So You Want To Be A Civil Engineer?

Tassels were turned, caps were thrown, and hundreds of pictures were taken by proud family and friends the past few weekends. Whether you walked across the stage or are preparing to next year, we know that graduation season is full of celebration and questions. With this in mind, we’ve created a brief checklist to make sure you can prepare for long-term success as a civil engineer.

Spoiler alert – Becoming a Professional Engineer (PE) is critical if you want to pursue a career in consulting engineering. Only a PE may create, sign, seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings, and PEs also regularly bill at higher rates than unlicensed engineers. And of course having your PE license provides a greater level of job security should you ever need to find a new position or move jobs. So what does it take to obtain this highly respected registration?

Step One: Take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the first step towards gaining your PE license. Administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the best time to take the FE is during your senior year before the fundamentals get lost in the excitement of graduation and your job search. Not only is it important to take the FE exam while fundamentals are fresh in your mind, but it’s easier to go ahead and get this tough exam out the way while you’re still in school mode. Make sure you check out the NCEES website and take one of the trial examinations available and download a copy of the “Fundamentals of Engineering Supplied-Reference Handbook” that will be supplied at the exam. This handbook will give you a good idea of the kind of material you can expect during the exam.

Step Two: Become an Engineer Intern

Once you have passed the FE you will be classified as an “engineer intern” or “engineer-in-training.” As an engineer intern (EI), you will then eligible to gain experience working under a PE. EIs must work under a PE for four years before they can receive a PE license of their own. In most cases, your school can help you find an engineering role in your area but don’t be afraid to follow up with any of the firms you may have interned with, or do some research into other local firms that interest you. North Carolina used to require that you work under a PE for four years before taking the PE exam, however, you can now take the PE exam anytime after taking the FE exam and graduating! 

Step Three:  Become a Registered Professional Engineer

The North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBELS) certifies engineers in North Carolina. Just like the FE exam, there are myriad resources available to help you prepare for the PE exam. The Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) has a PE Civil Engineering review course and there are manuals available through Kaplan. Additionally, you are wise to take advantage of the experience that your mentors can provide, as well as seek out and join with peer groups who are also planning to take the test soon. Once you have both four years of experience and you've passed the PE exam, you will officially be a Professional Engineer! 

Step Four: Transitioning from EI to PE and Growing Your Career

In case you were still on the fence about the value of becoming a PE, there is an understanding within most engineering firms that those who start out as an EI will have the opportunity to transition into a PE role within the same firm. Consulting engineering firms want to partner with you through those four years as an intern so that you will stay on and add value to their team of available engineers.  That doesn’t mean your career will stagnate from here though! Growing your career as a Professional Engineer can lead to opportunities as a Project or Practice Manager, Department Head, and even the Vice President or President of a firm. So how do you develop this promising career?

The best way to grow your career as a Professional Engineer is to start by expanding your technical knowledge. For example, the logic behind why a 6-inch waterline is a requirement when attached to a fire hydrant, how total dynamic head factors into pump selections, or what causes Trihalomethanes to form in water lines... Broadening your technical knowledge is essential before you take the next step in asking for more responsibility. And as those responsibilities increase, you will start developing important relationships with your clients/owners. These relationships are critical for demonstrating your ability to maintain positive client interactions while balancing workloads and even developing new business. These are the types of value-adds that can lead to a management role within your organization. Lastly, take the time to get involved with professional societies like the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) or the Professional Engineers of North Carolina (PENC). These groups are a great way to network, stay on top of current trends, earn your required Professional Development Hours (PDHs), and of course give back to the proud community that is Registered Professional Engineers for the next generation.

Fuquay-Varina Breaks Ground For Second High School

Willow Springs High School 

With a population that’s expected to grow by over 10,000 people within the next few years, it’s no surprise that the Town of Fuquay-Varina is excited about breaking ground on their second high school, Willow Springs High.

