Hispanic engineers blend tech expertise with interpersonal skills
"Biculturalism and bilingualism make Hispanics more effective." – Ray Mellado, Great Minds in STEM
"You have to decide to break the barriers or go around them, but never go back." – Sebastian Amorrortu, HNTB
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
'It's obvious that through this century, STEM will be the key career field for the United States and the global economy," declares Ray Mellado, chairman and CEO of Great Minds in STEM (Monterey Park, CA). Among its many initiatives, Great Minds in STEM seeks to develop Hispanic STEM talent to play a leadership role and to inspire our nation through recognition of the achievements of Hispanics and other role models in STEM.
Federal agencies like the Departments of Defense and Labor have said that if the U.S. is going to progress and be a top world leader, it will have to come from STEM, Mellado notes. "But where are they going to get the people?"
He sees the growing Hispanic community as a good source for developing the talent the nation needs. But first, the country's perception must change. "Instead of looking at the Hispanic community as a deterrent to society with all its immigration issues, our challenge is to view it as a potential and an opportunity," he suggests.
Next, "we need to invest in education and STEM awareness, not only for the students but also for teachers and parents, to guide them toward the skills necessary to become STEM professionals. Through preparation and hard work, Hispanics can have careers in engineering or IT that offer a future of growth and opportunity for upward mobility."
Technically trained Hispanics enter the global economy with the background of two cultures and, in many cases, two languages. "Biculturalism and bilingualism are not a detriment; they make Hispanics more effective," Mellado concludes.
Cindy Fernandez: tech lead at Westinghouse Electric
Until August 2012, Cindy Fernandez was a senior engineer and technical lead at Westinghouse Electric Company (Pittsburgh, PA). She was responsible for design, fabrication and customer interface of the primary components for its AP1000 nuclear reactor. Customers for these nuclear components are utilities in the United States and China.
Her job was a mixture of project management and design engineering. "When I worked with the design team, I had to review the technical drawings, making sure that the formulas and calculations were correct," she notes. "I interfaced with the supply chain to make sure that we got a qualified supplier who understood everything in the design."
Fernandez worked in a cross-functional environment; each person on her team also worked with other teams. "For example, I had three components for which I ensured design and fabrication: the reactor vessel head stand, the pressurizer and steam generator supports, and the reactor vessel cavity seal ring. I made sure that my components worked with the rest of the system. I was the center point for the customer, the fabricator and anyone else in the company for any technical information related to that component," she explains.
Her work followed the current phase of the component. "A couple of years ago," she says, "it was constantly reviewing calculations and drawings to make sure that all of the components surrounding mine were in accordance with specs as well. As the years went by and the design was finalized, we moved into the fabrication phase, so I would have daily status calls with suppliers to review their drawings and procedures."
Fernandez came to the U.S. from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic when she was thirteen and immediately started high school. "In the Dominican Republic, our math and science classes were very hands on," she says. "We got into advanced classes at a very young age."
Fernandez earned her 2008 BSME at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, NJ). She interned in 2006 at infrastructure designer DMJM Harris (New York, NY, later acquired by AECOM Technologies) and at medical devices manufacturer BD (Becton Dickinson, Franklin Lakes, NJ) in 2007.
But she believed that the nuclear industry was the future and chose Westinghouse over other offers at graduation. A week after coming aboard, she started her masters in industrial engineering at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA) and finished in 2010.
Fernandez is president of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of SHPE. She also belongs to NSBE and Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority (Union, NJ), an academic and community service organization and the first Latina sorority in the United States.
In August 2012, Fernandez accepted an offer from Ansaldo STS USA (Pittsburgh, PA) and started there as a senior product safety manager. Ansaldo STS makes signals and automation products for freight, passenger and metropolitan rail transit systems.
"My experience with Westinghouse Electric introduced me to the corporate world and enhanced my professional skills. What I learned as an engineer and project lead at WEC laid the foundation of what I'll be doing at Ansaldo STS. I'm grateful for the opportunity to grow professionally," she says.
