There's a lot going on in civil engineering
CEs work on projects in infrastructure improvement and repair, transportation, water management and many forms of new and conventional energy
Five women and a man talk about their work in CE
By Laurel A. McKee Ranger
'I think this year is very promising," says Kathy J. Caldwell, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Caldwell, a self-employed CE, is also an adjunct professor of civil engineering at the University of Florida.
"There's a lot going on that will create tremendous demand for civil engineers," Caldwell says. She cites infrastructure improvements and needed repairs, in addition to transportation, water, wastewater, bridges and other structures and energy projects. Plus, "The renewed interest in alternative energy sources, wind in particular, will create a lot of opportunity for CEs."
In a recent survey conducted by ASCE and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the median salary of CEs in the U.S. was $86,500, with salaries for all CEs ranging from $55,000 for a level I engineer to $149,000 for a level VIII. The U.S. Department of Labor has projected a twenty-four percent increase in employment opportunities for CEs between 2008 and 2018.
All this sounds very good for techies with CE degrees. But Caldwell thinks members of the profession should work harder to attract young people into the field.
"We could always do better in the schools," she says. True, ASCE and other professional societies have a number of initiatives in areas like K-12 outreach, diversity and inclusion, and outreach to younger members. But in order to get young people of all backgrounds interested, "We need to talk about how CEs provide clean water and safe housing and get people to their jobs. Young people today truly want to make the world a better place and that's exactly what CEs do," Caldwell says. She cites ASCE's publication Diversity by Design, which highlights ASCE's strong support of the National Academy of Engineering "Change the Conversation" project (www.engineeringmessages.org).
There are signs that the private economy may be turning around, Caldwell adds. She notes that ASCE participated in SWE10, the most recent conference of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which included a huge career fair. "I was very encouraged. The companies there were definitely looking for civil engineers," she says.
CE Pimolmas P. Tan works in transportation at AECOM
Pimolmas P. Tan, PE is a civil engineer IV with AECOM (Los Angeles, CA). AECOM is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, facilities, environment, energy, water and government.
Tan works in transportation out of the Pittsburgh, PA office, where she supports the bridge and road design groups. She does hydrologic and hydraulic studies for bridge and roadway drainage design, and permit coordination for the roadway design group.
"When we do bridge design we also do scour studies to ensure that the water won't scour out and erode the foundation. We have to know how deep the scour goes so we can design the right bridge-opening size and foundation protection, and that depends mostly on soil types, water flow rate and the size and type of the watershed," Tan says.
At this point in her career Tan's primary responsibilities are to oversee the work and do quality-control checks. She makes sure the work meets ISO 9001 requirements and works with junior engineers who do the hydrologic, hydraulic and scour analyses. "They don't actually report to me, but I supervise and train them," she says.
Tan has a 1995 BSCE from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She's a professional engineer in Pennsylvania and Georgia, and has a solid background in water resources engineering and roadway design.
After graduating she went to work for Dewberry (Fairfax, VA), doing floodplain analysis as a technical consultant to FEMA. In 1998 she left to join the Fairfax County, VA department of public works as a project manager in the storm-water management division. In 2001 she moved to Michael Baker Corp (Harrisburg, PA), getting into roadway design and layout, drainage, storm-water management and erosion and sediment control.
Her years of experience in transportation and water resources engineering paid off when she joined AECOM in 2006. Since then she has worked on a number of projects that involve both her specialties.
Tan was born in Thailand and came to the U.S. to live with her aunt and uncle in California when she was twelve. In high school she worked for an architectural and engineering firm owned by a family friend. Then she signed up for a co-op program and worked for MPR & Associates (Alexandria, VA). The firm provides consulting services to nuclear power plants, and "I maintained their database and performed minor structural calculations," she says.
One of Tan's major challenges today is time management. Her husband is the pastor of a church, and she is deeply involved in the work of the church. The couple has two sons, seven and ten years old.
"When I got married it was hard to be in the workforce and yet spend enough time with my family," she says. "But I learned to be more focused at work and get things done quickly so I don't have to stay late. I use my time very efficiently and distribute work within the team, and I establish realistic timelines. It's all about planning ahead," she says.
She likes working at AECOM. "The company has good employee-focused values, and we get recognition for what we do. I work with a group of people who have the same core values and are striving for excellence just as I am. I take a lot of satisfaction in delivering good work to our clients."
