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A Building Force
Woman engineers are a building force in civil/structural/construction engineering.
It’s not just a man’s world, report female civil/structural engineers.
Indeed, whether in the office or out in the field, women are making strides in the once male-dominated arena of civil, structural and construction engineering as an increasing number of infrastructure projects and rising demand for new builds are boosting opportunity for engineers entering this sector.
Just ask the following female engineers and the companies for which they work.
Walton Analyzes Ship Structures at Ingalls Shipbuilding to Verify U.S. Navy Specs
As a structural engineer III, Cheryl Walton enjoyed working in the same department at Ingalls Shipbuilding as her dad before his retirement. In fact, he’s been a great influence on her career and life.
“Our many professional conversations shaped my life path and the reason I chose civil engineering,” she states.
With a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, Walton focused on the structural side, gaining work experience at other companies before joining Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of Newport News, VA-headquartered Huntington Ingalls Industries - the largest supplier of U.S. Navy surface combatants - three years ago.
“Coincidently, before I came on board, Ingalls purchased one of the largest buildings I helped design,” she relates.
She also, prior to joining 11,500-employee Ingalls Shipbuilding, had daily contact with Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, an opportunity that provided hands-on knowledge of how ships’ parts go together.
“Structural engineering is vital for the future of national and economic security,” says Walton who, with fellow engineers, design ship structures to ensure that those defending our country serve on ships that perform as expected when put in harm’s way.
“We design ships to neutralize threats at sea that could affect the security of our nation or global trade opportunities.”
Involved in Ingalls’ “Shipyard of the Future” initiative, a process intended to streamline ship management, Walton works to make ships more affordable. “I consider all costs and engineering aspects to ensure that the final products present the most balanced solution for the customer,” she explains.
Predicting a bright future for civil engineering, Walton remarks: “Our world continues to modernize, and with that comes an ever-increasing need for engineers with passion and the ability to develop solutions to new and complex problems. The fact that civil engineering covers a wide array of fields puts this discipline in demand. It offers flexibility and the opportunity to create something that’s never been done before.”
Most favorite for Walton is seeing her designs brought to life. “While it’s easy to forget the ship I’m designing will, when completed, be a multiple hundred foot-long floating city, it all comes into perspective when I get to step on the ship and say, ‘I designed that,’” she says.
She also feels pride when recognizing the advancements women have made in engineering.
“Today I see more women choosing challenging careers, and hope they feel empowered to shape the future of engineering,” adds Walton.
For more information about Huntington Ingalls Industries and Ingalls Shipbuilding, go to huntingtoningalls.com/careers, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
Schoenenberger Seeks Candidates with Hunger to Learn at the Air Force Personnel Center
With a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, and a recently completed master’s degree from Air Command & Staff College, Lara Schoenenberger, PE serves as the chief of the civil engineering (CE) career field team at the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) in San Antonio, TX.
A civilian, Schoenenberger has been with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for nine years, and mentions that there are currently more than 14,000 civil engineers and infrastructure development positions in the Air Force across 147 worldwide locations.
At AFPC, which is responsible for hiring all employees in the Air Force Civilian Service (AFCS), Schoenenberger is tasked with helping to support and identify the hiring needs of each respective functional community within the Air Force.
“The civil engineering career field was established to assist in revitalizing the civil engineering squadrons through recruitment and development opportunities,” she explains.
With 11 years’ experience in private industry working for civil engineering and land development firms, it wasn’t surprising that Schoenenberger was, in 2010, chosen by USAF to run the contingency construction program in Afghanistan, a design and construction endeavor to build facilities for U.S. and NATO troops to train and advise new Afghan Army and police forces.
“This was a challenging undertaking as deployed military in Afghanistan worked along U.S construction contractors who took on construction duties while training Afghan labor forces on the latest construction techniques,” she states.
“Our team of 45 engineers and scientists, located on four continents, reviewed all designs and plans - submitted on a 24-hour basis - to assure that the speed of construction would conform with specifics identified by teams of quality engineers co-located at each project site in Afghanistan.”
