ChEs & EnvEs find work in many fields
Still immersed in engineering, many of these clever techies have expanded away from their original degree work. Today some are happily contributing in process, steam generation, CE, standards and more
"Don't be afraid to look outside the box for opportunities. Your core skills carry through to many disciplines." – Kathleen Stoppelmoor, Alliant Energy
By Claire Swedberg
Environmental and chemical engineers are at the center of vital issues like water supply, air pollution control, public health and waste management. But years into their careers, not all the EnvEs and ChEs are doing exactly the work they trained for. Many have moved to ancillary fields: engineering management, of course, plus areas like process, steam generation, CE, standards and more.
Diverse engineers are welcome in ChE, EnvE and similar fields. American Electric Power (AEP, Columbus, OH), with 38,000 MW of generating capacity and the nation's largest transmission system, finds that diversity gives it a competitive advantage, says Gen Tuchow, HRVP.
"At the highest levels in the organization the company focuses on continuously increasing the diversity of our workforce," Tuchow says. "We expect our leaders to look for ways to increase the company's diversity and take advantage of it to bring out the best in our talent and achieve greater results by working together."
AEP has established diversity targets for women and minorities in management, professional and frontline jobs, and offers training in diversity and generational differences to all employees.
Other efforts are underway, too. For example, the Association of Energy Engineers recently created its Council on Women in Energy and Environmental Leadership (CWEEL) for professional women representing all segments of those fields. CWEEL provides a network that can help support career development and provide a forum for women to promote policy in energy and environmental areas.
EnvE Suzanne Chiavari: engineering VP at New Jersey American Water
Suzanne Chiavari is VP of engineering for New Jersey American Water (Voorhees, NJ). She earned a BSEnvE in 1985 and an MSEnvE in 1993, both at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA).
When she got her BS Chiavari went to work as a sanitary engineer at the Philadelphia Water Department. For five years she conducted research on drinking water quality, wastewater treatment and infrastructure. "This was a terrific experience," she says. "I learned how water and wastewater systems are planned, designed, built and operated. I also saw so many ways that engineers can serve the community."
She joined American Water in 1990 as a staff level engineer, and quickly moved up to senior engineer, engineering manager and, in 2008, her current post of VP of engineering. On the side she taught at Rowan University (Glassboro, NJ) as an adjunct in the civil and environmental engineering college.
As engineering VP, Chiavari leads a team of engineers and technicians sited across the state of New Jersey. Her team plans, designs, permits and constructs new water-treatment plants, pump stations, reservoirs and tanks, plus wastewater-treatment plants and lift stations. Recently the company has been using solar power to help purify water and pump it to residences. "Some day I hope to be able to deliver all your water needs via the power of the sun and the wind," Chiavari says.
She's had a number of good role models throughout her career. "They helped me learn the utility business," she says. "They taught me both the theory of water treatment and the practical side of running a business and listening to customers." This experience helps her today as she directs her team to develop the best possible solutions.
"Being flexible in your thought processes is very important. I like to think beyond the obvious to find better, more innovative solutions to problems," she says. "No one can have all the answers, so seeing the world through others' eyes can open your own eyes to great ideas."
As a manager, Chiavari has good advice for new engineers. "First, the more you like what you do, the better you will be at it. As you advance in your career, always remember why you wanted to be an engineer. For me, it was to solve problems! Develop and share your passion for engineering; you're in a position to make the world a better place."
ChE Dr Olugbenga Famodu: senior process engineer at Intel
Olugbenga Famodu's career was influenced by the strong science education he got during nine years in his parents' native country of Nigeria. Today he's a senior process engineer at Intel's TMG ramp organization in Hillsboro, OR. He earned his 1995 BSChE and 2005 MS and PhD in chemical/materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.
After high school in Nigeria, Famodu returned to the U.S., where he was born, at the age of sixteen. "From early childhood my career plan was to become a medical doctor," Famodu says. He went into ChE as a path to medical school.
But in college Famodu was active in the Black Engineers Society, a chartered chapter of NSBE, and "Through my involvement with this organization on campus I developed a love for engineering," he says. He also developed his leadership skills on the chapter's executive board and two NSBE regional executive boards, and when he got his BS he became the coordinator and academic advisor for the National Science Foundation's Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program (NSF LSAMP) at his school's center for minorities in science and engineering.
For three years Famodu advised engineering students and provided career guidance while working on his MS. He loved the job, but he couldn't shake the "engineering bug," he says, so he moved into an EnvE/manufacturing internship with DuPont Chemical Co in East Chicago, IN, working on colloidal silica coatings and wastewater management.
He spent nine months there followed by another semester on his ME studies. Then came another internship, this time with DuPont's experimental R&D facility in Wilmington, DE. There he worked on catalyst development and characterization and pilot reactor design for another nine months before returning to complete another semester of his masters. In 2000 he worked at a DuPont facility that made hydrofluoric gas for the semiconductor industry before returning to school for his final two semesters.
