The Civil Engineering Podcast provides engineering career advice and success stories specifically for civil engineers. Civil engineers Anthony Fasano, PE and Christian Knutson, PE host the show and showcase civil engineering projects and professionals.
Each show includes an overview of an interesting civil engineering project and an interview with a successful civil engineering professional.
TCEP 161: Should I Go to Grad School or Apply for Civil Engineering Jobs?
In this episode, I answer a question that I get from civil engineering students almost daily. Should they seek full-time employment immediately after completing their undergraduate studies or go to grad school and pursue a master's degree? And I promise you, whether you are a student, a project manager, an owner, or a CEO, you will take something out of this episode because I get into the decision-making processes.
Graduate school and professional engineering licensure are invaluable — but, as with any career, it is more a question of timing, and the answer to this question is different for every civil engineering graduate, depending on their situation.
In some specialty areas of civil engineering, such as structural and geotechnical, a master's degree is either required or strongly preferred for entry-level hires. It is important to research the expectations of your specialty area and the firms you are most interested in. If a master’s degree is not the norm for your practice area, or if you are not sure yet what specialty you want to pursue, it is recommended that you enter the workforce instead of continuing school full time for a master’s degree.
3 Reasons Why You Should Enter the Workforce Instead of Continuing Grad School Full Time for a Master’s Degree:
Unless you obtained a full scholarship, you would be taking on debt to learn more advanced engineering knowledge before you even start your career. While education is an investment in your career and your future, debt can be overwhelming when taking it on at a young age.
Unless you have had multiple internships in the field, how do you know that you will like your chosen field of civil engineering? How do you know you will not want to switch fields?
You can only learn so much in school as an engineer. Most engineers talk about how much they learned "on the job." By starting to work full time as soon as possible, you will be exposed to engineering problems and projects that will force you to learn on the job. This real-life experience will be invaluable should you return to graduate school later in your career.
Here Are a Few Possible Options for Approaching Your Grad School Questions:
Graduate school immediately after graduation: This approach may be the best choice for those entering certain specialty areas or pursuing specific companies where a master’s degree is an expectation for entry-level positions.
Full-time job / part-time graduate school: Consider starting a full-time job immediately after your undergraduate education and then pursue a master’s degree part-time in the evenings. This approach can be highly beneficial for multiple reasons.
First: You can get that on-the-job experience immediately, but at the same time, you can chip away at your master’s degree.
Second: Many engineering companies will provide financial assistance to their employees for pursuing advanced degrees that are related to their job, thereby eliminating the need to take on debt.
Full-time job / graduate school later: Consider starting a full-time job immediately after your undergraduate education and holding off for six months before you start a master’s degree program. This option gives you some time to experience your new career and see how you like it.
4 Steps Decision-Making Process That You Can Use in Your Career:
Gather as much information as possible about decisions you need to make. Making decisions without this information means you are making uninformed decisions that can be detrimental to you and your career.
Brainstorm possible solutions to a problem or decision that you must make. Write down the possible outcomes of the decisions and see what the benefits and risks of each outcome are, and which decision would suit you best.
TCEP 160: How a Civil Engineering Firm Can Maximize Employee Engagement
In this episode, I talk to Jeff Peacock, P.E., the President and CEO at Parametrix Inc., about his career journey of becoming a CEO, leading a multidisciplinary civil engineering firm, and the benefits of having multi-disciplines under the same roof.
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Jeff:
What are some of the decisions involved in becoming an ESOP and the benefits associated with it, for both the company and the employees?
What are the differences between working for a public agency vs a private consulting firm based on experience, and what made you decide to switch?
What are some of the benefits of having the ability to communicate with other firms?
For civil engineers who do not work in multidisciplinary firms, what are the benefits of having multi disciplines under the same roof?
What is Parametrix’s unique “Community Building” service line and what made you create it?
You had a big opportunity in your career where you were able to start a new company-wide practice for Parametrix. Take us through that part of your career — how it came about, how you decided you wanted to take on that opportunity, and how it panned out?