During her 20 years in the design and construction arena, Schoenenberger collaborated with multiple STEM disciplines on various construction projects. Her knowledge of the challenges faced by private and government industries in finding qualified job candidates, prompted her to assert that “in the U.S. the demand for STEM degrees greatly exceeds U.S. STEM graduation rates.”
Commenting specifically on the importance of civil engineering she explains that “civil engineering squadrons maintain infrastructure and development of new mission facilities at 147 Air Force bases, each supporting a different mission to defend the nation.”
Now as the chief of the CE career field team, Schoenenberger supports Air Force strategic initiatives, utilizing the tools and platforms of AFPC, and develops executable plans with the potential to impact each civilian supporting civil engineering squadrons.
“Every development plan must meet the needs of the STEM series that assist the squadrons while working to recruit new talent to diversify the breadth of knowledge within the civil engineering squadrons,” she states.
Schoenenberger most enjoys being involved in programs that impact many individuals.
“Helping each person define and meet their goals is satisfying. It’s also rewarding to witness civil engineering civilians completing their next level of education, training and/or leadership development, and being selected for promotion or high-visibility assignments,” she points out.
For more information about the Air Force Personnel Center, the Air Force Civilian Service (AFCS) and Air Force civilian careers, go to afciviliancareers.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
AECOM’s Niazi Builds Her Structural Engineering Experience with Large & Small Projects
With a civil engineering degree from Iran, Mahnaz Niazi and her family moved to Canada 23 years ago. With 25 years of structural engineering experience, she’s currently working on her California professional engineer (PE) license.
Today she’s a senior structural engineer and a LEED green associate at Los Angeles, CA-headquartered AECOM - a global network of design, engineering, construction, and management professionals partnering with clients to imagine and deliver a better world.
“Mathematics was always a strong skill and the reason I chose civil engineering,” states Niazi, adding that structural engineering is not about math, but rather a combination of practical thinking, finding problems and solving them. It’s a critical area of practice that affects the safety and durability of buildings and structures, and ensures materials and resources are used effectively and address environmental concerns.
“Structural engineers save lives by designing buildings and structures that can withstand natural disasters fueled by intense climate-change factors that manifest as powerful hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and floods,” she states.
Niazi’s primary duties include scheduling, prioritizing, and coordinating numerous structural designs and reviewing tasks for clients and projects. Contrary to the stereotypical image of a structural engineer being a lone person running calculations, her position involves a large, experienced team to build a complex project. Success depends on being a team player in addition to identifying ways to retrofit many types of existing infrastructures to meet the needs of urban residents.
Niazi enjoys being able to grow and expand in her job by acquiring new skills, knowledge and insights into the industry.
“Working for AECOM for the past nine years has allowed me to work on multidisciplinary projects, and take advantage of networking opportunities and exposure to different areas of expertise,” she states. “I’m constantly learning, and that motivates me each day.”
For more information about AECOM, visit aecom.com/careers, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Education & Professional Experience Are the Building Blocks of Hejl’s Career at HNTB
As a 4,800-person, employee-owned infrastructure firm serving public and private owners and contractors, Kansas City, MO-headquartered HNTB Corporation delivers a full range of infrastructure-related services.
And for delivering competence, guidance and direction, Catherine Hejl, PE, HNTB group director for construction, engineering, and inspection (CEI) services for South and Central Texas, provides her expertise every day.
With a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, Hejl came to HNTB three and a half years ago with an impressive professional road construction employment record.
“I joined HNTB to oversee construction, engineering and inspection services,” explains Hejl, who knows the importance of beginning-to-end processes, expectations and planning for construction projects.
She and her team perform tasks essential for the safety, quality and timely completion of some of the most traveled roads in Texas.
“The success of these projects, and the safety of those who use them, is dependent upon ensuring that roadways are built in accordance with all plans and specifications,” she notes. “Equally important is construction-site safety for workers.”
