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Setting the Foundation
Civil and construction engineers lay the groundwork on which so many industries and citizens rely.
In preparation for their meeting with the president earlier this year, the country’s governors sent an infrastructure wish list of more than 425 projects to the White House. Later, in his address to Congress, President Trump called for a massive program to retrofit, repair and expand interstates, bridges, tunnels and dams.
Analysts calculate the price tag of the president’s plan to be in the neighborhood of $1 trillion. Of course, it remains to be seen just how many federal dollars Congress will end up allocating to states for deepening ports, building rail lines and expanding broadband grids.
Regardless of political haggling, the need for such projects has been well-documented. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the nation’s infrastructure has been barely making a passing grade for several years. The 2017 ASCE Report Card, released in March, gives the entire national infrastructure a GPA of D+, unchanged from the previous report four years ago. And while the president calls for a massive investment, it falls significantly short of the $4.59 trillion estimate ASCE insists will be needed to bring the country’s infrastructure up to a B grade.
What isn’t up for debate is who will be leading the charge. Civil and construction engineers, such as the ones profiled here, have the expertise to make sure investments in infrastructure pay off.
Cardona Digs Where Fugro Is Heading
For most 6-year-olds, a fun vacation includes trips to amusement parks or the beach. But one of the most memorable childhood vacations for Catalina Cardona involved accompanying her father to a worksite.
“When I was six years old, I remember going with him on a vacation trip mixed with my father’s business, which was supervising at a road construction site. [I remember] how excited I was while learning all about construction equipment and processes,” she remembers.
That type of experience might not measure up to conquering roller coasters or seeing an ocean for others kids; however, for Cardona, it was pivotal. Not only was it her introduction to civil engineering and what her father did for a living, but it also proved to be the inspiration for Cardona’s career.
And the fact that her father saw no reason not to bring a young girl to the site only further emphasized the idea that she could pursue a similar professional avenue.
“His career has really inspired my great interest in construction and geotechnical engineering,” she states.
As Cardona pursued her undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering, she discovered she didn’t necessarily want to follow directly in her father’s footsteps. Instead of concentrating on roads and surface projects, she was more interested in what was happening underground and underwater.
“During my time in Mexico [at the National Autonomous University of Mexico], I did research on slope stability of submerged slopes, under earthquake loading conditions, and that’s how I became fascinated with marine geotechnics. Marine geotechnical engineering has been my passion,” she says.
As she refined her own professional goals, Cardona also narrowed the qualities she desired in an employer. That process eliminated some companies while highlighting others, such as Fugro.
“I learned that Fugro was a leader of marine geotechnical engineering with state-of-the-art in situ testing and laboratory equipment. Fugro offered exactly the types of challenges and responsibilities I was looking for and was ideally suited to my skills and experience,” she notes.
Fugro provides geo-intelligence and integrity solutions for major construction and infrastructure endeavors. Cardona joined the organization’s Mexico City office on a temporary basis, but the experience validated her initial estimation of the corporation and what it offered clients and employees. She easily agreed to a permanent position at its U.S. headquarters in Houston, TX. Today Cardona is a supervising engineer.
“Since 2012 I’ve been coordinating/supervising offshore geotechnical campaigns for more than 100 locations, tracking field operations, supervising/mentoring engineers, coordinating engineering teams (20-plus engineers and supervisors), maintaining project schedules and communicating with clients,” she says.
Looking back on that worksite visit with her father, Cardona now remembers it as more than just a fond memory. Rather, it was the moment she recognized engineering created opportunities to solve problems to benefit the public. It’s that spirit that still drives her.
“I love technical challenges. When clients or my peers come with technical problems, I have fun relating what has been learned through my career to real-life situations,” she concludes.
Follow fugro.com/careers for Fugro job opportunities. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram and Google+.
Fugro’s engineering excellence has been recognized several times over, including the Ground Investigation Project of the Year, Spotlight on Arctic Technology Awards, and a Product and Equipment Innovation Award.
See what other projects Fugro has been a part of at fugro.com.
