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Civil Engineering Overview 

Judith Nitsch, P.E.
President
Judith Nitsch Engineering, Inc.
Boston, MA




 

B.S., Civil Engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
"As President of my firm, I set the firm's overall direction in conjunction with other firm leaders. I oversee marketing and accounting functions for the firm. I act as Principal-in-Charge on select projects and do much of the firm's expert witness projects."
"Civil engineering students should focus on getting a summer job in an engineering firm. The experience will help you determine if engineering is right for you and will give you a hands-on feel for the materials being covered in the courses you're taking in school. The most important part of engineering is the desire to figure things out. There are opportunities for everyone, not just boys or straight A students."


Nitsch: "I started out as a math major because I didn't know what the different types of engineers were. I selected a college, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and decided I was a math major, knowing I didn't want to be a math major, but not really knowing what my other choices were. And I checked out the majors that were available there, and ended up in civil. I got a job the summer after my sophomore year working for a civil engineering and land surveying firm. And that clinched it for me. I knew that's what I really wanted to do."

Nitsch: "The first thing I look for is that they've had a summer job or a co-op job in a civil engineering or related position. The second thing I look for is someone that has done more than just study at college. I want to see someone who has been involved in activities, whether it's an ASCE student chapter or, student government, class officer, Whatever it is, I want to see some other outside activity. And the absolute best person is the person that's had a leadership position in those activities."

Nitsch: "A new engineer working in a firm like ours will be assigned technical tasks working under a project engineer or project manager. I don't really want someone that's only going to do the calculations and then give their spreadsheet or the printout back to the project manager. I want them to know and think about how does that relate to the whole project. And if something doesn't make sense I want them to proactively talk to the project manager and either ask, how does this fit in, why am I doing this? Or say, this doesn't look right. Tell me more about it so I can understand it."

Nitsch: "Oh I love what I do, no doubt about it. The thing I like about engineering and civil engineering in particular is that it is tangible. I can drive down roads I designed. I go into shopping centers and office parks that I know the building is there because I put it there."

Q: Tell me, Judy. When did you decide to study civil engineering?
Nitsch:
As a freshman in college. I started out as a math major because I didn't know what the different types of engineers were. I selected a college, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and decided I was a math major, knowing I didn't want to be a math major, but not really knowing what my other choices were. And I checked out the majors that were available there, and ended up in civil.

Q: So, was that as a freshman, or sophomore?
Nitsch:
End of my freshman year. So then sophomore year I took courses in the civil department. I got a job the summer after my sophomore year working for a civil engineering and land surveying firm. And that clinched it for me. I knew that's what I really wanted to do.

Q: Tell me about that job a little more.
Nitsch:
Sure. I worked for a small firm in Connecticut. They had about 15 employees, and I worked as a draughter in the office. This was 1973, and the owner of the company did not allow the girls that were in the engineering department to work on the site. We were only allowed to work in the office. And working there for two summers I was only allowed to go out on a construction site once. That's because it was an emergency that something had to get checked because something was due to a client that afternoon. So that was the only time I was allowed to go out on a job site. Things have changed a lot now.

Q: How have they changed?
Nitsch:
My business partner, her first job was as a field engineer working for the State Highway Department, and that was only nine years later. So -- I should let you know, though, there were other men that were working there for the summer, that were studying engineering same as I was. They were only allowed to work in survey crews and be on construction sites. And they resented the fact that they didn't get the office and computer experience that I got. So, although I was disappointed I didn't get field experience, they were just as disappointed they didn't get office experience.

Q: Training has certainly changed a lot. A lot of businesses have people working in teams now, and trying to simulate the real work environment. Do you think that's a good thing?
Nitsch:
I think it's imperative. I think having a new employee, a new graduate engineer that has worked, whether on projects or in an office during college or a team to try to solve a problem is critical for them in their first job. It's the way that they will work at their job, and if they've had experience at it, and most importantly, successful experience at it, it certainly makes them more attractive to me as the employer. I know my alma mater, WPI, has a complete project-based program for their undergraduates. They do a project in their major. They do a project that is in a program that combines technology with humanities in some fashion. And then they have to do a sufficiency in a humanities-only program. So they have a lot of teamwork opportunities, and they continually get feedback that is important to the people who hire the graduates. And I know it's important to me when we hire people.

Q: Tell me what you look for when you're hiring someone.
Nitsch:
First thing I look for is that they've had a summer job or a co-op job in a civil engineering or related position. Because we're a small firm -- I need to have someone that has an understanding of what their job will be like. And if all they've done is work at McDonald's or something they're just not attractive to me. The second thing I look for is someone that has done more than just study at college. I want to see someone who has been involved in activities, whether it's an ASCE student chapter or Society of Women Engineers, student government, class officer. Whatever it is, I want to see some other outside activity. And of those the absolute best person is the person that's had a leadership position in those activities. Again, it goes to how they would perform on the job. And you know that they would continue to be proactive, and they would do the things thinking ahead that you have to do as a leader in a student organization.


 


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