Celebrating Over 40 Years with Coffman

In his 41 years with Coffman Engineers, Mark Graham has witnessed significant changes within the company, his own role, and the engineering industry. Mark started as a junior draftsman in 1981 in Coffman’s former Bellevue office (now the Seattle office). After six months with Coffman, he moved up to Alaska to lend a hand in the newer Anchorage office. Starting as a structural drafter, he quickly had to learn drafting for other engineering disciplines when he arrived in Anchorage. Like many Alaskan pioneers, Mark’s ability to adapt to his environment and the growing needs of the office propelled him to become chief draftsman – and during a time when the Anchorage office and company were growing and changing immensely.

Jack of All Trades

Mark originally thought he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a carpenter. However, he got exposed to drafting in college and realized he could “build it on paper.” He was first hired by Lee Deans in 1981 while still in college, and throughout his career, has held a myriad of roles at Coffman. Recalling how different drafting was when he first started, he said, “Drafting was an interesting craft, almost an art form. You really had to understand sheet layout, drafting standards and the drafting style. We took great pride in our drawings.” Then computer aided design (CAD) completely changed the drafting landscape. In Alaska, Coffman was one of the first in the industry with CAD. Mark helped lead the technology changes in the Anchorage office by managing the CAD group and computer network. “It was an interesting time. If you wanted a network, you pulled the wires and built a server. We had a VAX (virtual address extension) main frame, Macs and PCs all networked,” said Mark.

Opportunity Lighting the Way

The opportunities to explore different areas – where his skills and interests were needed but also nurtured, led him to lighting design. He was drawn to the creative aspect of lighting but realized the benefit it presented in coordinating with architects and owners, which ultimately led to client relationships. Those relationships developed over time and created a pathway for Mark to manage projects and clients. “Lighting design requires creative collaboration. You’re sharing a vision. It’s a language architects understand with an outcome that is visible and (hopefully) appreciated by all,” he said.

Passing on the Torch to the Next Generation

Mark benefited from great mentorship along the way. Don Iverson, Tom Looney, and Logan Haines provided guidance and support to develop Mark into a senior designer. The continued mentorship, design and management experience, and client relationship he built led him to his current role as Senior Project Manager. As Mark starts to think about his next chapter, he’s been spending energy mentoring a younger generation of designers.

Coffman designer, Andrea Morrow, has been eager to learn as much as she can from Mark while he is still in the throes of design. The two share an office “so Andrea can absorb everything through osmosis,” as Mark likes to say. Andrea also started as a drafter in the electrical department and gravitated towards lighting because it offered a challenging blend of technical skill and artistic creativity. “I’ve worked with Mark from day one. At first, it was a bit intimidating working with someone who had been drafting since I was in diapers, but he has always encouraged me to take on new challenges and expand my horizons. Being “just a drafter” wasn’t an option. Aside from his technical mentorship, much of my passion for championing Coffman culture has also been inspired by Mark. He’s always been such a huge part of what makes this office a great place to work – a true brand ambassador.”

As we transition from another short but intense Alaskan summer filled with sunlight and a flurry of activity, we start to slow down, reflect, and plan for the future. Although Mark may not be with Coffman in a full-time role for too many more years, we know that our next generation of lighting designers will continue to carry on the torch. Andrea and other Coffman staff are grateful for the knowledge, principles, artistry, and sense of humor he’s instilled in them during their time together. “There have always been opportunities at Coffman,” he said. “They treat their people well, and there has always been room for growth on a personal and professional level. I’ve watched this company grow for the past 40 years, and that growth creates opportunity.”

Thank you, Mark, for your dedication to your clients, craft, and Coffman over the years. And for creating that ambient feeling we get when we step into a thoughtfully designed and well-lit space.