With the project now in the construction phase, The Wooten Company provided the engineering design for plumbing, mechanical, and electrical systems, water and sewer utilities and roadway improvements that will support the 59-acre site. Our long history of working with public schools means that the students of Willow Springs High will learn in state-of-the-art classrooms, athletes will practice under brilliant field lights and on resilient turf, parents will arrive through safely designed traffic flows, and taxpayers will save with low life-cycle cost designs throughout the campus. When we do our job well, it means that few notice we were there at all – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It is our mission to allow the students and staff of Willow Springs High School to focus on raising our next generations without technical woes or safety issues. As we celebrated their groundbreaking ceremony last week, we couldn’t be more excited to watch as Willow Springs makes its mark on the community.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day: An Interview With Courtney Gamble, PE

Courtney Gamble, PE - The Wooten Company

Courtney Gamble, PE - The Wooten Company

How were you introduced to engineering?  I stumbled upon it in my 3rd year of college.

What was your initial impression of engineering/engineers? I thought it was some mystical science for the Stephen Hawkings of the world. “Rocket Science”.  (And I still think that about electrical engineering, I just can’t wrap my head around anything past the V over IR triangle).

What made you decide to pursue engineering after being introduced to it? I was struggling to find the right major in college and was rejected the 1st time I applied to my college’s engineering program because I honestly didn’t have a good reason to sell myself as a candidate for the program. When the professor asked me why I wanted to begin an engineering curriculum my answer was along the lines of “because I have all the pre-req’s for it?” After a warranted rejection I started to research engineering and watching shows on the discovery and history channel about engineering marvels. I learned how cool and also challenging engineering was and how it made so many things in our world possible.  I fell in love with the challenge and the problem solving.

Is there anyone in particular who really supported your pursuit of an engineering degree? Oh gosh I’ve had so many. I’d say my grandma, she’s the only one in my family who knew I was pursuing engineering until late in my 4th year  and she would take all my tearful phone calls after a differential equations test or whenI was generally convinced I couldn’t hack it. She would assure me that I belonged in that program just as much as the next person and not to give up.

What are you most proud of in your career so far? Obtaining my professional license.

Can you think of a girl you can/should “introduce to engineering? I get asked all the time by family friends to talk to their daughters about STEM majors and I’m always surprised how many girls know it exists now compared to my youth. I cannot think of a girl specifically but I never shy away from sharing stories of my profession and how it has become such a thought provoking career that rarely feels stagnant.

What has been the biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?  Leaving the regulatory arena for the private sector. It’s a steep learning curve and it was clear that I had to prove myself to keep my new private sector position. I worked hard, asked a lot of questions and tried to learn everything I could. Eventually I was profitable and had earned my employers trust.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?  Get in the field. So many change orders and lost time can be avoided by doing a thorough pre-design site visit and visiting the site throughout the project. You learn a lot by witnessing the construction first hand, chatting with foremen and operators, and helping solve problems if/when they arise.

Have you ever had anyone say anything negative/positive about being a woman in the engineering world?  I’ve heard both. It’s mostly been positive feedback from men and women I have crossed paths with. In general our profession is highly respected and I’ve been afforded that respect. I have had a few men suggest nursing or teaching as a “better career for women”, but that was all in college.

If so, how did you respond? Kill ‘em with kindness as grandma always said.

Have you ever felt like your work or voice was looked over or underappreciated because you’re a female? Only on isolated occasions working with a few clients or coworkers. I don’t let it phase me. I keep the conversation on the task at hand, maybe speak a little firmer and clearer, and make it apparent (without explicitly saying it of course) that working together respectfully is the best way to reach our goal.

Do you feel like you’ve had to work harder than your male colleagues to get to where you are today? Honestly, no. In my eyes my male colleagues who have reached my same level professionally have put in the same sweat equity that I have.

What advice would you give other women or young girls who are interested in learning more about engineering or becoming an engineer? Engineering is an exciting career with opportunities that can take you anywhere you want to go. You can achieve many goals. Mine was stability/job security. But if yours is to travel, or be able to work from home, or to be a CEO one day, all of these things are possible as an engineer.