relationship from both sides. An active participant in both the Penn State Partnership for Achieving Construction Excellence (PACE) and the Industrial and Professional Advisory Council (IPAC) for the College of Engineering, O’Keefe has a hand in driving curriculum that will benefit students as they prepare to enter the workforce.

“At that young age, it was great to walk into a company and feel like I could immediately contribute. Thanks to my instructors, I understood the state of the industry. They made sure I was equipped to offer meaningful input,” O’Keefe said. “I want to give that back to the current students. Construction is a huge industry that offers improvement to society, and Penn State plays a part in that by preparing people to contribute in a real, tangible way. It feels good to be a part of that.”

O’Keefe attributes more than his career to AE. He also met his wife, Lori, in the department. She graduated the same year, in 1987. Together, they established the John and Lori O’Keefe Scholarship, which helps support two to three AE students every year.

The O’Keefes reside in North Potomac, Maryland, with their youngest child, Nicole, who is in middle school. They also have three older children: Caroline, who is in a nursing program at the University of Virginia; Jack, a mechanical engineer who works for Delta Airlines; and Ashley, who is earning a joint M.D./Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.


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Ashley WennersHerron

john o'keefe

John O’Keefe. IMAGE: John O’Keefe



Globally recognized as a leading architectural engineering department, the mission of the Department of Architectural Engineering at Penn State is to advance the built environment through the development of world-class architectural engineers and research. The vision of the Department of Architectural Engineering at Penn State is to lead the world in innovative education and research to achieve high-performing built environments. Our program emphasizes the scientific and engineering aspects of planning, designing, and constructing buildings, providing our architectural engineering graduates with outstanding education and research opportunities. 

Department of Architectural Engineering

104 Engineering Unit A

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-6394