Yaidi Cancel: environmental engineer at EPA
Yaidi Cancel has always been interested in the environment. "In fifth grade, I did my science project about how we could heal the ozone layer," she recalls.
Cancel has stayed focused on this cause and today is an environmental engineer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, Washington, DC). She works on atmospheric programs in EPA's stratospheric protection division.
"I mainly work as the motor vehicle AC specialist developing regulations implementing the Clean Air Act (CAA) Title VI for motor vehicles," she notes. "As a technical certification manager, I manage technician certification programs on the safe use of refrigerants."
Cancel works on EPA's Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program. SNAP evaluates and regulates substitutes for the ozone-depleting chemicals that are being phased out under the stratospheric ozone protection provisions of the Clean Air Act. Under CAA, manufacturers are required to submit information to EPA on substitutes for ozone-depleting substances before they are sold in the United States.
"I review scientific information to learn everything about the chemical and conduct risk analysis to determine how it works in the refrigeration system," Cancel reports.
Cancel grew up in Puerto Rico. She graduated cum laude from Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico (San Juan, PR) in 2009 with a BS in environmental engineering. "Polytechnic was the only school offering an environmental engineering degree that didn't require you to go to the mainland," she explains. "I was very shy with English. I could read and write but it was still difficult speaking."
As an undergrad she did three research assistant internships on the mainland. She worked in environmental microbiology at the University of Colorado (Boulder, CO), in toxicology at Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR) and at the EPA's Boston, MA office of ecosystem protection.
That's when she decided to pursue a job with the agency. "I liked the idea of implementing rules and regulations to clean the environment," she says. She met with reps at a school career fair in July 2009, and moved to Washington, DC a month later.
In 2011, she earned her masters in environmental planning and management from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD).
Cancel has enjoyed working at the agency. "My mission is to work in something that helps people as well as the environment, no matter what it is," she says.
"Looking back ten years, I didn't expect the great opportunities that have been given to me," she adds. "I'm very grateful for everything that has happened. I believe that there are opportunities for everybody as long as you have confidence in yourself. I tell people, 'Go for it!'"
Otto Afanador, systems engineer: "Life at Raytheon is a blast!"
Besides its California location, the thing that excited Otto Afanador the most about joining Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems (SAS, El Segundo, CA) was its engineering rotation program (ERP). Since 2011, Afanador has seen both the technical and business leadership sides of the organization and expects to learn even more before he graduates from the program in 2013.
"Life at Raytheon is a blast," he says. "I was very fortunate to be selected for this program. My role gets to change every six to eight months."
In his first rotation Afanador did circuit analysis and designed special test equipment for systems verification of F-15 low-voltage power supplies. He moved on to an ME-based position doing repair and replacement work on the advanced synthetic aperture radar system's electronically steered array for a surveillance aircraft.
"I literally took it apart, every screw, bolt and circuit board, and then put it back together and did the radio frequency testing before sending it back out to the fleet," he states proudly.
Afanador is currently a metrics and statistical analysis lead for two sections of the systems verification center, a role that transitions into operations management and business leadership. "We verify that systems perform as they are supposed to," he says. "Whatever the engineers design, I take their metrics and make sure that these engineers are working as efficiently as possible. I report everything I do to their department managers and to the center management as a whole."
Afanador likes interacting with people face to face. "I like to walk around to their cubicles to make sure everything is running smoothly," he says. He's comfortable in this oversight capacity and thinks the engineers, many of whom have been at Raytheon longer than he, don't mind.
"I learn a lot from them," he says. "Raytheon has a really good community and we work well together. They all respect that you're new, trying to learn, and they work with you as mentors would."
Afanador gets to choose his next rotation, which will be back in a hands-on technical role. "The ERP is all about finding your niche," he says. "They encourage you to see what you want to do and not let somebody else pick your path. I believe that it's important to have a really solid base of technical knowledge before you attempt to go into a leadership position. You want engineers to respect you and you have to do the work to get there."
