This week, the nation celebrates Engineers Week and recognizes the difference that engineers make in our world. In honor of the event, we asked our engineers to tell us what drew them to the profession, what they like most about engineering, what challenges the field faces, and what engineers can do to encourage the next generation.
We started by exploring what leads people to choose the engineering field as a profession. Personality traits like creativity, a desire to fix the things around them, and a slight obsession with Legos certainly seem to be the hallmarks of future engineers. But in most cases, the biggest influence was people—whether parents, teachers, or other role models.
Jeff Evans, senior project manager, had not really thought about being an engineer until his math teacher in high school suggested it to him.
Ray Bernardo’s father told him to look into engineering since he “was always trying to fix things that were broken and was always curious about how things worked.” Now Ray is a project manager for EBA.
Jennifer Callaghan’s father was also an engineer. “In the spring and summer months, my father often managed bridge replacement projects,” says Jennifer. “He would take me to the construction sites and describe what was being constructed. It fascinated me. After viewing dozens of construction sites with my dad, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.” Now she’s a senior project engineer at EBA.
It’s no surprise, then, that when we asked our engineers what they can do now to help encourage and engage the next generation of engineers, the answers all centered on making personal connections.
Redha Hasan, construction manager, points to the importance of building relationships with local schools and universities, because interest and ability for engineering starts in the classroom. Jeff also suggests volunteering with some of the outreach programs that work with students, such as the Maryland Wood Bridge Challenge.
Nick Roles, EBA vice president, echoes the importance of volunteering and supporting STEM outreach programs.
Engineers can also make a difference by serving as mentors. “Everyone makes mistakes, but if you are able to help younger engineers avoid the mistakes you’ve made, the learning process will be less painful,” says Ray.
“The engineering industry needs to increase awareness among younger people about the important work engineers do,” says EBA chairman Bob Sebastian. “Engineers have historically made significant contributions in the areas of safety, health, and the public’s overall wellbeing.” Things like refrigeration, air conditioning, and sanitation and distribution systems have drastically improved our quality of life.
In short, we can help young people see that engineers make a difference in the world and that they can improve peoples’ lives by developing solutions to real-world problems.
So what will be some of the biggest challenges for engineers in the future? Nearly all of our engineers pointed to keeping up with new technology and applying it to the field as both a challenge and an opportunity.
“In the civil engineering discipline, we are moving towards keeping everything in the cloud and going paperless,” says Ray. “We are also adjusting the way we design in CADD to move toward dynamic design.” Computer and software skills will be crucial.
“For us transportation-related engineers, a big challenge will be how to incorporate automated or driverless cars into our existing infrastructure,” says Jeff. “I just hope it takes a very long time to make the leap to flying cars, so that bridges don’t become obsolete. Then I would be out of a job!”
They also highlighted the role that engineers will play in improving U.S. infrastructure, like highways, bridges, and dams.
“One of the biggest challenges for engineers in the future is to restore, rehabilitate, and replace our nation’s aging infrastructure in an economical and efficient manner,” says Jennifer. Harish Patel, EBA executive vice president and COO, echoes the urgency to address America’s aging infrastructure.
For civil and structural engineers, Bob also notes the growing shift in focus from new development to renovating and maintaining existing structures, as well as the challenges to secure needed infrastructure funding.
And finally, we asked our engineers about some of their favorite project experiences. EBA resident engineer Reza Hatami enjoyed the challenge of managing EBA’s services on two massive transportation projects: the $640 million design-build Intercounty Connector that connects I-270 in Montgomery County to I-95 in Prince George’s County and the Bay Bridge main cables rewrapping and dehumidification project over the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.
Redha’s favorite project was a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) infrastructure improvement project at Khan Dannun in Syria because of the impact the improvements had on the community.
Jason Kolenda, project manager, was impacted by his work on the Anacostia River Tunnel in Washington, DC, because “it was very challenging, and EBA trusted me to execute the work efficiently.”
Ray got to work on creating an Indy-style racecourse along the streets of downtown Baltimore for the Baltimore Grand Prix. “The best part of the project was getting VIP passes to attend the inaugural race and seeing the actual course I had taken part in designing,” he says.
And Jeff has most appreciated his work on Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Annapolis City Dock Bulkhead Replacement project. (Phase 2 won the 2017 Outstanding Project Award from ACEC/MD just last week!) “They were probably the most challenging projects I’ve worked on so far, and therefore offered the greatest feeling of accomplishment once construction was complete,” says Jeff. “Plus, my favorite leisure activity outside of work is boating. So after construction was complete, I could use the facility myself!”
Thank you to all of our engineers and engineering staff for making your commitment count and making the world a better place to live!
Contributors: Ray Bernardo, Jennifer Callaghan, Jeff Evans, Redha Hasan, Reza Hatami, Jason Kolenda, Harish Patel, Nick Roles, and Bob Sebastian