Environmental & chemical engineers find fertile outlets for their skills
Water, chemicals, equipment selection and environmental
compliance are some of their areas of involvement
Their companies foster environments of teamwork and inclusion. “Ability is
what matters,” says one engineer in the field
Technical folks in the environmental and chemical engineering fields have professional backgrounds as varied as the projects they work on. Two of the techies interviewed for this article have civil engineering degrees, one began as an EE and computer engineer. Just one of them is actually a ChE.
The work they do is equally varied, interesting and important. One helps ensure the safety of water supplies over a four-state area. Another works to reduce the environmental footprint of one of the world’s great chemical companies. A third is involved with the environmental concerns of a major electric utility, and the fourth polices the environmental compliance of airport construction in the southwest Florida ecosystem.
Paula McEvoy of United Water: safe water for NJ, NY, CT and RI
As manager of network engineering at United Water Inc (Harrington Park, NJ), Paula McEvoy helps provide safe water to customers in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. She has a 1995 BSCE and a 1998 MSCE from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark, NJ).
United Water manages both water and wastewater utilities, serving some seven million households in many states of the U.S. McEvoy concentrates on water distribution. She’s involved in projects ranging from bringing in additional blocks of customers to cleaning and lining existing transmission lines. Providing families with safe, clean water means a lot to McEvoy.
But even the cleanest water can prove an environmental problem. New customers may require the construction of new water lines, often in or through developed areas.
“The fieldwork is very challenging,” says McEvoy. “We recently installed a thirty-inch line along heavily traveled roads. We had to snake through some areas to maintain the required cover over the lines.” McEvoy credits her team with the project’s success. “We had an excellent contractor and a great project manager.”
Has she had any problems as a woman manager in her field? “I don’t think it matters. Ability matters,” McEvoy says.
Her company heartily agrees. Bergis Mamudi, senior director of HR and diversity, notes that “United Water fosters an environment of teamwork and inclusion. With their outstanding blend of talent, enthusiasm and ambition, our engineering and IT professionals help protect the public health as well as precious natural resources and our environment.”
Katherine Threefoot works on bio-based projects at DuPont Engineering
Katherine Threefoot used to help her father make polyurethane samples in the garage. She loved the nature of the work. “Growing up, I always liked to make tangible things, and to make things better,” she says.
Today, Threefoot works for DuPont Engineering as a senior process integrator. She helps take new bio-based projects from the laboratory to market. As part of that process, she works on replacing the petroleum base of some products with ingredients like corn and sugarcane. Recently she’s been involved with products based on 1,3 propanediol (PDO), a corn-derived polyester used to make fabric for carpets and apparel.
“DuPont is creating new sustainable businesses by reducing our environmental footprint and making more products from renewable sources,” says Threefoot.
Her work includes engineering evaluations. She reviews flow sheets and performs material balances, determining how much waste will be generated and how it will be handled. She works with colleagues in the lab, addressing issues early on.
“I might look at a solvent we’re using to see if we can eliminate it or replace a petrochemical with a renewable material,” Threefoot explains. “I’ll also try to see if we can make a reaction go faster, because that saves money.”
Threefoot completed her BSChE at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) in 1979. In 1984 she got her MSChE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA). Since then she’s worked in a field made up largely of men, but “There are a lot of differences in people besides gender,” she says with a smile.
Her team includes engineers and scientists. “We all work very well together as long as we respect each other’s perspectives, and we do,” she says.
Kimberly Markiewicz, manager of employee engagement and inclusion for DuPont, believes that diversity is a vital part of the company’s strength. “We believe a diverse workforce is essential,” she says. “It drives better business results and fuels continued growth.”
Jennifer Hanna: environmental concerns at PECO Energy
As part of her job with PECO Energy, standards manager Jennifer Hanna manages the inspection program for transformers used in electrical distribution circuits. Environmental impact is at the top of the list.
“Most of the transformers in the distribution system contain mineral oil, which is petroleum-based,” Hanna explains. “We’re exploring more environmentally-friendly options like a soybean-based oil to see if we can adapt it for use here at PECO.”