Afanador was born in Miami, FL to Colombian parents. He was raised in North Carolina but spent summers in Colombia. "I was always fiddling with electronics," he says. "My mom saw that and got me and my brother into computer classes when we were growing up."
He spent five years at North Carolina State University (NC State, Raleigh, NC) earning three undergraduate degrees in aerospace, computer and electrical engineering. "The computer work was a lot of software programming and aerospace was very mechanically based. They have very little in common course-wise," he notes. "Electrical engineering was hardware based. At SAS, I've been able to tie all three together."
At NC State, his aerospace senior design team won second place in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) southeastern student conference. "Shortly after, the Discovery Channel called wanting to film and air the project. It really helped when the career fair came around," he says with a smile.
After graduation in 2009, he spent just over a year at the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Patuxent, MD) as a flight test engineer. "I did some really fun things and got some really great experience," he recalls.
Early in 2011, "California called," and Raytheon offered him a systems engineering job. He jumped at the chance.
Afanador has been a member of SHPE and AIAA. At Raytheon, he is a member of Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Advancement and the Young Employee Success network. "Being Hispanic gives me an awareness of different cultural perceptions," Afanador notes.
As part of his five-year plan, he's in a masters program in astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California (USC, Los Angeles, CA). In 2013, he'll graduate from the ERP and settle on a fulltime job. In three years, he will have completed his masters and wants to be using his skills to engineer the new wave of space technology.
"Hopefully, I'll be diving into the innovation group here," he notes. "By then I hope to be well on my way to being a chief engineer or program manager."
Rocio Sebhatu is a facilities engineer at Intel
Most people know that Intel (Santa Clara, CA) is a semiconductor chipmaker. So it's not surprising that Rocio Sebhatu was puzzled when the company contacted her about an internship. "I did not know that chemical engineers would even be needed," she says. "But it's a manufacturing company, so there are a lot of different types of engineers here."
Today Sebhatu is a facilities engineer in the ultra-pure water (UPW) division of the company's Phoenix, AZ location. As a system owner, she works with a team of approximately three dozen people: five or six engineers plus technicians who perform preventative and corrective maintenance.
"UPW is used for ninety percent of the tools that process computer chips," she explains. "We supply it to our plants twenty-four hours a day. It starts out as regular tap water here in Chandler, AZ, and we have to remove metals and any other particles to make sure that it is the highest quality water possible. I'm also responsible for being sure that we meet all the capacity demands of the factories."
Sebhatu's mother is Panamanian and her father is Ethiopian. They met when both were students at the Belarusian State Agricultural Academy. "I was actually born in Moscow," she says, "but we left nine days later. My mother and I went to Panama for a year while my dad got a job in California and then we all settled in Los Angeles." She became a U.S. citizen shortly before starting college.
Sebhatu always liked chemistry. "I enjoy a challenge. If something is hard to do, I want to try it. It's interesting to learn how chemical reactions take place," she says, "how something can happen out of nothing."
She attended community college for three years then enrolled at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. "While I was in community college I took a lot of physics courses and one of my professors encouraged me to get into engineering," she says. "There's a lot of opportunity for hands-on learning at Cal Poly, and I liked that."
Sebhatu graduated with a BSChE in 2010 and went on to the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL) on a GEM Consortium fellowship for her 2011 MSChE.
As an undergrad Sebhatu interned for a summer at BP's Carson, CA refinery. "I had a good time but I wanted to see what else was out there," she says.
In her senior year, she applied for a GEM Fellowship, which requires the student to intern. Ironically, Sebhatu did not list Intel, identifying instead several cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies as preferences. "I had no idea that Intel would need chemical engineers, but somehow they got hold of my name and called me," she remembers. Her job was updating building utility specifications for the company's utility systems management database.