Regarding current work on I-35, a road sorely in need of accident reduction, Hejl’s team provides CEI services that range from construction kick-off meetings to construction and final records completion.
On the project site, she communicates with contractors to ensure safety and quality - especially essential for projects, like I-35, that involve work at night.
According to Hejl, the skills needed for construction engineering and management include the ability to make quality and timely decisions based on education and experience. She urges engineering graduates to get involved early and often.
“Volunteering for challenging work assignments is a terrific way to grow and develop expertise,” she maintains, reflecting on the time she led 150 men to clear coastal hurricane damage in preparation for emergency services.
“Although feeling a bit timid initially, once the emergency was over, and the work completed, I came away with more confidence,” she remarks.
Hejl and her team enjoy sitting across from various contractor partners and solving problems at weekly progress meetings.
“The agency is charged with providing a quality and safe system, with my team serving as the eyes and ears in the field to ensure that goals are realized,” she states, adding that “increased statewide funding for roadway infrastructure makes for a bright civil, construction and inspection engineering future.”
For further information about HNTB, visit hntb.com/careers, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Stantec’s Borkowski Credits Volunteering with Fortifying the Foundation of Her Engineering Work
With a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering and a Master of Science in environmental engineering, Vanessa Borkowski, PE joined 22,000-employee Stantec - which is globally headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with more than 400 locations worldwide including those in the U.S. - four years ago with four additional years of experience under her belt.
“My involvement with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Habitat for Humanity (H4H) and Engineers without Borders (EWB) fulfilled my call to serve and develop leadership skills,” says Borkowski, who’s a senior civil engineer.
Moving into leadership positions, Borkowski was named president and team leader of ASCE and H4H, respectively, for both organizations’ Phoenix, AZ chapters. She increased her involvement with EWB after graduation, completing three trips to the Dominion Republic to assess, implement and monitor water system improvements for a small community.
“ASCE’s leadership opportunities exposed me to the importance of communication, delegation, and networking, and with H4H I gained hands-on construction experience. With EWB my technical, construction, and creative skill sets collided when the professional chapter took on a five-year commitment with a small community to improve its water infrastructure. Not only did we communicate in Spanish - not my primary language - but I also learned the art of effective time management - a benefit I call upon today.”
Borkowski reflects on what put her on this career path. She recalls how attending Take Your Child to Work Day with her mom when she was younger prompted her interest in engineering.
“My mom worked with engineers in her management position, and seeing engineers on the job was an eye-opener,” she remembers, who also credits her father for sparking her interest in engineering.
“My electrical technician dad also involved me in home projects. From the beginning I was encouraged to major in civil engineering, a decision that never wavered,” she explains.
For Borkowski, the beauty of engineering is that each discipline has a broad selection of opportunities. For instance, civil engineers can focus on structure, roadways, geotechnical infrastructure and much more.
“My choice was water because it’s a fundamental resource for survival. By designing water and wastewater infrastructure, I find it gratifying my work product helps humans survive and protects public health,” she shares.
Borkowski finds public support and funding to be paramount to the future of civil engineering, especially considering that ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card indicates American infrastructure is aging and requires attention. Compounding this sense of urgency is climate change, notes Borkowski, which results in more intense storms and less reliable water resources.
“Ensuring longevity and resiliency for civil infrastructure improvements demands communicating how our engineered solutions benefit the public,” she points out, adding that the future of civil engineering will require being savvier with resources and exercising more creativity to implement these solutions.
Despite any challenges, though, Borkowski enjoys seeing a design come to life. “It’s one thing to see a design on paper, or a prototype on display, but it’s entirely different to see the physical manifestation of your ideas and planning,” she states.
“I enjoy learning and interacting with other civil engineers - a bright, curious and passionate bunch. As stewards of the environment, we serve the public because we care,” concludes this incoming chair of the Water Environment Federation’s students and young professionals committee.
