Bechtel's Colleen Layman manages water treatment in the power group
Her team handles design, engineering, startup and operational support of water and wastewater treatment systems for power projects worldwide
'In my senior year in high school my math teacher told me I should be an engineer," says Colleen Layman. Savvy prediction! Today, as a licensed professional engineer (PE), Layman is manager of water treatment systems for the power group of Bechtel Corp (San Francisco, CA).
Bechtel is a global engineering, construction and project management company working in energy, transportation, communications, mining, oil and gas and government services. Layman is based in Frederick, MD; from there her team manages projects in many parts of the world including the U.S., Russia, Australia and Africa.
"I manage a small group of engineers," she says. "We are part of the mechanical engineering staff, a team of experts who support the chief engineer and all the projects within Bechtel. We work primarily within Bechtel's Power global business unit, but support other business units as needed."
Layman's team is responsible for conceptual design, process engineering, startup and operational support of water and wastewater treatment systems and steam/water chemistry issues for Bechtel's power projects worldwide.
In the boardroom, on the site
Layman says she is equally comfortable in the boardroom and on construction sites. "You have to run the gamut these days to be a successful engineer," she declares. "It's not just sitting behind a computer doing calculations; it's going out and selling yourself as a whole package. If you want people to know your technical expertise, you have to be well-written and well-spoken."
One recent project involved water management. "We recognize that water is becoming a scarce commodity in many parts of the world," she explains. "Over the years regulations have become tighter and tighter in terms of how much water you're allowed to use, how much you are permitted to discharge back into a body of water like a river and what the quality of the discharge needs to be."
A multinational, green approach
"Bechtel takes a green approach. We want to reduce the water footprint of all our projects. How much water are we using during construction? How can we minimize that?"
A recent project was in Russia: a combined-cycle power plant using a gas turbine to provide heat and steam. Layman did the design work to take water into the plant, treat it, and then treat all wastewater exiting the facility.
"We worked on this with a Turkish partner for a Russian client. The Russian team spoke no English and the Turkish team spoke little Russian so we had interpreters from Ukraine in the middle of it all, trying to help us communicate technically. It was interesting for me because almost all the owner's engineers that I worked with on the project were women."
At Bechtel eight people report to Layman. They work in house and in the field.
"We follow a team approach," she says. "Our team includes seasoned engineering professionals as well as engineers just a few years out of school. We have an open work environment where we talk about what's going on and the challenges we're facing."
Layman grew up near Hazleton, PA. She started at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) but took six years off to "learn the field of power from the ground up" as an operator at Constellation Energy's Panther Creek energy facility in Nesquehoning, PA.
She received her BSME in 1999 from Thomas Edison State College (Trenton, NJ) and completed an MS in water resources and environmental engineering from Villanova University (Villanova, PA) in 2004. While at Villanova she worked full time as a mechanical systems engineer and later a construction/start-up engineer at the Reading, PA offices of Worley-
Parsons, a global provider of energy-related technical, project and operational support services. She joined Bechtel in 2006.
A variety of societies
Layman is a senior life member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE, Chicago, IL) and currently the deputy director of regions for SWE. She's also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME, New York, NY), and U.S. Women in Nuclear (www.winus.org).
"I think it's important for young women to see female engineers in the field so they have role models," she says. "Most of my outreach is through SWE, letting girls and boys know that STEM careers are fun and interesting. Middle school is the place where you either grab them or start to lose them.
"The most interesting reactions we get are from the parents who say, 'Thank you! I never knew this was a possible career for my child.'"
Layman notes that she's interested in business development opportunities. "I'd like to go in that direction but I don't know if it's in the cards. You have to wait until the timing and the opportunity align.
"I've always been very lucky," she says. "Opportunities have always found me at the right times in my career.
"I'm comfortable where I am now but I always keep an eye open to see what other ways there are for me to showcase my skills," she says.
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