Execs discuss diversity at AECOM
Gregory Sauter, corporate SVP, says diversity makes AECOM a better company. "It's a common thread throughout our thinking for a number of reasons.
"First, we're focused on innovation. Diversity gives us a much better mix of ideas, thinking and perspectives, so that's a driver for us. Second, we also need to reflect the clients we serve: to understand their perspectives and sensitivities so we can serve them best."
One way the firm attracts diverse talent is through internships, Sauter notes. "We believe internships are great for everyone. We get the pick of the best and the brightest, and it gives students an opportunity to see who we are and what we offer. They get exposed to our culture and see if it works for them, and usually it does, as many of our interns become employees."
Hiring a diverse workforce is one thing, but maintaining it and retaining valuable employees requires extra effort. Teuila Hanson, VP of diversity and inclusion, notes that "With good hiring practices as a part of your culture you can achieve diversity fairly easily. But it's inclusion that sets a high-performing organization apart from others, and that doesn't happen by accident.
"Creating an inclusive organization with different people, backgrounds, ages and career paths is a challenge and we put great effort into it. If an organization is truly inclusive, where managers actively practice inclusion and leaders are inclusive thinkers, people can reach their maximum career potential. That's what we strive for at AECOM."
Megan Benetatos works at the Chicago Transit Authority
Megan Benetatos works in transportation engineering as a structural engineer III with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA, Chicago, IL). The CTA is the nation's second largest public transportation system, covering the city itself and forty surrounding suburbs with both rail and bus operations.
Benetatos is in the engineering section of the infrastructure division, which handles stations, tracks, structures, power and signal design. Her group also does design reviews for construction and maintenance, and her division is currently supporting all three phases of a project for rail power and way, and facilities for bus operations.
"We do the inspection, design and construction phases of a project," Benetatos explains. "We usually have about twenty projects going. Some are minor maintenance projects that are done in a couple of weeks or a month. Others may take several years to complete."
Benetatos is often the design lead for in-house construction projects with the team reporting to her. On other projects she may work as a team member. If a job done by an outside consultant is a structural-dominant project she may be the design lead: "Then I do the review and give them direction and set the scope of the work," she says.
Benetatos has a 2002 BSCE and a 2005 MS in structural engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology. From 2001 to 2004 she worked for Collins Engineers (Chicago, IL), a private consulting firm. "They do bridge design and underwater bridge inspection," she notes. "I'm a certified scuba diver and I find that interesting work."
In 2005 Benetatos became a resident engineer and ran construction sites for V3 Companies (Woodridge, IL). In 2007 she moved to CTA, favoring a job where she didn't have to travel all the time.
Growing up, Benetatos would work on projects at home with her father, who was in construction. "I designed and made custom furniture when I was in high school, and I still do. I also do sewing projects like my mother."
Although she never has any difficulties as a woman working for the CTA, she admits that her former work on construction sites as a resident engineer was a challenge. "I would be running a construction site where the construction engineer and superintendent were my father's age. I was constantly asked how old I was. Respect was never granted automatically; I had to earn it. It was definitely both age and gender related. But I don't see that here," she says.
The CTA has benefited from the Obama administration stimulus package, receiving a total of $241 million in stimulus funds. Money was allotted for an upgrade to the tracks, and "I was support for that," Benetatos says. "We replaced the wooden ties on the Blue Line subway with concrete ties and we are also reconstructing the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line station entrance and making it accessible."
She loves being part of projects at the CTA, and says it's pretty nice to see her work in use. "I like taking my two-year-old son on the train. Of course he doesn't understand my role yet, but he enjoys the ride!"
At Skanska, Nancy Nguyen works on civil projects in California
Nancy Nguyen is an engineer with Skanska USA (New York, NY), an international construction company. Her work is on the West Coast, in California, where most of the civil projects are in the transportation area. There's highway construction in the Inland Empire, freeway and highway extension projects in San Diego and light rail projects in Los Angeles County, where Nguyen is working.
Her current project is involved with bidding for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Phase 2A of the light rail that runs through six cities from Pasadena to Azusa. "I'm in construction staging, involving traffic control. I'm doing the theoretical work now, and if we get the job I will be coordinating between the designers and the construction crew out in the field. If something isn't working out I go back to the design team and ask for adjustments."
Nguyen received a BSCE from the University of California Polytechnic in 2007. She started out working for Skanska, then joined the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. Last year she returned to Skanska. "I wanted to try the other side of the table, the government side, but I came back because I was 'Skanska' at heart. I love working for them."
Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and came to California with her mother and sister when she was fifteen. She was always interested in architecture but went into construction because it was more practical. "I was good at both structural and transportation engineering in school," she says.
Although there are not too many Asian Americans in construction and not too many women, Nguyen sees herself as just another working engineer. "The most important thing is your ability to do the work. Skanska has a lot of diversity," she says.
She admits that she's had to make adjustments. "They use a different language out in the field. You have to have a different personality in the field; it's a tougher environment."
Nguyen is a huge New York Jets fan, and hopes that someday she will be able to watch football at the Meadowlands arena, a major Skanska project in New Jersey.
Diversity at Skanska
Richard Cavallaro is president of Skanska USA Civil. "We believe that creating a diverse team increases innovative thinking and strengthens both customer and community engagement," he says. "Our main focus is building in urban areas, and in order to be successful in those areas we need to look like our customers and the communities in which we work. Companies that do not make diversity a focus will be left behind."
Dr Annie Kammerer works in seismology at the U.S. NRC
Annie Kammerer, PhD is a senior seismologist and earthquake engineer with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC, Washington, DC). "I coordinate the seismic research program and help with technical questions that the NRC needs to have answered in order to regulate the nuclear facilities," she explains.
"All our decisions have a technical basis, and I do research to provide the answers we need and then help translate what we learn into regulatory policy." She notes that the NRC must assess the seismic risk and hazard for each nuclear facility, which involves evaluating the impact of an earthquake on the foundation of a facility and determining how the structures and soil will interact during a quake.
"I also provide technical support to our regulatory offices, particularly for the Diablo Canyon facility. A new fault has been identified less than a kilometer from Diablo Canyon, and I'm investigating the risk of shaking and secondary effects."
Kammerer has a 1996 BSCE, a 1998 MS in geotechnical engineering and a 2002 PhD in geotechnical earthquake engineering, all from the University of California-Berkeley. She's a licensed PE in the state of California and a member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Seismological Society of America, the Consortium of Organizations of Strong Motion Observation Systems, the American Geophysical Union and the Geo-Engineering Earthquake Reconnaissance Association.
She has received many awards, including several from the NRC, and held National Science Foundation research fellowships between 1997 and 2000. Before joining the NRC in 2006 Kammerer was a lecturer at Berkeley and a senior geotechnical engineer for Ove Arup & Partners International. She gives lectures and has many publications to her credit.
Her tenure at the NRC began when she was recruited during a conference commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the 1907 San Francisco earthquake. "I met NRC staff there, and they already knew who I was. It was a really natural pairing. I've been very lucky in my career, and I've often been in the right place at the right time," she says.
Until recently earthquake engineering was a very uncommon career for women; she recalls that she was one of very few women present at a recent large conference in Japan. But there has been great progress. "When I left Berkeley only seventeen percent of the students in civil engineering were women, but now when I go there to lecture nearly half are women," she says.
Today Kammerer's biggest challenges have to do with workload. Because of the current focus on carbon-neutral energy, licenses are being reviewed for new plants for the first time in decades. "It's a good challenge, but maintaining a work/life balance is difficult," she says.
She takes great satisfaction in her work. "I feel that I'm enhancing safety in general. You start with nuclear facilities and it trickles down into all sorts of engineering and has a huge impact worldwide. Many other countries follow NRC guidelines, so I'm always aware that when I write I'm doing it for a global audience," she says.
The goal is to write so the public can understand. "I write up the scientific results that are the basis for policy which is set by the commissioners. I try to give them a sound technical basis for that policy. And I try to write not just for our own scientists, but for non-English speakers around the world and the heads of citizen groups like Mothers for Peace," she says.
Kara Mitchell: contract construction manager with the TVA
Kara Mitchell is a contract construction manager with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA, Knoxville, TN). She's well prepared, with a 2000 BSCE from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a 2008 MBA from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and her PE certification.
The TVA focuses on power generation and transmission and has responsibility for the huge Tennessee Valley river system, including its environment and economic development. Mitchell is involved in construction on the transmission side; she manages substation, transmission line and telecom contract construction activities.
"After the design is complete we get the drawing and the contract and we go over them with the construction partners," she explains. "I plan meetings, then go on-site and make sure everything is going along properly and is on time and on budget. I manage the contracts and approve the invoices."
She has only one direct report, a field tech who can be on-site to address safety and quality concerns when she can't, but she's out in the field at least one day a week.