Li Is Charged Up about His Future with TRC Solutions
It wasn’t the chance to build high-rises that drew George (Jingang) Li to civil engineering. It wasn’t the opportunity to design the next spectacular bridge. The simple truth is Li was attracted to the breadth and scope of contributions made by civil engineers.
“The way I see it is that our society couldn’t function without civil engineers,” he comments. “They directly affect people’s day-to-day life by designing electric power lines, skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, roads, stadiums, etc.”
Indeed, the discipline consists of several concentrations, including construction engineering, geotechnical engineering and transmission engineering, which is Li's specialty. As a senior transmission engineer for TRC Solutions, he designs and oversees the construction and maintenance of electric power transmission and distribution lines.
For more than 50 years, TRC Solutions, based in Lowell, MA, has aided clients with energy, environmental and infrastructure engineering services.
According to the 2017 ASCE Report Card, the energy sector earned a C+ grade. Even though that’s an improvement over the previous report card, there’s still tremendous need for repair and modernization.
“Even as oil and gas prices fluctuate and regulatory policies evolve, we see market drivers remaining very strong for investment in energy system upgrades, and environmental and infrastructure work for the on-going expansion of renewables. Our country has a tremendous need to update antiquated and deficient infrastructure, and that combined with available capital means investment will remain robust in 2017 for everything from renewable power and energy efficiency to utility consolidation and upgrading distribution systems,” states CEO Chris Vincze.
“The grid has remained relatively unchanged for decades, and as a result, the utility industry is facing tremendous challenges, including aging infrastructure, strong demand for a smart grid, decline of traditional energy sources along with rising renewable energy sources,” adds Li. “There’s also the integration of distributed energy resources, dynamic pricing, [preventing] cyber attacks. Basically, you’ll see massive opportunities for growth and advancement in this industry.”
Growth is also why Li chose to seek a position with TRC Solutions.
“TRC, especially the team I’m on now, was expanding exponentially. I thought it would be great to be part of a fast-growing team with exciting challenges,” says Li.
More challenges mean more demands on his attention and time, and Li admits balancing it all continues to be a work in progress for him.
“I used to get caught up a lot in the details of the day-to-day technical tasks, and forgot to step back and look at the bigger picture,” he explains.
“On top of crunching numbers to ensure sound and safe design, we need engineers to have effective communication, meet schedules, stay within budgets, manage potential risks and address clients’ concerns. Therefore, successful project delivery depends on proper implementation of not one, not two, but all of those elements.”
Track trcsolutions.com/careers for TRC job possibilities. Connect on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
In February TRC Solutions received two Business Achievement Awards from The Environmental Business Journal in the categories of Mergers and Acquisitions and New Practice Areas.
To read more about TRC Solutions, go to trcsolutions.com.
Urriza Deeply Connects with the Unique Work Environment at McDermott
One of Joanna Urriza’s first major projects as a civil engineer was to help design the Metro Monorail in Houston, TX.
“I also worked on the Grand Parkway loop, a major highway around the Houston metro area, which was a massive undertaking,” she remembers.
These projects are seen by thousands of drivers every day. But the human eye rarely sees her most current work. Her accomplishments are hidden by thousands of feet of water because she’s spent the past several years working on subsea systems and structures. The scale of her roadwork projects proved challenging, but the concept of constructing something in an underwater environment captured her curiosity.
“Being able to install massive structures and miles and miles of pipelines at 1,200-meter water depths or deeper was impressive,” she shares.
Since making the switch, Urriza has evolved from an installation engineer to becoming a project engineer for McDermott International Inc., overseeing the various components that comprise an entire program. The Houston-based engineering corporation specializes in offshore and subsea field developments.
“I like to think of it as a puzzle because in order to perform our job there are many different groups and people that make it happen,” she explains. “I love working with our structural group, operations and subcontractors as well as our clients to ensure our installation projects are a success for everyone.”
However, Urriza is still in awe of the technical details.
“I never had a project that was even remotely described as ‘cookie cutter.’ Every project is different from installing pipelines from shore to the depths of 1,200 meters and not to mention installation of platforms with one our big derrick barges. I haven’t even mentioned the challenges of weather conditions while installing assets offshore,” she points out.