Sebhatu belongs to the Network of Intel African American Employees, Intel Latino Network and Women at Intel Network. In early 2012, she was a panelist at the Hermanas conference (Avondale, AZ), designed to introduce young Latina girls to STEM careers and majors in a fun and interactive way. "There were girls from elementary to high school," she recalls. "They were very interested and excited."
Sebhatu considers herself both Hispanic and African American. "My mom's family is back in Panama but my dad's family all live in Southern California so that's the family I grew up with. We've always considered ourselves a big family, being able to help each other and rely on each other," she says. "That has helped me at work, always being willing to help others and give back to the community."
Looking ahead, she sees herself staying in her current group for another year and then moving into a group lead position. "I would have to learn a whole new discipline," she notes. "Intel has a lot of career opportunities so I see myself being here a good amount of time."
Sebastian Amorrortu: engineer II at HNTB
Sebastian Amorrortu's family came from Peru seeking political asylum in the United States when he was nineteen.
Communication was the first barrier he had to overcome. "When I was in college, I put in double the effort to make it through," he recalls. "I didn't see it at the time because I was living in the moment. I later realized that making it through barriers made me who I am."
Amorrortu is an engineer II at HNTB Corporation (Kansas City, MO). The company provides architecture, engineering, planning and construction services. He works in design engineering at the Houston, TX location, preparing and designing plans that often must follow multiple requirements.
Most of Amorrortu's clients are government agencies. "In transportation especially, when we develop the schematics we always try to think outside the box to provide more solutions than the client asked for," he notes. "This is the challenging part of the work and we have to do it as a team."
One of his current projects is a direct connector for two intersecting highways in Texas. HNTB's client is the Texas Department of Transportation. "After you and the client agree on a design, you propose a series of milestone submittals, each followed by a client review," he says. "We have professionals in areas like roadway, drainage and bridge design reviewing the plans before we make any submittals to the client. Just finalizing construction plans can take one to three years."
When Amorrortu's family came to the U.S. in 1999, they settled in Houston, a city they knew well because his father was a petroleum engineer who came to the U.S. often. "Seeing how much my father enjoyed his work made a big impression on me," he says. "The moment I came here, I was impressed with the size of the infrastructures. They made me feel like this was something I wanted to do, something I could see and touch."
Amorrortu earned his BSCE at University of Houston (Houston, TX) in 2002. At the time, the economy was bad and he struggled to find his first job. He expanded his search and ended up working for MWH (Denver, CO), which provides consulting, engineering and construction expertise for the global mining industry.
He worked at its Globe, AZ location until 2006 when he came back to Houston to be closer to his family. "My mom passed away," he explains. "I wanted to be close to home because, when you're an immigrant, particularly coming somewhere for political asylum, all you have is your family."
He took a job with Halff Associates (Richardson, TX), a company providing engineering services in architecture, planning, right of way, surveying and more. By 2008, the economy was in another downturn, generating less and less construction, and Amorrortu was laid off.
Fortunately, a former Halff engineer who had joined HNTB remembered him and brought him into the company. "He told them not only about my work but also the kind of person I am," Amorrortu says proudly. He cautions new grads to "always be professional because you never know when that person might help you out."
Amorrortu finds the leadership at HNTB "amazing. They have kept this company growing even with the economic downturn, keeping talented people and using strategic hiring. We're getting new clients and creating stronger ties with our existing ones. It makes the employees feel confident about their work."
So far, he's been involved in the mid to latter stages of projects. "I'm looking forward to becoming more involved in the first steps of the process, to be in more of a management role," he says. He's currently preparing for his professional engineering certification.
"No matter what, everything starts with you," he says. "For Hispanics, there are always barriers. You have to decide to break those barriers or go around them, but never go back."
Tony Lushman works in repair engineering at GE Aviation
Tony Lushman sees his life as a tool belt. "I try to fill it with as many different tools as I can," he says with a smile.
He's an airfoils repair engineer at GE Aviation (Cincinnati, OH), a world producer of large and small jet engines for commercial and military aircraft.
