Upon completing his Aerospace Engineering undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, alum Jeff Froster (BSAE ’99) could not have anticipated his unique career evolution; today, he finds himself an international entrepreneur, leading an innovative low-energy building services firm in Perth, Australia.
From the start, Jeff had a passion for solving problems holistically; early internship experiences had shown him his distaste for approaching problems as small parts, without ability to engage in broader system development. After graduation, Jeff applied his aerospace critical thinking and communication skills to a new field: building services. Over the next four years, he gained greater exposure to sustainable building design, ultimately receiving his Professional Engineering certification in 2004.
At that time, Jeff grew wary of the increasing economic stagnation he observed in the local building services industry. He received some unexpected advice – take a working holiday abroad.
Thus, in 2004, Jeff found himself leaving his stable Michigan lifestyle for a working holiday in New Zealand. Initially, Jeff was struck by the differences in hiring culture between the United States and New Zealand; from his experience, interviews in the United States were exceedingly rigid and focused on fact-recall, whereas New Zealand firms seemed to more heavily prioritize temperament, compatibility and company fit. Beginning with an initial consultancy position in Wellington, Jeff rapidly gained extensive experience as a Mechanical Engineer for several high-profile building firms and on numerous defense projects.
In 2012, Jeff founded Froster Engineering to “tackle the industry problems that he had seen” throughout his career. He looked to his aerospace background to provide inspiration:
“The aerospace industry is by nature team-oriented and requires project performance be looked at from a holistic standpoint. It would be absurd to design a Boeing passenger aircraft without [concurrently] considering engineering performance and passenger comfort. Alternatively, in the building industry, it feels a bit archaic – everyone is specializing more and more, which means everyone is seeing an increasingly smaller and smaller picture. For example, architects are kept out of the conversation on engineering [practicality and] form, meaning they don’t have the ability to make a sustainable design given limited understanding of building physics and thermal performance. [With my company], I wanted to make the building industry more like aerospace and bring the developer, engineer and architect all into the discussion together early on.”
So far, Jeff’s vision for melding the discrete lines between engineer, architect and developer has been well-received:
“I recently worked with a developer… I spoke candidly to him about all the technical elements of the design – the building standards, the heat loads, the [structural] design – and he started to open-up about his concerns as a developer. This kind of dialogue is critical to creating a sustainable building design [with both parties treated as peers and better informed of the other’s needs].”
Reflecting on his international journey, Jeff advises current students:
“Put yourself out there. Be confident in your skills and where you come from – a degree from Michigan goes a long way. [Traveling abroad can help] throw you in the deep end and outside your comfort zone, giving you the ability to take on new challenges. Try to think about the bigger picture and resist following the norm.”
In 2014, Jeff founded the Alumni Club of Australia. Since then, the club hosts an annual meet-up to watch the Michigan/Ohio State Homecoming game. Jeff explains:
“The idea [for starting the Alumni Club] came from a desire to create a way for all [Wolverines] to communicate across the country. For the Michigan vs. Ohio State game a group of us met up to watch the game start at 3:00 am… it gives us any opportunity to network and feel a sense of home.”