“Weather and location play such a key factor in any project. Not one location in the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere in the world is the same. From currents, waves and weather fronts, it’s all considered.”
Urriza makes sure to consider all possibilities when addressing professional development. When contemplating opportunities, she’s willing to take on something new.
“A mentor told me, ‘Once you feel at home at what you’re doing, it’s time to move on.’ I took it to heart that growth is key to a successful career,” she remarks.
“One example of that is me taking on a short-term assignment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I knew it will allow me to work on something I’ve never done before and it will also expose me to challenges unlike before. I will come out of this experience with new knowledge and experience that I cannot duplicate anywhere else.”
She also advises job seekers to remain open to possibilities even if results aren't immediate.
“You never know if that one recruiter that you spoke with at a job fair will call you up a year or so later,” she suggests. “I never thought I would be in the oil and gas industry, but somehow someone noticed a resume I submitted to them when I was in my third year of college, [and called me] one year after I graduated. That changed my career path completely.”
Make your way to careers.mcdermott.com for McDermott jobs. Connect on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.
Award Worthy: McDermott
OPITO named McDermott International Inc. Employer of the Year in recognition of its commitment to cultivating a safe and competent workforce.
Check out McDermott International Inc. career opportunities at mcdermott.com.
Please treat as a sidebar, using his photo and the boxed item, since he’s HR:
Terry Extends Diversity for Austin Industries
Early in his career, Simeon O. Terry accepted a job as a safety manager for a construction firm. He enjoyed the work, but it wasn't until the owner asked him to replace the project manager that Terry really realized his affinity for the industry.
“It was my first opportunity to actually manage subcontractors, write contracts and manage a schedule,” he explains. “I got through it, and it felt good.”
That experience cemented for Terry the fact that he’d found his professional home in construction. From there, he committed to discovering other functions within the industry that would test his abilities, including moving out of engineering and project management into diversity and inclusion.
In 2000, he signed on as a program manager in diversity affairs for Austin Commercial, a division of Austin Industries. The Dallas, TX-based corporation has business units in civil, commercial and industrial construction.
“One of the most appealing attributes [of Austin Industries] was that they were an employee-owned company,” says the current vice president of diversity affairs. “This meant to me that everyone was a part of Austin, no matter what your position. That told me Austin cared about its people.”
Terry makes sure vendors, contractors and clients also view the company as inclusive and thoughtful about who it does business with, not just the bottom line. More specifically, his department cultivates connections with minority- and women-owned businesses as well as small businesses. This goes beyond meeting minimum participation standards mandated for government contracts. Rather, Terry’s team partners with businesses with a sense of collaboration, especially through Austin’s Mentor Protégé Program.
“Our company selects 10 to 15 firms every year that we provide workshops and training for in 12 areas of construction,” he explains.
In addition to advising businesses on bidding, scheduling and other aspects associated with construction projects, Terry emphasizes the importance of communicating a positive impression with clients.
“The most valuable piece of advice given to me was from one of my professors. He told me that if I wanted to be a great engineer, and not just a good engineer, I needed to make sure my written and oral communication skills were top notch,” he relates.
“He indicated that it was good to be able to come with a solution or answer to a problem, but if I couldn’t communicate it to others who needed that information to do their jobs or make important decisions, I would not reach my maximum capacity in my career.”
Indeed, Terry relies on these skills more these days than some of the technical aspects that consumed his career early on.
“I spend a lot of time talking to potential owners, giving presentations, participating in interviews, writing proposals,” he expounds. “All of which are key elements to winning Austin contracts. I’ve always kept what my professor said at the forefront of my mind, and it has definitely paid off for me.”
As for career advice he offers professionals entering the construction industry, Terry says confidence is key.
“[I want] someone who isn’t afraid to be a leader, but humble enough to follow when appropriate,” he notes.
Access austin-ind.com/careers for Austin Industries jobs. Connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo.
Award-Worthy: Austin Industries
In 2016 Austin Commercial received the Engineering News-Record Texas & Louisiana Best Project in the Sports/Entertainment category for its work on the University of Houston Guy V. Lewis Basketball Development Center.
Learn more about Austin Industries businesses at austin-ind.com.
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