For her first eight years with the TVA Mitchell worked on the hydro side. In 2009 she transferred to power supply ops. She was looking for something different when she made the move.
"It was interesting to work on existing hydro structures," she reflects. "Some of the oldest steel was circa 1911. I had to research it, and that was fascinating, but modifying and retrofitting was a challenge.
"In fact, even the electric substations can be a challenge. Some are from the 1940s, and you have to research the materials used because you could have problems if the older steel members can't support the new additions," she says.
Mitchell started out wanting to work in environmental engineering, but after an internship as an EnvE she changed her mind. "I decided I enjoyed my structure and soil classes more. I like construction and the more I got into structures, the better I liked it," she says.
She started with the TVA in 2000, finding the job through the career center at school. She's worked in a number of areas including security assessment and design, and before her current job she was a developmental project manager, working with projects ranging from around $70,000 to a hefty $9 million.
In 2003 Mitchell was honored as one of ASCE's "new faces of engineering." In 2005 she received the TVA Salute to Excellence team performance award.
Opportunity and diversity at the TVA
Susan M. Stout, senior manager of talent sourcing and support services at the TVA, explains that a variety of CE jobs are available at the authority, on projects from hydroelectric dams to power system sites. In addition to power generation and transmission, the TVA also maintains its original responsibility for the environment and the economic growth of the area. "We're very much about the environment here," Stout declares.
She adds that the TVA is hiring, looking for techies with a BSCE and utility experience that includes an understanding of the power plant environment plus structural and design work. The greatest current demand is for EEs, however.
Diversity "plays a significant role here," Stout says. "We're always focused on hiring diversity and we work with NSBE, SWE and SHPE. We attend diverse job fairs and partner with HBCUs throughout our region as well as state schools and colleges with strong engineering programs."
The TVA has an engineering progression program with a clear path to senior engineer. "There is training they have to complete, tuition assistance, and internal postings that allow for movement to different business units," Stout says.
Michael Fusi: rotation at Philadelphia Gas Works
Michael Fusi is currently an engineer in the pressure force department at Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW, Philadelphia, PA), which supplies liquefied natural gas to consumers in the Philadelphia area.
"We regulate the pressure within the pipes to ensure that it is adequate, depending on the weather and the demand," Fusi explains. "We don't want to put out too much pressure, which can lead to leaks. And sometimes there are repairs on a section and we have to reduce the pressure."
If there's a leak Fusi is responsible for looking at the valves, determining the number of customers affected and delineating the area that needs to be shut down so the repair can be made. "We have to determine which valves to shut down to minimize the inconvenience to our customers," he explains.
Fusi has a 2008 BS in civil and construction engineering from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA). He grew up in Bafut, Cameroon, in Central Africa. He is the seventh of nine children, and graduated from the Government Technical Teacher's College in Kumba, Cameroon in 1987.
In 2000 he moved his family to the U.S., working in construction while attending Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) part time.
It was a long and difficult path. "I would rush from my job to school and then back home, where I would be busy doing homework," he says. His wife works in nursing and they have two daughters and a son.
Today Fusi is facing a different set of challenges as a new engineer in PGW's rotation program. "I just got to the pressure department," he says. "I was in the meter department before. I'll move every year during the program."
The rotations and new work to learn are challenging, but he's comfortable with the challenges. "The benefits are good and the people I work with are very nice," he says. And CE Fusi finally has time to enjoy his family.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES & AGENCIES EMPLOYING CIVIL ENGINEERS
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|AECOM (Los Angeles, CA)
|Professional, technical, management and
|American Electric Power (Columbus, OH)
|Electricity generation, transmission and
|Bechtel (San Francisco, CA)
|Engineering, construction and project
|Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago, IL)
|HNTB Companies (Kansas City, MO)
|Infrastructure work for federal, state, municipal, military and private clients
|NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps
(Silver Spring, MD) www.noaacorps.noaa.gov
|Technical and operational expertise and
leadership to optimize NOAA's missions
|Northeast Utilities (Hartford, CT)
|Operates New England's largest gas and electric utility system
|Philadelphia Gas Works
|Liquefied natural gas
|Skanska USA (New York, NY)
|Transportation and construction
|Southern Company (Atlanta, GA)
|Energy generation, transmission and
distribution in the Southeast
|Tennessee Valley Authority
|Power generation and transmission,
environment and economic development
|United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (Washington, DC)
|Regulation of the U.S. nuclear industry
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