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Civil Engineering Overview

Alexia A. Nalewaik, E.I.T.

Consulting Engineer
Deloitte and Touche, LLP
Los Angeles, CA


 
B.A., Physics, University of Dallas
M.S., Structural Engineering, University of Southern California
"As a Consulting Engineer in Management Services and Solutions, I am responsible for cost engineering, estimating, and scheduling for major construction projects."
"Take the EIT and PE exams as soon as possible, while you still remember all of the information. Don't be afraid to look off the beaten path for a job - civil engineers have many options, and the traditional companies are already swamped with resumes from job seekers."


Nalewaik: "I now in cost engineering. I put together the estimates for all of our bids and figure out how much process plants are going to cost and these are in the millions of dollars. In cost engineering and scheduling I track the progress of our existing projects and jobs and also schedule them and make sure we're on track figure out where we're losing money, where we're making money, and why and then try to feed that information back to the estimating department, so that hopefully, our bids will be a little more on track."

Nalewaik: "I'm a competitive swimmer. I spend, basically, actually, most of my time outside of work, either in the ocean or in the swimming pool. And I do long-distance events. So I need to put in some pretty serious workout time. There is a balance there. I have the full support of management within the company, and they understand that the swimming is important."

Nalewaik: "There aren't very many women in my company at all. It's not really a problem. Every once in a while somebody will fail to take me seriously, and then they learn pretty quickly that that was a bad idea. People know that I definitely am going to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and that's very well respected."

Nalewaik: "The size of a company has considerable influence on the salary range for a given function. Larger firms tend to offer higher starting wages and more benefits, but upward mobility may be highly competitive. A smaller company may pay less but offer a more direct path to greater responsibility and a bigger check. It is your preference, and up to you to seek out the facts regarding each individual company you might consider working for."

Q: Could you define structural engineering, to someone who doesn't know -- it's a specialty, right?
Nalewaik: It is a specialty. It's basically the design of any structure. The design of bridges, buildings, structural supports for furnaces and pipe, which is largely what our company does. It's anything that you can build with wood, masonry, plastics, steel, whatever you want -- pick a material, build it, that you need a structural engineer.

Q: Is there a demand for people in this specialty?
Nalewaik: There is a demand and it's -- it is not really a fluctuating demand, it is a constant demand for infrastructure and for anything that you build. I mean, if you're putting together a building or a bridge or absolutely anything that has a structural -- a structure attached to it, then you're going to end up needing a structural engineer. So there's a demand, but it doesn't fluctuate like the environmental fields or any of the others.

Q: So describe where you work.
Nalewaik: OK. I work of Kinetics Technology International Corporation. It is a company which builds process plants and petro-chemical facilities. We build hydrogen plants, ethylene furnaces -- things along those lines. So largely our structural engineers and our civil engineers are building pipe supports, foundation and structural steel for the furnaces.

Q: And what is your role?
Nalewaik: My role is cost engineer scheduler and estimator. I'm fluctuation in-between two departments at the moment. I used to be in estimating, I'm now in cost engineering, but estimating is still short of staff, so I keep running back and forth. I put together the estimates for all of our bids -- figure out how much process plants are going cost and these are in the millions of dollars. I mean, when I first started working I had literally divide by 100,000 in order to get some sort of grasp of the numbers I was dealing with. I mean, when I'm looking at the compressor price and saying, "Wow! This thing costs more than I get paid in ten years," it's a bit of an adjustment. I mean, you're no longer just calculating how much wood you're going to put on something. So it was a bit of an adjustment, but it's also fascinating. Every estimate is different, every job is different, every approach to an estimate is different. I mean, there are countless things that get added into an estimate that you perhaps wouldn't think of. And so your basic rule of thumb for estimating is -- consider everything. And that sounds really simplistic, but it means, consider the temporary fencing around the plant during construction, consider a security guard. Consider what kind of paving you want. Consider your lay down area and whether or not you have unions, and whether or not you have other jobs in the area which are going to pull workers. So you need to put in some sort of bonus or incentive to keep workers on site and construction on site throughout the job so you don't change your learning curve, and your progress during the construction phases. In cost engineering and scheduling I track the progress of our existing projects and jobs and also schedule them and make sure we're on track, figure out where we're losing money, where we're making money, and why and then try to feel that information back to the estimating department, so that hopefully our biz will be a little more on track.

Q: Where to you see yourself in a couple of years?
Nalewaik: Project management. Project engineering first, and then project management. As I said, I like to see the full picture. I want to see everything that's going on. I don't want to concentrate on just the piping or just the civil design or just the mechanical or just the estimate. I want to see how that estimate was put together, how the project flows, how it finishes, what happened at every phase during the project -- and that's project engineering and project management right there.


 


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