For more information about Stantec, go to stantec.com/careers, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
An Open Mindset Reveals Hidden Opportunities for McDermott International’s Rraci
Moving to the U.S. at age 23, Zana Rraci left Kosovo behind. “Once here, I completed my education and became a full-time working mother, a role that prepared me to take on many tasks and be mindful of where each decision would take me,” she shares.
During her early career, Rraci, who is fluent in the Albanian, Serbo-Croatian language, worked as a special assistant and interpreter for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. Next she became a piping drafter/designer performing above- and underground pipe drafting and design support to multibillion-dollar projects throughout the world.
Today, with 16 years of service and experience in drafting, design, pipe testing, and construction technical services coordination, she’s a construction technical services specialist at Houston, TX-headquartered McDermott International, a fully integrated provider of technology, engineering, and construction solutions to the energy industry.
As a female in a male-dominated field, Rraci finds personal satisfaction in demonstrating that women can pursue any occupation that interests them. She also, by virtue of this position, believes that her behavior must be above reproach.
“I always work hard, treat others fairly and value my relationships with others,” she notes.
As McDermott’s permitting coordinator for all construction for North, Central and South America (NCSA), she additionally serves as a staffing coordinator for construction personnel tasked with ensuring coordination for future positions for employees de-mobilizing from their current positions at the job site.
The skills she cites as most necessary are organization, working well with others, flexibility and patience. “It’s also important to be respectful of diverse cultures and backgrounds,” she states.
To gain and hone these skills, she recommends being open to the different possibilities this career can offer. “Rarely does life go as planned. What can seem like an obstacle may lead to a peak you never knew existed,” she remarks.
Meeting interesting people from around the world, and learning new techniques and tools make Rraci’s job enjoyable.
“Working in an international company allows me to know different cultures - a benefit to me as a person, a woman and a mother,” says Rraci, who hopes to mentor, share her field experiences as a working mom and become a voice of change for the future of women in construction.
For more information about McDermott, go to mcdermott.com/careers, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
Sexton’s Engineering Work at Skanska Directly Impacts the Welfare of Communities
With a Bachelor of Science in construction management, Melissa Sexton has worked in the field of construction since 2009. Today she’s a senior project engineer at New York, NY-headquartered Skanska - one of the world’s largest and leading U.S. commercial development and construction groups with global headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden.
She joined the company a year and a half ago. “Interning best prepared me for my current position,” she remarks.
“Working on construction projects in different departments allowed me to determine where my skills might best be applied, and [it] presented an opportunity for me to experience different types of management styles.”
Sexton’s interest in construction was piqued while watching her dad work on building a daycare center. “That’s when I recognized construction as the field for me,” she states.
“I saw first-hand how construction projects directly impact communities, whether it be new schools, healthcare facilities or other vital structures.”
Sexton recognizes the need for more qualified workers in this arena. However, as with any field in need of more participants, fulfilling needed personnel must not adversely impact the hiring of individuals able to do the best job. She also mentions that in order to keep pace with the demands of clients, technology will change the construction arena.
Sexton’s responsibilities include a variety of charges including building information modeling (BIM) coordination, cost and document management, and subcontracting and insurance procurement of project materials, and project closeouts. The skills she finds most important, along with being personable, accountable, and relational, is the need for people with different skills and backgrounds.
“Construction projects consist of large teams of diverse individuals. Managing a project requires helping everyone be successful,” she states.
Her advice: “Don’t be afraid of what you do not know. That’s why teams of companies are brought together to build a project. Ask questions, learn something new each day, and pay attention to things that go well and areas that fall short. We learn from failing, so don’t be afraid to fail.”
Based in Skanska’s Cincinnati, OH office, Sexton enjoys working with project teams as well as seeing a project being constructed.
“Our team is constantly solving problems. We work through issues that could hold up progress, and use our individual skills and talents to tackle difficulties,” she says. “It’s extremely rewarding to walk through a building that you and your team spent countless hours working on.”
For more information about Skanska, visit usa.skanska.com/who-we-are/careers, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram.