Hanna enjoys introducing new equipment into the PECO systems. It’s challenging and gratifying, she notes, to find equipment that not only improves reliability, but also improves the environmental quality of the distribution system. In fact, that’s one of her group’s goals. Environmental considerations are infused into many aspects of her everyday job, from selecting new equipment to maintaining the existing system.
PECO (Philadelphia, PA) is an electric and natural gas subsidiary of Exelon Corp (Chicago, IL). It is the largest utility in the state, and is rated as the safest by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
Hanna got her BSEE in computer engineering from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) in 2002 and went right to work at PECO. She notes that her job as the distribution standards manager “includes preventive programs and construction standards. As part of the maintenance programs we identify and address environmental concerns like leaking equipment.”
Hanna greatly enjoys the diversity of the office group she works with. Its members have a wide variety of experience ranging from six months to twenty-five years on the job, leading to a variety of different outlooks.
Hanna’s group also gets involved in day-to-day operations with crews in the field. “When the field personnel call in with questions about unusual construction standards, one of the engineers on my group typically visits the site to provide guidance,” she says. “It really keeps it interesting and exciting.”
Hanna is of Arab descent; her parents are from Syria. “A big part of what defines me now is how I grew up,” she declares. “My family pushed me to be the best.”
It was her own idea to study engineering, and she’s found that being a woman in a predominantly man’s profession “has motivated me to work harder and set higher standards for myself. I’m fortunate to work for a company that values diversity.”
Craig Adams, PECO SVP and COO, notes that “We want diversity to be part of the fabric at PECO. That means respecting and celebrating differences in our workplace and ensuring appropriate respect and inclusion for everyone. We also want to understand our customer base, reflect the communities we serve and actively promote diversity in our community outreach and supplier programs. We understand that our diversity can help us work better to achieve our goals.”
CE Robin McGill ensures water quality at SWFWMD
Robin McGill works on environmental resources permitting for the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD). As senior professional engineer in the district’s Tampa, FL regulation department, McGill reviews airport construction permit applications to make sure all rules and regulations regarding water quality and quantity are met.
Most of her attention is given to large airport projects that cover a substantial amount of land, where impacts can be most significant. She reviews surface water routing, evaluates curve numbers and reviews modeling performed by the applicants. Wetland size and location are important considerations. It’s vital that storm-water issues are adequately addressed, and that bird populations frequenting the wetlands won’t pose a problem to the aircraft.
“I don’t just work on new development,” she explains. “There’s always a huge amount of airport construction going on with taxiways, new aprons and new hangars being built.”
McGill has been in this position for almost ten years. In fact, she helped start up the airport permit review group. She earned her BSCE at Howard University (Washington, DC) in 1982 and her MS in engineering from the University of South Florida in 1997. She likes everything this job has to offer, she notes: the involvement with transportation, water resources and structures all appeal to her.
When she began her professional career twenty-five years ago McGill stood out as the only black female at many meetings. “Nobody said anything, but I knew by looking around,” she recalls with a smile.
Today it’s very different, and her employer appreciates what McGill and other women and minorities bring to the table. “The district has a place for good people no matter where they come from, who they are or what their background is,” says Elaine Kuligofski, director of HR and risk management.
After hours, McGill works equally hard on the tennis court. She plays in four leagues and frequently competes in tournaments. “The strategy you use in tennis is a lot like engineering,” she notes with pleasure.
OPPORTUNITIES IN CHEMICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.
|Company and location
|Archer Daniels Midland Co
|Global agricultural company processing soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa
(San Ramon, CA)
(New York, NY)
|Pharmaceuticals and healthcare
|Products for nutrition, electronics,
communications, home and construction, transportation, apparel and more
|Foster Wheeler Corp
|Global engineering and construction contractor and power equipment supplier
|Exelon subsidiary which purchases and delivers electricity and natural gas
|Southwest Florida Water Management District
|Manages water and related natural resources
|United Water Resources
(Harrington Park, NJ)
|Water and wastewater service provider
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