"Turbine airfoils are wing-shaped components that rotate around a jet engine to extract energy from the air to power the front of the engine and give it thrust," he explains. "I'm responsible for airfoils in the high-pressure turbine, the hot section, in our large commercial engines."
Lushman is part of a global team of about twelve U.S. engineers and fourteen global engineers that reports to the GE Aviation engineering division. Part of his job is to identify repairs and repair techniques that make the component repair shops more efficient and save valuable engine hardware. "I identify projects that will save the engine lines upwards of millions of dollars in recovered hardware," he states proudly.
His team interacts regularly with teams that are responsible for other sections of the engine. "We share best practices and new ideas that may work on different parts of the engine, and we work on new technology development," he notes. "We also work together answering customers' technical inquiries."
Lushman was born and raised in Panama. "I consider myself to be Panameño," he says. Spanish was his language at home, but his elementary and middle schooling was in English so he learned the language well at an early age. He completed high school at Colegio Sán Agustín in Panama, a very good STEM school, where classes were in Spanish.
His interest in aerospace engineering led him to Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA). He knew it would be expensive and explored ways to pay the lower in-state tuition. "I joined the National Guard on September 7, 2001," he recalls. Events four days later caused his college career to be on again, off again, with a year spent in Afghanistan. It took him six years to earn his BS in aerospace engineering with a minor in mathematics in 2007.
Lushman was a co-op student at GE but found his fulltime job there through a career fair. "Early in college I realized that having a high GPA would not be enough to be successful," he notes. "I needed to stand out and having experience was the way to do it."
He did four rotations at GE Aviation in the company's prestigious Edison Engineering Development Program and graduated from the program in 2010 with a MSME from Ohio State University (Columbus, OH). That's when he started working in his current role.
Lushman is a member of GE's Hispanic Forum. "I'm the 'Cincinnati hub attract leader,' responsible for working with the different university recruiting teams to increase our Hispanic hiring," he says. "My team works with the recruiting teams who work to hire Hispanics and get involved with Hispanic organizations on campus."
He's also the campus recruiting leader for GE at his alma mater. "I'm responsible for all hiring at Virginia Tech, not just for GE Aviation, but for all GE businesses," he notes.
Lushman wants to work on the commercial side of engineering and has set his sights on product support engineering. It's still a somewhat technical role, he says, but has more direct interaction with the customer.
"One of the responsibilities would require being available 24/7 to reply to customers' technical questions," he says. "This really brings all of my aspirations together, which are to be an engineer while having a positive impact on others."
In high school, Lushman was known as "the American kid." "My great-grandfather was a U.S. citizen who was hired to work on the Panama Canal in 1908. My grandfather was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Panama. U.S. citizenship may be passed on for two generations, so I was a U.S. citizen at birth," he explains. When he went to Virginia Tech, he was known as "the Latino kid."
"When I was overseas in Afghanistan with the Army, I felt like I was 'earning' my citizenship," he says proudly.
Lushman embraces his Latino culture and heritage. He believes Hispanics are naturally family oriented, detail oriented and friendly. "We tend to have very good communication skills, and can make people feel welcomed," he says. "I've been told I have a knack for making someone feel appreciated and important."
ME Oscar Octavio Torres-Olague of Cummins Emissions Solutions
Oscar Octavio Torres-Olague is a mechanical development engineer at Cummins Emissions Solutions (Columbus, IN), a subsidiary of Cummins Inc (Columbus, IN) that designs, manufactures and integrates aftertreatment (A/T) technology and solutions for commercial on and off-highway medium-duty, heavy-duty and high-horsepower engines around the world.
He's on a team of nine engineers who work on different engine types. They develop A/T solutions for diesel engines that are used in everything from trucks to mining equipment. "I'm really proud of what we do," Torres-Olague says, "because we help to protect the environment by lowering emissions."
The highway vehicles they work on must meet rigorous Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for emissions.