Sought-After Civil Engineers
Civil engineers are responsible for the world’s most inspiring buildings, bridges and roads, as well as some of the less thrilling - yet no less structurally sound - buildings, bridges and roads. Some of these incredible structures include the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham, England, all of which wouldn’t be possible without talented civil engineers.
So it’s no wonder that civil engineers rank second on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Engineering Jobs list, 16th on its Best STEM Jobs list and 36th on the 100 Best Jobs list.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and U.S. News & World Report
How Can a Young Civil Engineer Overcome the Fear of Networking?
1. Start Building Deeper Relationships with People You Already Know: Focus on building deeper relationships with other civil engineering professionals in your firm. Go to events you know your colleagues are attending and spend time getting to know them better. Doing this will help you to build your conversational skills and will eventually make it easier to carry on conversations with people you haven’t met before.
2. Network Online Using LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a great place to build your networking skills because it feels safer to type a message to someone than to stride right up and introduce yourself. And while I don’t believe that hiding behind the computer is a good long-term strategy, it can certainly be a more comfortable place to start.
3. Take Note of What’s Working for You: Get a sense of what’s working for you - and also what isn’t - when it comes to networking. Anytime you want to improve a skill set, you should try to pay attention to patterns that have either helped or hurt your efforts.
4. Join a Public-Speaking Group: When it comes to effective networking, confidence says it all. And one way to build confidence is honing your public-speaking skills. The more confidence you possess, the easier it will be to go out there and build relationships.
5. Network as Often as Possible: You have to get out there and push yourself beyond your comfort zone to become better at it and for it to become easier.
Source: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) website's Ask Anthony blog
Employment Outlook for Civil Engineers
Percent Change in Employment, Projected 2018-28
Civil Engineers 6%
Total, All Occupations 5%
Note: All occupations include all occupations in the U.S. economy.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program
Sidebar 4 (132 words): https://news.asce.org/successful-civil-engineers-do-this-when-it-comes-to-professional-associations/
10 Benefits a Leadership Role in a Professional Association Can Provide
1. Work on and improve your management skills in some capacity.
2. Improve your communication skills by collaborating with other volunteers.
3. Become more known in your industry and community by being more visible.
4. Build a network of other motivated professionals who are also volunteering.
5. Make friends and connections.
6. Gain confidence by speaking in front of groups of people.
7. Show your company that you’re a leader.
8. Drive positive change and growth in your field via your volunteer work.
9. Improve your productivity skills, because you’ll have to, in order to fit this work in.
10. Open yourself up to an unlimited amount of career opportunities.
Source: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) website's Ask Anthony blog
Civil Engineers See Pay Increase
The 2019 ASCE Civil Engineering Salary Report shows that civil engineers’ base salaries rose by a median of 6.2% between 2017 and 2018 - significantly higher than the national average. The report also states that civil engineers made a median pre-tax annual salary of $109,000 in 2018. This follows the steady trend during the past few years: base salaries have risen between 4% and 6% per year from 2016 to 2019.
The survey further finds increased earning potential is directly linked to attainment of advanced degrees and licensure, including:
• Those with bachelor’s degrees have a median salary of $97,000, consistent with 2018.
• Those with master’s degrees have a median salary of $110,092, up from $109,000 in 2018.
• Those with doctoral degrees have a median salary of $116,500, up from $113,000 in 2018.
• Those with a PE license earned 20% more than their peers who practice without any license or certification.
Source: 2019 ASCE Civil Engineering Salary Report
Sidebar 6 (72 words): https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/civil-engineers.htm#tab-5
Civil Engineer Sector Pay
The median annual wage for all civil engineers is $86,640 while the median annual wages for civil engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
Federal Government, Excluding Postal Service $95,380
Local Government, Excluding Education & Hospitals $91,750
Engineering Services $87,080
State Government, Excluding Education & Hospitals $82,710
Non-Residential Building Construction $75,670
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook, civil engineers
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