He was awarded an NSF Sloan Scholarship and GEM graduate fellowship to pursue his PhD, and focused his studies on magnetron sputtering of ferromagnetic shape-memory alloys and high-K dielectric pulse laser deposition.
Before he completed the PhD work Intel called him for an onsite interview in Oregon. He was impressed with the D1D ramp concept the company was employing, as well as the hiring manager's interest in what Famodu's own concerns might be. "This factored into why I chose to come and work for Intel," he says.
Today, as a senior process engineer, Famodu designs, executes and analyzes experiments to make sure equipment meets engineering specifications for his process. He works with the equipment supplier to identify shortcomings, and to propose and evaluate hardware modifications. He even works on the manufacturing line from time to time to figure out how to integrate the many individual steps necessary for the manufacture of complex microprocessors.
He says his leadership experience, planning and coordination with NSBE and the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering have been invaluable in his current work. His diverse background has helped as well. "I'm used to working across cultures, bridging barriers so I can relate to a very diverse group of people. I can relate to colleagues' experiences and listen not only to enjoy different accents, but to understand what people are trying to tell me."
ChE Brenda Gallo: into steam generation at AEP
ChE Brenda Gallo is a steam generation equipment engineer at American Electric Power (Columbus, OH).
She received her ChE from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez in 1997, then started her career while going on to a 2001 MS in engineering management from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. Another prime goal was to become a PE, which she accomplished in 2007.
Gallo began her professional experience in the pharmaceutical industry, starting work at Abbott Labs in Puerto Rico in 1997. She sampled a number of jobs in Abbott's engineering rotational program, then moved into process engineering and supervision.
In 2001 Gallo changed jobs and countries, taking an engineering job in the medical device industry at Stryker Medical (Kalamazoo, MI). After a year and a half she returned to pharmaceuticals with a job at Eli Lilly in Indiana as a quality engineer.
When her husband was offered a job in Ohio, they went there together and Abbott Labs hired her back as a senior project engineer at its Ross medical device division. "However, I was hoping for a more hands-on experience, and when AEP contacted me with a job opportunity I accepted," she says. "Working for AEP was a total change and new experience."
AEP brought her in as a quality engineer in 2006, and that work evolved into her current position in the steam generation equipment engineering department.
Her responsibilities include working with teams on capital projects related to the boiler units she supports in Ohio, West Virginia and Texas. She provides direct support to plants, as well as providing engineering expertise during inspections and, in general, working to prevent boiler-related issues that can cause forced outages and other problems.
"Through all my career changes, the best lesson I've learned is to be assertive," she says. "Do not take 'no' for an answer, but treat everybody just as well as you would a customer.
"Hands-on experience is invaluable when you start a career. Getting your hands dirty can take you places! In the field I have gained the best and most valuable professional experience.
"Never expect your supervisor to develop your skills for you," she adds. "You are responsible for your own development!"
ChE Prakash Wadhwa is a process engineer at Black & Veatch
Prakash Wadhwa, process engineer at global engineering, consulting and construction firm Black & Veatch (Overland Park, KS), earned his BSChE at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (Delhi, India) in 2003. "I basically just wanted to get into engineering, but first I wanted a world-class education," he says. "I believed in developing a global focus, and didn't want to be confined to one region!"
So with his Indian BS he moved on to the Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla where he earned a 2005 MSChE. Then he got a job with Novus International (St. Louis, MO) as a research chemist, doing lab work to help develop new products for animal nutrition. "But I knew I wanted to get back into engineering: get out of the lab and build something," he says.
In 2006 he took a position as a process engineer at Black & Veatch. It's a great job, at the center of construction of oil and gas plants.
First Wadhwa designs and "builds" a simulated plant on the computer. Then he takes a hand in detailed design activities and building of the actual plant. Then he follows through to train operators to run the plant.
The job requires a great deal of overseas travel, since many of today's new oil and gas facilities are being built in Asia and Europe. "Process engineers are the core people who design the plant," Wadhwa explains. He works with MEs who design equipment, CEs who design structures and foundations, as well as EEs and piping engineers. "But the ChE is a discipline that is involved through the life of the project, from conceptual design to actual startup," he says.
"There's a whole gamut of things to learn about, really no limit to what you can do," Wadhwa declares. "When I look back on the past seven years I've had in the U.S., the most important thing I've gained is the broader perspective I was hoping for while in school." Not only has he traveled to China, the Middle East and the UK, but he's increasing his global perspective at the company itself. "Black & Veatch promotes different cultures," he notes, "and hosts festivities to celebrate cultures from around the world."
He predicts that new technologies, including wind and solar plants, may be an area of growth for engineers in chemical or environmental specializations. "If you like being in the center of things, this is a dynamic career!"
EnvE Reena Patel: CE at AECOM
Although she began in environmental engineering, Reena Patel's career path took her into civil engineering for AECOM. She began with a BSCE with an emphasis on environment at California Polytechnic State University-Pomona and a UCLA MSCE with an emphasis on water resources. Now she's pursuing a PhD in applied math and engineering at Claremont College and California State University- Long Beach.
