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Engineering the Future: Insights from Century West’s Young Engineers-in-Training

Civil engineering is a dynamic field that offers exciting opportunities for young professionals to make a real impact on the world around them. Century West Engineering recognizes the potential of its Engineers-in-Training (EITs) and provides them with a supportive and enriching work environment. We sat down with two of Century West’s talented EITs, Joe Neils and Michael Berggren, to learn about their experiences as EITs specializing in aviation and municipal projects, respectively.

Thank you for joining us today, Joe and Michael. Let’s start by discussing how you first became interested in engineering. Was there a specific moment or experience that sparked your passion?

Joe: Well, I never had a clear path in mind, but I always excelled in math and science. I had worked as a pizza delivery driver and efficiency was crucial in that job, I often found myself frustrated with traffic light infrastructure. I thought, “It would be so awesome if I could design that kind of stuff.” So when I transferred to Oregon State University, I got pretty interested in transportation engineering as a profession.

Michael: I didn’t have a specific moment, but I knew I wanted a job where I could see the tangible results of my work. Both my parents have jobs that aren’t as visible in the physical world. My dad is a software engineer and my mom is an accountant. I felt it would be more motivating to me if I could see my work out in the world. So that, in conjunction with being good at math and science, lead me to engineering. After researching different disciplines, I found that civil engineering suited me best.

Joe, what made you choose aviation as your specialization within the engineering field?

Joe: To be honest, I didn’t even know aviation engineering existed until I started exploring career options. It wasn’t a topic we covered in school. However, when I learned about it, I was drawn to the large-scale projects and the opportunity to immerse myself in the work for an extended period. Unlike smaller projects where you don’t have as much time to dedicate to them, aviation projects allow you to dig deep and truly understand the complexities involved.

Michael, why did you decide to specialize in municipal projects within the engineering field? What attracted you to this particular area?

Michael: When I started at Century West, I worked in the Spokane office. They specialize in municipal projects so that’s what I was surrounded by. When I moved to Portland and started working in the Portland office, I had to opportunity to change my focus, but I stayed with municipal. I like the diversity in projects. I can get bored working on the same thing for too long. With municipal projects, you have so many different things you could be working on, there are sewers, water, roads, sidewalks, and more.

Could you tell us about your educational backgrounds?

Michael: I attended Washington State University, where I earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 2019. During my time there, I focused on water resources engineering, taking courses in hydrology and hydraulics. That’s where I developed my specialization in modeling and analyzing water-related projects.

Joe: I did my first year of school at Clackamas Community College, but transferred to Oregon State University for my sophomore year. I got my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering at OSU in 2022.

Did you participate in any engineering-related activities or clubs during your time in school that helped shape your career path?

Joe: Yes, I was actively involved with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), which is an organization specializing in transportation engineering. It’s an international group that brings together engineers, transportation professionals, lawyers, and even politicians who work on transportation related issues. It was in this organization that I met a professor who was a transportation engineer. I thought, “Wow, I didn’t even know this existed as a field”, and it further solidified my interest in transportation.

Michael: I was involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) student chapter at Washington State University. We participated in a couple of civil engineering conferences, one was in Hawaii, which was cool. It provided me with valuable networking opportunities and exposed me to different aspects of the profession. I was chapter president my senior year. I enjoyed the mentor role after being helped myself throughout college. It was nice to help younger students learn about engineering and how to be successful in their coursework.

How did you come across the opportunity to work at Century West Engineering, and what attracted you to the company?

Michael: During my senior year, I was researching potential employers, and I came across Century West Engineering through online searches. I connected with the Century West team at the WSU Career fair, and after some conversations and a visit to the Spokane office, I knew I was interested. I had worked an internship at a different firm that did a very specific type of engineering work. It felt too repetitive for me to enjoy long term. So even though I received offers from a few firms, I felt the variety of projects I would be able to work on at Century West was more aligned with my career goals. Plus, I really liked the people I had met here.

Joe: I also met the team at a Career Fair, but at OSU. I was attracted to the company’s medium-sized firm culture and the growth opportunities it offered. I was concerned if I joined one of the international, giant firms that I could get pigeon-holed in my work. Talking to Tom [Headley] and Alec [Fransen], I sensed their excitement for the work, and that motivated me to join Century West.