"We test our A/T using test cells, in which both the engine and the A/T are extremely abused in conditions that mimic real life but in an accelerated format," he notes. "We also do in-vehicle testing, putting our A/T in semi-trucks and then taking them to our test track or on the road. Most importantly, we put them through summer/winter tests.
"The trucks are taken to the hottest available places in the U.S. and to the coldest possible places, like Alaska where Ice Road Truckers is filmed," he notes. "After the testing, the engines are taken apart and inspected. The entire process can take several months."
Torres-Olague was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and came to the United States when his mother received a fellowship to do a doctorate in CE at New Mexico State University (NMSU, Las Cruces, NM).
"Since I was a little boy, she has showed me the importance of studying and doing all my homework on time," he says. "She showed me how to be responsible, a hard worker, and to persevere."
Torres-Olague also attended NMSU, earning his BSME in 2011. He grew up in a family of engineers and scientists. "I was always fascinated with technology and wanted to leave my mark," he says.
He joined Cummins right out of college. He knew about Cummins from his father's work on automobiles, trucks and the engines that powered them. After meeting with company reps at a campus event, he attended information sessions, met some Cummins engineers, participated in a chain of interviews and was hired three months later.
"Cummins was the only company I had on my mind," he says. "Someone asked me why I chose this company and I told them that I can't think of a better place for a mechanical engineer to be."
Mechanical development engineers at Cummins, like Torres-Olague, are expected to understand how the A/T and the engine work together. He believes a masters in engine systems will help meet those expectations; he has been accepted to an online program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He hopes to have his degree by 2015.
Torres-Olague understands the importance of being a good role model for minorities in STEM education. "If they're scared or intimidated by the field, I want them to know that I've been there," he says. "It's not impossible. You can do it."
CE Dan Salazar: technology and aesthetics at CH2M Hill
Only three years into his career, Dan Salazar has already been around. He's a structural engineer working in the Philadelphia offices of CH2M Hill (Englewood, CO), which does consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients.
Salazar was born in New York but spent most of his school years in his parents' home country of Colombia. He was proficient in math and physics and wanted to learn how to combine aesthetics with hard sciences. Civil engineering seemed to combine the two. "You could have the freedom and creativity of design but also the discipline of applied science," he notes.
Salazar earned his BSCE at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) in 2007. He chose Purdue for its highly ranked civil engineering program and because it had the most international students of any school in the country at the time. "I liked the diversity not only of courses but also of the people," he says.
As a co-op, he worked for Traylor Brothers (Evansville, IN), a heavy civil construction company. "I was exposed to many civil engineering applications in many different locations," he says. He worked in the estimating division in Evansville the first year as a field engineer on a causeway bridge in Galveston, TX, on a lock and dam project in Louisville, KY the next, and on an underground rail project in Los Angeles, CA the third year.
"The work definitely made me a better engineer," Salazar notes. "But it also showed me that I didn't want to be in construction full time. I preferred the office environment to the field."
In 2006, Salazar was awarded a scholarship from the CH2M Hill Foundation and he stayed at Purdue to work on his masters. At the same time, he interned with CH2M Hill at its structural and bridge division in Sacramento, CA.
In 2009, he received his MSCE with an emphasis on structural engineering, and joined the company full time as a structural engineer. His first assignment was widening the Capital Beltway in Washington, D.C.
As fate would have it, his next assignment was in Bogotá, Colombia where he spent seven months working on a coal mining and rail infrastructure project. "I got more into program management in that project," he says.
When the work ended in 2011, Salazar joined the company's maritime and ports division in Philadelphia, PA. He's currently working on a port facility in Costa Rica. "We are building a container terminal yard from scratch," Salazar explains. "I'm involved in the structural modeling for the wharf design as well as task management and coordination. All the different disciplines, structural, drainage, paving, geotechnical, electrical and building, have to work together. Being bilingual and bicultural is very helpful."
