April 4, 2018 | by Heather Macon

Today is the Global Day of the Engineer, the annual celebration of engineers and all they do to make a difference in our world. In honor of the wonder engineers can find in our everyday tasks, I would like to share with you some quick anecdotes about experiences I have had in the field.

As a structural engineer, I have spent many days (and late nights) in the field inspecting bridges, tunnels, pumping stations, manhole vaults, culverts, retaining walls, and many other “oddball” structures. These are the days when we engineers get to leave the confines of our offices, where we tend to spend a lot of time clicking away on our keyboards, and go out and experience the world.

The field brings many exciting, beautiful, and new situations our way. But you have to be willing to look for and appreciate them.

Beauty

One warm fall, I was given the opportunity to go on several day trips to Ocean City, Maryland, to perform soundings (to determine the depths) of the water below the I-90 Bridge. In order to take the measurements, the three-person team had to ride a rented pontoon boat on the beautiful waters on the bay side of Ocean City.

The work itself was not glamorous, but what made it all worth it was the company of my fellow coworkers and being out on the water. On the clear, sunny days, I took in the views with great appreciation for the career that I chose—the career that allows me to experience blue skies, fresh air, and sea birds flying nearby looking for their next fish to pluck out of the bay.

Excitement

In the beginning of my career, I was able to assist with inspecting the trunnion tower of a movable bridge just outside of Baltimore City. This was an exciting opportunity for a new engineer to be able to see the inner workings of a drawbridge. Unbeknownst to me, upon arriving on site, I realized that there was a plethora of pigeon activity under the bridge and in the supporting abutment towers. I’m not scared of birds; however, I was unaware of the excitement and adventure that was about to ensue down below.

Upon entering the first level of the abutment tower, I noticed birds everywhere. Some were flying around enthusiastically, and others were perched on any surface that provided support for their weary little legs. Some were even nesting on top of eggs. There were even newly hatched baby birds!

This opened my eyes to the fact that some engineers may have to face their fears in order to do their jobs. Despite the birds’ presence, we were able to take measurements and photos of the bridge defects. And we were graced with a story to tell our coworkers, families, and friends for years to come.

Exploration

Many of my field visits have taken me into the heart of Baltimore City. Being a Baltimore City resident, I valued the opportunity to explore areas of the city that I had never been to before. I have also learned new streets and routes, like shortcuts for when traffic rears its ugly head at quitting time.

Inspecting manhole vaults in the city has given me a greater appreciation for the vital infrastructure below ground that keeps the city running. With all of the concerns about failing infrastructure, I know firsthand that the City is doing its due diligence in inspecting these structures so that they can be included in repair budgets. 

Tips for Enjoying Your Day in the Field

Here are just a few suggestions for your next field visit:

  • Take a minute to notice the beauty around you.
  • Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, such as a deer grazing in the distance or a heron about to land on the water.
  • Look for the art in the world around you (like cool graffiti under a bridge) and snap a picture to use as the wallpaper on your computer.
  • Send interesting or eye-catching pictures from your work in the field to your firm’s marketing department.

With our busy careers and lives, we should take time to enjoy these moments outside. While we all have to make a living, we also need to be whole, happy human beings. Stop and smell the roses. Enjoy all the wonder that our profession can inspire!

Heather Macon, PE, is a project manager for EBA Engineering, Inc. She can be reached at 410.844.3368 or at heather.macon@ebaengineering.com.

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