In 2005 Patel was hired as a student researcher by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS, Los Angeles, CA). She studied rainfall thresholds and sediment loading at Wildwood Canyon in Burbank, CA, using a threshold modeling program created by USGS. She collected and analyzed rainfall data within local coastal mountain ranges and worked with numerical modeling of groundwater and other programs. Patel also conducted comprehensive hydrogeologic field investigations and data analysis of Santa Monica canyons to determine the geometry of groundwater flow systems, aquifer hydraulic properties, groundwater and surface water relationships.
A year later she left to take up her current job at Earth Tech, now part of AECOM, preparing GIS databases and creating figures with sewer ranking data. She has modeled alternative landfill cover and runoff for an Edwards Air Force Base operating unit and helped produce sewer rehabilitation recommendation reports for local water districts.
Patel has also worked with sewer rehabilitation in other water and sanitation districts as well as soil vapor modeling and storm-water engineering design at the Port of Long Beach, CA.
CE Emad Sidhom directs engineering at United Water
Emad Sidhom is director of engineering for United Water (Oradell, NJ). He manages capital plans for United Water's New Jersey/New York division.
He received his BS in civil/structural engineering from Assiut University in Egypt in 1980, and his MS in engineering with an emphasis in civil/structural engineering in 1994 from Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ).
"In college, most of my courses were related to structural engineering design," he says. "I always wanted to be a good structural engineer."
After graduation he worked with a consulting structural engineer in Cairo until 1985, when he was hired by Al Fajer Al Jadid Construction Co in the Sultanate of Oman as an assistant construction manager. In 1987 he moved to the U.S. as a structural engineer for Montgomery Watson in Saddle Brook, NJ.
Ten years later he went on to the water industry, joining United Water New Jersey at its Haworth, NJ office as senior project engineer.
Now he's with United Water in Oradell, NJ as director of engineering, managing capital plans for the United Water New Jersey/New York Division. He directs design and construction of projects for sources of water supply, dams and reservoirs, water treatment plants, transmission and distribution systems, system storage tanks and pumping facilities. He oversees a staff of engineers as well as administrative personnel, CAD designers, field inspectors and new business personnel. In 2009 his department handled a $121 million capital budget.
His previous work in structural engineering helped prepare him to handle utility company structures, he says. "I advise young engineers to diversify their knowledge and education in civil, structural and environmental engineering. This combination will open doors for them for great careers."
ChE Kathleen Stoppelmoor: standards engineering at Alliant Energy
Kathleen Stoppelmoor, team lead for standards engineering at Alliant Energy, received her BSChE from Iowa State University in 1985. The field of ChE interested her, but "I wasn't set on a particular industry," she says. "I just knew I wanted production more than research."
After graduation she became a production assistant at Cargill, the international producer and marketer of food. She moved on to coating manufacturer Vector Corp as an application engineer and then product manager.
In 1990 Stoppelmoor joined Square D Corp, the electrical equipment company, as a marketing engineer, then application engineer, then product manager.
In 1995 she moved to the utilities industry, finding a job at the Cedar Rapids, IA office of Alliant Energy (Madison, WI). She started as sales and service training consultant. In the next few years she moved up to product manager, lead standards engineer, and most recently team lead for standards engineering, a job she's now held for four years.
As standards engineering team lead, Stoppelmoor supervises the work of professional, technical and administrative staff developing and implementing electric distribution standards at Alliant. She also oversees development and implementation of an operating plan for the electric standards department, is in charge of assessment and development of staff, and heads up a number of committees.
"As a ChE leading a team of EEs, perhaps my most fundamental skill is the ability to apply an engineering thought process," says Stoppelmoor. "I have developed the ability to analyze a situation through many filters and apply a systematic approach to derive variable solutions."
Time management is another critical skill, says Stoppelmoor. "I have to meet my deadlines, so I need to know when to conclude my analysis and make the decision!"
One of the most important skills is attitude. "A VP once told me his philosophy was to hire for attitude and train for specific skills. A positive attitude compounded with professionalism to meet your commitments brings out your technical and leadership skills and gives you the chance to excel!"
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES HIRING ChES AND EnvEs
See websites for current openings
|Company and location
|AECOM (New York, NY) www.aecom.com
|American Electric Power
(AEP, Columbus, OH) www.aep.com
|Electricity for middle U.S.
|Alliant Energy (Madison, WI)
||Public utility holding company, electric and
|American Water (Voorhees, NJ)
||Water delivery, wastewater treatment
|Black and Veatch (Kansas City, KS)
||Engineering, consulting and construction
|Intel Corporation (Santa Clara, CA)
|National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Golden, CO) www.nrel.gov
||Research on secure emerging energy
|Progress Energy (Raleigh, NC)
||Energy company serving the Carolinas
|Southern Company (Atlanta, GA) www.southernco.com
||Energy for the Southeast U.S.
|United Water (Oradell, NJ)
||Water and wastewater services
|U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Rockville, MD)
||Regulates civilian use of nuclear material
Back to Top