Salazar is active in Enlace, the CH2M Hill Hispanic employee network group, and he's a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He's also involved in Engineers Without Borders (EWB), which works in almost fifty developing countries around the world on community-driven infrastructure projects focusing on sustainability. He recently returned from his third trip to Guatemala where he worked on pedestrian and vehicular bridges.
CH2M Hill is a big supporter of EWB. "This kind of philanthropy is one of the reasons I joined the company," he says. "This isn't just something they do to put on the website. It's a very intrinsic part of the company."
Salazar is on the management track and hopes to become a division manager. "I lean toward management rather than away from technology," he clarifies. "Engineering is very technical and mathematical. To move into management you also need soft, interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts, listen to people, establish relationships and build teams. These are among my personality traits."
Caesar Brown: new responsibilities as a reservoir engineer at BOEM
Caesar Brown's responsibilities changed after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. He's a reservoir engineer with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM, New Orleans, LA).
BOEM manages the exploration and development of the nation's offshore energy and mineral resources, seeking to balance economic development, energy production and environmental protection through oil and gas leasing, renewable energy generation and environmental reviews and studies.
"Basically, I'm a petroleum engineer who does reservoir engineering," explains Brown. Before the oil spill his work was to calculate the amount of oil and gas in a particular reservoir. This information would allow the department to estimate the royalties it would be receiving.
BOEM brings the second largest amount of money into the federal government after the Internal Revenue Service. The government, in turn, uses this revenue for anything from infrastructure to foreign aid, just as tax dollars are used for a variety of purposes.
Brown notes that after the spill, things changed significantly. "They have assigned what they call a 'worst case discharge (WCD)' to my section," he explains.
"Now, before drilling starts, reservoir modeling software is used to estimate, in the event of a blowout, how much oil will be coming out." Based on that number, the company has to insure itself and prepare for it. "The work became a lot more interesting once WCD landed on our desk," he says.
Brown says he has an "inside job," with a lot of time spent in front of a computer screen. It takes about a week to do the research and another day or two to run the software simulation. His bosses review the results and determine whether or not to give companies the go-ahead to start drilling. "It can be intense."
Brown was born in New Orleans, LA but spent his early years in Honduras with his grandmother. He returned to the U.S. when he was five and later "fell into engineering. It was intimidating because I wasn't that good at math, but taking engineering courses made me realize that I could learn just about anything," he says.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) out of high school and started college while he was still serving. After his discharge he attended the University of New Orleans (New Orleans, LA) and earned his BSME in 2003.
Finding a job wasn't as easy as Brown thought it would be. "It was still challenging even for people with very technical degrees who were in high demand," he says. "Students today have to be flexible and prepared to hunt for a job."
He had a family and wanted to stay in New Orleans, so he was happy to join BOEM in 2004. "The people were great and I liked the benefits," he says. "They're very family-oriented."
Francisco Alvarado is a CAD drafter at AECOM
"I didn't really know what an engineer did until I got my internship," admits Francisco Alvarado, who interned at AECOM (Los Angeles, CA) for five years while attending California State University-Los Angeles. He joined the company full time after earning his BSCE in September 2012. AECOM is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and government.
As an intern computer aided design (CAD) drafter, Alvarado worked on plans and drawings. "What I did depended very much on the project and the stage of that project," he explains. "In the beginning stages, there's a lot of detail work."
Most recently, he's been working on the Regional Connector Transit Corridor project, helping out with CAD work on the right of way. Under contract with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the work involves planning and engineering services for a two-mile transit link between the Metro Gold, Metro Blue and Expo light rail transit systems throughout downtown Los Angeles.
Alvarado grew up in Los Angeles, CA. As a high school senior he took an architecture class and liked it. He was looking into pursuing it as a career when he learned about the AECOM internship. "That seemed like a good place to start," he recalls. "I wanted a job where I could learn something valuable for life, something that I could make a career out of. Now I'm in a great place with people who are willing to teach me what I need to know."
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