It's a rewarding field that is challenging and stimulating. You get to truly feel as though you are making a difference in the world we live in and often see the results of your work."
What types of work have you performed? What projects have you worked on?
I began my career working on copper mining projects (permitting leachate collection systems) and evaporation ponds for power plants in Arizona, including the Palo Verde nuclear power plant outside of Phoenix, AZ. Since the evaporation ponds are much like dams, this led me into the dam safety sector when I took a job at RIZZO, and I have primarily remained in this sector since. I worked on several dam rehabilitation projects in New York State, regulated by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
I did work on one small project involving civil site design/drainage at RIZZO. When moving on to GZA and Willmer, I took a brief hiatus from dam safety and focused on traditional geotechnical engineering at GZA and Willmer, including some pavement evaluation work at Willmer. At FERC, I have been the project engineer for some large projects in our portfolio in Texas and Oklahoma; my job requires reviewing design documents, analyses, and instrumentation data and performing dam safety/construction inspections.
My engineering work (primarily dam safety and geotechnical engineering has included performing calculations to estimate the discharge reduction of a copper-containing leachate seeping through a copper mining stockpile in an open pit by lining flat hillsides and blasted channels with geomembrane, which was required to obtain required permits; performing gravity method and embankment slope stability analyses; designing post-tensioned anchors to improve sliding stability of gravity structures; designing graded filters for embankment dams; calculations to ensure adequate support for deeply-buried HDPE and ductile-iron pipes without concrete encasement; oversight of borings in soil and rock and preparing geotechnical reports recommending foundations for bridges,a water treatment plant, schools, hotels, a nuclear power plant, 1-14 story buildings, subway stations, and retaining walls; observing shallow foundation construction and micropiles/"mini-caissons" installation for many different projects; reviewing structural analyses for spillway gates; reviewing and periodically inspecting grouting programs to stabilize sinkholes around a temporary coffercell used for excavation support.
Some of the more interesting projects I have worked on include; observing micropile installation for renovation of the Floyd Bennett Field airport hangar in Brooklyn; observing micropile installation for a generator pad and powerhouse on Ellis Island after Hurricane Sandy; observing core holes for a nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates; taking inclinometer readings to monitor a failed stream bank and assisting with field supervision of constructing a large mass concrete wall to repair the failed stream bank on Minisceongo Creek and repair/protect natural gas/electric pipelines supplying the Bowline Power Plant near West Haverstraw, NY; and assisting with regulating construction of new hydropower facilities at Lake Livingston Dam near Livingston, TX.
What have been some favorite aspects of your work?
I really enjoy civil engineering and I think it has a somewhat unique reward, in that when a project is completed, you can often see the results (a building, bridge, or dam constructed; a pipeline installed; or a slope stabilized). It's also good in that it's well-regulated in many areas, so engineers are respected and their work is valued.
I specifically enjoyed stumbling into the field of dam safety because it incorporates many different fields in civil engineering (hydrology, hydraulics, geotechnical, structural) and has some unique applications.
In dam safety, I've gotten to do everything from estimate the tailwater elevation downstream of a dam; carry out geotechnical explorations to evaluate embankment slope stability; design graded filters for an embankment dam; design the structural supports for temporary flash boards to retain water on a dam crest; perform the structural design of a concrete cap on a masonry dam; inspect small and large embankment dams and levees; and install, read, and evaluate various types of instrumentation to monitor the dam performance. I enjoy that most of the jobs I've had allow for both office and field work, allowing you to practically apply the engineering principles you learn in the field and observe the construction of the project you designed.
What was one of your most satisfying days as an engineer?
Recently I was performing a dam safety inspection and observed a soil deposit inside a service outlet conduit, which could be a sign of internal erosion with the embankment dam (a potential failure mode). I am currently working with our regulated entity and the dam owner to evaluate the discovery and develop potential remediation options.
Was it worth it? What has your engineering background made possible for you? What value has it added to your overall life?
I absolutely feel like engineering is worth it. It's a rewarding field that is challenging and stimulating. You get to truly feel as though you are making a difference in the world we live in and often see the results of your work. As a result of staying in the engineering field, I've gotten to see many interesting places in this country and the world - sometimes smaller, more rural parts that go unseen by many other people in this country. I think that helps shape my worldview in ways others don't get the opportunity to see if they remain in large, urban areas for most of their adult life.
What would you say to the freshmen currently sitting in your shoes?
It's a 4 or 5-year grind and often involves subject matter that you may never use again in your professional career after you pass the FE/EIT exam (if you take it). But the biggest thing I would reiterate is you're learning how to learn - in the long run it's how you learn the subject matter that's important, not necessarily the subject matter itself. So don't stress out too much over an individual grade on a homework assignment, or test, or class.
All the work is important, but it's not the end of the world. While really good grades will open doors initially when you look for your first job, soon afterward the experience you gain will dictate your future opportunities. The person who gets the best grades certainly can but doesn't always translate to the best practicing engineer because calculating answers becomes only one part of engineering in the field. I think the skill of reading to understand and retain for use in design/calculations is the most important skill you learn in your undergraduate career. Of course there are many important technical skills that you will use if you stay in the engineering field, but so often what you end up using is empirically derived and has limitations on it's use that many practicing engineers don't understand.
Learning how a particular formula is applied is equally important. You can't just figure out how to find the right formula in the textbook section you covered so you can calculate the answer to your homework problem. You have to understand how it's applied in practice so you know how to apply it when presented a new situation. That's the big benefit of Small Groups. You also have to understand how a formula is derived for the same reason. I can remember thinking deriving formulas is a waste of time, someone has already done it! But I've grown to realize that while you might not need to memorize or understand every step, you have to understand the basic derivation process so you know how to correctly apply the formula.