What is the process of becoming the CEO? Is it a goal you had, and how did you navigate the first portion of your office as CEO during the recession?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode About How a Civil Engineering Firm Can Maximize Employee Engagement:
A civil engineering firm that has a 100% ESOP rating means that every person in the company has a stake in the company. ESOPs were originally designed to be wealth-building programs for individuals and spread across who is contributing to the success of the company. This is done by distributing the money as an equal percentage of the person's salary across the entire company.
The training that you get working in the public transport sector is exceptional. You will learn, grow a lot, and develop many professional relationships with people. You will also be constantly exposed to many interesting projects. You might feel that you are constrained about the level of involvement you can have with the projects, which may cause frustration.
Transitioning to a private sector consulting firm can seem like a risky decision to make. When choosing a private consulting company, you need to think of your passions and try to align your passions with the work you will be doing. Find out if you can get involved with all the facets of the projects and do not feel limited. Also, be sure there is room for you to expand your career. This will indicate to you if the firm is focused on employee engagement or not.
Having experience and being able to communicate with other firms and clients is beneficial to having the ability to view things from many different angles.
Owning a multidisciplinary civil engineering firm can be a benefit because having a large diversity of thinking that comes from a vast difference in backgrounds and training is extremely valuable. This contributes to the success of your projects because you get many different solutions instead of largely the same solutions that you would get from like-minded people. It helps everyone in all the disciplines to understand the problem areas and how they can all contribute to a better solution for those problem areas.
The service line “Community Building” came about when the company was involved with the project planning for many agencies. This later developed into a great deal of what the company was doing and has since become greatly involved in the school districts and other areas of the community.
If you get an opportunity in your career where you can help to expand the firm with your expertise, you should take it. It will not be easy in the beginning; there will be risks you need...
TCEP 159: From Single Mom to Civil Engineer: A Journey to Success
In this episode, I talk to Melody A. Gonzalez, E.I., a civil engineer at Black & Veatch about how she went from an immigrant single mom to civil engineer, and today is living the American dream. She also talks about work-life balance and the importance that mentors play in your civil engineering career.
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Melody:
What helped you to get where you are today, and by making a simple choice, how did your life change for the better?
How did you manage work-life balance throughout this time?
Once you decided to become an engineer, did you have a plan laid out, or did you take it one day at a time?
How have your mentors helped you throughout this journey?
How has being an engineer in the U.S., and especially a woman in engineering, changed your life?
In the article you wrote, you said: "I think the difference between success and failure is the ability to see one's fears and weaknesses and still push through to overcome them to achieve a higher goal." Can you please elaborate a little bit on that?
Can you give women out there who would like to pursue a career in engineering some advice about perseverance, getting a job, and finding the right company to work for?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode About Going from a Single Mom to Civil Engineer:
As a single parent from a foreign country, you need to have the right mindset to be able to make the correct decisions, to create success in your life. Starting over in a new country is tough, and you need to learn as much as you can as fast as possible about the language and how things work in the country. You should have a lot of commitment and be prepared to make sacrifices every day.
You need to prioritize your daily tasks. If you have a task that is more important than something else, you should stick to your plan and schedule, and not worry about what other people have to say about it.
You and your children should work together as a team to get the daily tasks done. It is good for your children, as they learn to do different things that will ultimately help them later in their lives. This needs to be balanced among everyone, and the activities for each day need to be discussed and prioritized.
One of the first things you need to learn when you want to pursue an engineering career is to learn the main language that is used in the profession. Find a mentor who will be able to help you with a plan to get you started in your career by doing your SATs and getting into a college.
In whichever phase of the plan you are in, try to find mentors who will be able to help you get better at what you are currently doing and to get to the next step in your plan. Your mentors will help you to build your self-confidence and help you to understand what is needed. They’ll show you your weaker points and where you need to work harder.
When you decide to work toward a big goal, things at the beginning of your journey can seem to be terrifying. To get over this fear, you need to learn to be comfortable when you are uncomfortable. There may be times when you think you cannot accomplish something. Those are the times that you should go ahead with your plan, and you might be surprised with what you are capable of.
If you are afraid of doing something and you don’t do it, you are never going to move up in your career and life. You need to understand that the worst thing that can happen is that you fail at doing that thing. And if you fail, then you have gained some experience and knowledge that can help you to do better next time.