Can you walk us through a typical day in your life as an EIT? What are your main responsibilities and tasks?

Joe: I work on Aviation projects, so I’m primarily working on airports. A typical day starts with reviewing ongoing project tasks and checking emails for any outstanding items. Then I dive into using CAD. This involves working on layout plans, site development plans, and creating detailed drawings for airport infrastructure. I collaborate with engineers and project managers to ensure the designs align with client requirements and regulatory standards. Somewhere in the afternoon, I’ll start deteriorating mentally, ha ha, and I’ll take a break. I’ll look at emails, coordinate with people, or challenge someone to some ping pong in the kitchen. At the end of the day, I update my timesheet and make notes to stay organized.

Michael: My main responsibilities are to make the plans and changes that professional engineers would want in those plans. I’m able to make suggestions and even have some input in the design. Part of that responsibility then gets extended into inspection work. Because I made the plans, I should know them like the back of my hand and how they translate to the real world, to make sure that the project is being built to the instructions. I also do some modeling. Right now, I’m working on making sure a city’s water system has enough capacity for future projections. We’ll help the city determine if they need to build more infrastructure as more people move there.

Have there been any memorable or exciting projects that you’ve been involved in? Could you share one such experience and what you learned from it?

Joe: I’ve only been with Century West for a year, but I’m already starting to see projects I’ve worked on take shape. One that stands out is the Hillsboro Runway Safety Improvement project. It involved some regrading of the existing runway, a bit of taxiway work and adding a culvert. I started on the project at the 30% design phase, I witnessed the project progress through 60%, 90%, and 100% submittals. Being involved in drafting, design, and estimating work from the beginning allowed me to learn what’s practical and what people value in plans. Recently, seeing the design come to life during the construction phase has been immensely rewarding, providing insight into the practical implementation and quantification of measurements.

Michael: I’d say the Kettle Falls Comprehensive Water Plan. It’s a modeling project where the city of Kettle Falls had data about how much water they’ve used in the last 5 years. We take that and project into the next 7 and 20 years, to see if their reservoirs have enough capacity, if their wells are big enough to meet the increased demand that we anticipate, based on the population projection. Then we write a report that lets them know what’s working and what isn’t, what needs to change, and what to focus on. Some of those suggestions can turn into municipal projects for Century West to work on, for example. I worked on the project start to finish. I learned a lot about water systems that has helped me in municipal water design. I was able to apply some principles that I learned from school into the real world. Some of our suggestions will be turned into future projects for next twenty years or so. So that was pretty cool.

What challenges or unique aspects have you encountered while working on projects that you didn’t anticipate during your training?

Joe: During my training, I didn’t have a comprehensive CAD class, so I had to learn Civil3D from scratch on the job. It was an unexpected challenge, but Century West supported me in developing my CAD skills. While it was initially challenging, mastering CAD has been a valuable learning experience, enhancing my abilities as an engineer.

Michael: Unlike equations and calculations emphasized in school, the day-to-day work in engineering is all best practices and interpersonal relationships that make a project successful. Like Joe, learning AutoCAD, which I didn’t study in school, was a significant learning curve because I live in that program now. Navigating the culture in an industry stereotypically considered anti-social has been a surprising aspect, because you’re working with so many engineers – some love to talk and some don’t. Balancing different communication styles and being adaptable have been crucial skills to develop.

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring engineers interested in pursuing a career in aviation projects?

Joe: My advice would be to invest time in honing your CAD skills. Additionally, actively participate in campus clubs or professional organizations to develop your professional skills and step out of your comfort zone. Networking and socializing can provide unexpected learning opportunities, broadening your horizons and preparing you for the industry’s demands.

Michael: You don’t have to obsess over every equation and detail. While attention to detail is important, flexibility and problem-solving skills are equally crucial. In college, there’s often a clear-cut right answer to problems, but in the real world, there are multiple right answers. The key is to find a solution that works for everyone involved and effectively communicate it. So I’d say work on honing your communication and problem-solving abilities.

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