Career Spotlight: The Civil Engineer
Learn more about what it takes to become a civil engineer
Engineering is about much more than math and schematics. The road to becoming an engineer looks different for everyone and the “getting there” can shape where and how each engineer focuses their time and energy – and where they find the greatest career satisfaction.
“When I work on designing a roadway, and I know that people are going to use it every day, it gives me satisfaction that I am serving the community,” says Mahbuba Khan, who knew from a very early age that she wanted to be an engineer.
Khan works for an engineering firm in Englewood, CO. She grew up in Bangladesh, where, she says, many children are strongly encouraged to pursue careers in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).“My dad always wanted me to be a doctor, to be honest,” she says full of filial admiration. “He encouraged me to do something to serve the community.”
Khan always loved signs and maps, and solving problems in logical ways, so she knew she’d enjoy something in a related field. “I find a problem, I see a problem, and I like to solve the problem in a very effective and reasonable way. That brings a lot of joy to me personally.”
But just getting into engineering was something of a problem to be solved. While girls are now encouraged to pursue STEM related fields, Khan recalls that when growing up in Bangladesh, engineering was viewed more as, “not for girls.”
She points out that her undergraduate engineering program at Chittagong University of Engineering & Technology, in Bangladesh, included 120 students, and only 12 were women. Mahbuba says she sees a similar ratio in professional engineering in the US. “Some people seem to believe the stereotype that construction sites and project plants are for ‘only men.’ But I always wanted to prove everyone wrong,” she says with a smile.
Khan says her favorite projects have involved traffic safety studies, working to improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. “Seeing projects completed is fun and very satisfying. The work is going to help people, it’s going to improve the safety for our city, and whoever is using it.”
Sometimes engineering is just as much about soft skills as technical ones. “Helping improve the communities I work in: that’s where I get my job satisfaction,” says Marc Kenney, a senior civil engineer in Grand Junction, CO. “Whether it’s improving a bike path, making an intersection safer, or working on an environmental project, making the community better is what I enjoy.”
Kenney is an expert in bike paths, both as an engineer and a user: in 2019 he was Colorado state cyclocross champion in his category (Cat 4 40-50 male). Kenney chose a civil engineering career because he was naturally good at math and liked working outside.
He is actively involved in the local community and says it’s important that engineers be as good at working with people as they are at working with numbers. “Many of the projects we work on impact landowners along the route,” says Kenney. “There are usually right-of-way negotiations, or they have structures or landscaping or mailboxes in the right-of-way, so we’re working with landowners to complete the project along their property.”
There is also an art to using the science. Technically Kenney’s team is focused on water. “Western Colorado is a high desert, but it rains on all my projects,” Kenney jokes. He describes himself as a Jack-of-all-trades engineer, his works extending across multiple engineering disciplines. “I have done potable water, wastewater, transportation, hydrology and hydraulics. I’ve completed a lot of different projects and each project requires coordination of multiple areas of specialization.”
Whatever the project, Kenney says that doing work to improve the community is key. “Some of my favorite projects have been surprises, where it was not obvious how much use the project would get. Sometimes a community is not aware of how much a path or sidewalk will get used: they’re not sure who will use it, and there’s some resistance to the expense of the project. And then you go back a year after is has been constructed and it’s just loaded with kids walking to school and people out exercising.”
Khan and Kenney share an evident passion for working to benefit their communities at KLJ Engineering. Currently Khan is focused on transportation engineering and roadway design. She describes her work as “raw civil engineering.”
But she says there’s still room to focus that work on benefiting the community, “I’d say all the transportation engineers, when they design a roadway, the first thing that comes to mind is the safety of the users: how safe we can make this roadway,” Khan says. “It’s the tiny little details that we never notice when we are driving. But you can trust us to keep the tiny little details in mind.”
(Sponsored content for this article provided by KLJ)