Women are capable and have many challenges in their work lives. Always be the best that you can be and remember to open doors for those who are behind you. If you are the only woman in the room,
TCEP 158: 2021 Infrastructure Report Card — ASCE Texas Section (and How You Can Get Involved)
In this episode, I talk with three guests who are all heavily involved in the ASCE Texas 2021 Infrastructure Report Card. They are Patricia Frayre, P.E., founding principal of Frayre Engineering & Consulting, Griselda Gonzales, P.E., Principal Engineer at The Goodman Corporation, and Mark Boyd, Ph.D., PE, the principal engineer at LCA Environmental. They talk about the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card (IRC), understanding the current status of infrastructure, and why advocacy for the Infrastructure Report Card is so important. They also are a great example of the relationships that you can build by volunteering and getting involved in your community.
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Our Guests:
What is the importance of understanding the current status of infrastructure, not only on a national level, but also at a state level?
What is the Infrastructure Report Card, how do you use it, and what is its importance in advocacy efforts?
Please elaborate on your involvement in parks, both national and state, and your involvement with the state IRC.
What is the makeup of the Texas IRC committee, and how does this year's committee stand out from prior IRC committee efforts in Texas?
How do you think the recent presidential election will impact the Infrastructure Report Card moving forward?
Can you explain why the committee has felt so strongly about the unique challenge in flood risk mitigation that it has insisted the subject matter be named "Flood Risk Mitigation," which is different from other state report cards, and even from Texas' prior name for the category, "Flood Control"?
Why are parks and recreation (Green Spaces) important from a quality of life standpoint?
How is Texas set apart from other states in its electricity, oil and gas, and alternative energy infrastructure?
Which categories appear to be poised to receive the best grade, and the worst grade, on the upcoming Texas report card, and why?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode About the ASCE 2021 Infrastructure Report Card:
It is important to understand the current status of the infrastructure because America’s infrastructure is in dire need of investment and attention to remain competitive in a local, state, national, and global economy. IRC categories like our highways and transport systems, the electric grid, and the water distribution system have either reached the end of their design life, need major repair, or are on the brink of failure. Now is the time to act to renew and modernize the infrastructure. The longer it takes for us to take action, the bigger the gap becomes in the investment and funding that is required to address the infrastructure needs.
The Infrastructure Report Card assesses the capacity, condition, funding, funding need, operation, maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation of the infrastructure. Once the report card has been compiled and released, it is used to advocate the infrastructure to the legislators. The Report Card is also used to inform the lawmakers and public about the current conditions of the infrastructure.
There are 55 committee members in the Texas IRC committee, and it needs engineers who understand the issues of their regions, like the climates and populations. This is why the current committee members are based all over Texas. The committee for America’s infrastructure is encouraging all the states to produce report cards in a more user-friendly format this year, and this is what the committee has been working on for several months.
It doesn't matter who the president is — the infrastructure of a country affects everybody. Every president needs to be concerned or aware of the state of infrastructure, and we need to continue to advocate for it.
TCEP 157: From Draftsperson to the Deputy Secretary of the Highway Administration at PennDOT
In this episode, I talk to Melissa J. Batula, P.E., the Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration at PennDOT, about her amazing career journey from starting in the private sector to now being responsible for overseeing all of the roadways in Pennsylvania as well as the 9,000 people who work for the DOT.
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Melissa:
You spent many years in the private sector. What made you decide to transition over to public service?
What does your private sector experience bring to PennDOT?
You are the first woman to be appointed Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration at PennDOT. How has that experience influenced your career?
What are some of the current challenges and opportunities at PennDOT?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode:
When in a highly ranked position like Melissa is, you need a good network of people that you can trust and that can get the job done. There needs to be daily meetings conducted to ensure that everything stays on track and that any problems are dealt with as soon as they arise.
Quality communication among the different teams is vital to ensure that the correct decisions are made collectively.
If you are thinking of staying on the technical side of things, remember to keep your doors open to opportunity because you might find that you have grown to like the management and leadership side of things later on.
To help you with transitioning from technical to management and leadership, go to your professional comfort zone and use it to propel you into the new area. Use your technical skills to talk to people and you will excel, and use your strengths to start widening your skillset.
During times like the current pandemic, in the early stages, PennDOT had a singular focus on supporting life-sustaining operations, like trying to reduce the spread of the virus and support the medical community. They then worked on putting protocols in place to get the rest of the operations to be fully functional as soon as possible and in a safe manner.
Young women in civil engineering need more experienced and skilled women mentors to help them to be more confident in themselves and their abilities.
If you move over to the public sector, experience in the private sector will help you to see a fuller picture of the entire environment. It also helps you to understand the business side of things and what challenges the private sector firms face, and can help you to not become part of those challenges.
More Details in This Episode…
About Melissa J. Batula, P.E.
Melissa J. Batula, P.E., was appointed Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration in January 2020. As the first female to hold this position, Batula manages 9,000 dedicated staff members who share her commitment to serving the transportation needs of citizens across the Commonwealth. Her role includes overseeing investments in PennDOT assets, ensuring quality and safety across the department, and advancing innovative strategies to solve Pennsylvania's 21st century transportation challenges. She is adept at building strong relationships with industry and government partners and is committed to guiding the department's 11 district offices in successfully carrying out PennDOT's mission.
Books Mentioned in This Episode:
The Pocket Ref
Women’s Transportation Seminar
Connect with Melissa J. Batula, P.E. on LinkedIn
Engineering Management Institute Training
This Episode Is Brought to You by the Following Sponsors:
Are you a member of The American Concrete Institute? ACI is a worldwide community of 30,000 professionals, educators,
TCEP 156: Work-Life Balance Strategies for Civil Engineers
Having a healthy work-life balance is a difficult challenge even in the best of times, but it is becoming more and more necessary during these times of economic stagnation and uncertainty. That is why, in this week’s episode of The Civil Engineering Podcast, Ken Mika, P.E. M.ASCE, a project engineer and office leader for Geosyntec’s Green Bay, Wisconsin office will provide some great work-life balance strategies that you can use to help you along the way.
Here Are Some of the Questions I Ask Ken:
How do you define work-life balance?
How do you incorporate work-life balance when you have to travel for work?
Is it important to take time off for important dates and milestones?
How can you organize your daily tasks to improve your work-life balance?
Why is it important to take time off after working many hours on a project/deadline?
Can establishing a good reputation early in your career improve work-life balance?
Here Are Some Key Points Discussed in This Episode About Work-Life Balance Strategies for Civil Engineers:
Work-life balance means to balance the needs of your job and your personal life. This does not necessarily mean it should be 50-50. You need to assess which areas in your life are more demanding of your attention beforehand to plan accordingly. This can be challenging, but if you do it appropriately, you can be successful.
Achieving a work-life balance when you travel for work is more challenging. You need to find a way to keep everyone happy. Consider taking your family along with you when traveling, and let them treat it as a short vacation and do things in the area while you work. You can then join them once you have completed your work for the day, or over weekends.
You need to speak to your supervisor well in advance regarding time off for special dates. This will enable your supervisor to plan ahead of time for everything to run smoothly in your absence. You can also put in extra hours before or after the special date to make sure your work stays up to date. You can delegate some of the work that needs to be done to someone with a lower position than you. This will also help them on their career path by getting exposure and experience.
For task management, regularly look at your upcoming tasks and determine what is important or urgent and what is not. Plan your day and time according to the importance or the urgency of your tasks and decide which tasks you can delegate to someone else to get it done.
If you are working on a big task or project, see if it will be possible to take a day or two off after the project deadline to decompress and spend time with your family. This will be beneficial to you because you will be able to have a fresh start when you go back to work.
To develop a good reputation in your job, you need to always come through when someone assigns a task to you. If there are any complications, you need to communicate them as soon as they are brought to your attention.
Be open to many different opportunities early in your career as this will help you to see what you enjoy doing and which career path you would like to follow. All these things will let people see that they can depend on you and in turn, they will be more willing to help you when you need time off for personal matters.
More Details in This Episode…
About Ken Mika, P.E., M.ASCE
Ken is a strategic leader with a proven record of the ability to evaluate, build, and implement process improvements within and across teams. He has experience in field data collection in multiple media, experience with staffing and field resource allocation, remedial design and contractor procurement, construction management, and can build and maintain cooperative teaming relationships.