Name: Julie Long
- Education: Master of Public Administration,Hamline University; BS, Civil Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
- Target Audience: Middle School
Bloomington, Minnesota, home of the world-famous Mall of America, is also home to insightful civil engineers like Julie Long. Long and her team work diligently to plan and build infrastructure for the city of Bloomington through roadways, paths, water systems, building developments and parks. Read on to learn more about how civil engineers make the City of Bloomington bloom!
What is your job?
I'm the senior civil engineer for the City of Bloomington, MN which is home to the biggest mall in the US (so big it could hold 7 Yankee Stadiums). I, along with the staff members I oversee, design and build construction projects for all the roads and trails around the city. This job has great variety since each project is unique. When building utilities like sewer lines we can either take a conventional approach by digging an open trench and burying the line, or we can use a jack pipe, which is a technique that involves pushing the sewer in the ground. I've had the opportunity to work on demolition projects tearing buildings down. Another great part about being a civil engineer is that we frequently run into interesting treasures at our work sites. Recently, I found a wood cistern buried in ground. Sometimes I'm involved with purchasing land or an easement to make space for a city improvement project.
Right now I'm working on a project that involves lowering an existing roadway 22 feet. The ultimate goals of this project are to build a more sustainable district within the City which will include both a pedestrian bridge and a roundabout for traffic. My team also just finished bidding a job that involves installing a new 36" pipe and I was recently assigned the lead on a streetscape master planning project. As a civil engineer for a good size city, my job has great variety because there are always new developments and improvements happening.
Why did you choose this career?
I always liked math and science and attended a couple different summer camps when I was a kid. One of the camps was an engineering camp where we learned about of the different types of engineering - chemical, electrical, mechanical and more. The day we learned about civil engineering, I was hooked. During this unit we were assigned a project to design a park and we then had to present our concept to industry representatives. I was scared stiff because I was a shy child and did not like public speaking at all. The industry representatives asked us questions about our project and they stumped every team with a question about sod or grass dying. Luckily I knew the answer to the sod question because of a drought I had experienced where I grew up. Interestingly, sod warranties are an important part of my job today.
Explain what an average day at work is like for you.
What I like best about my job is that there isn't an average day. Since I work in Minnesota, the work I do is very seasonal and my days are often dictated by mother-nature. In the winter we design the project for the upcoming construction season. I could be coming up with a project design plan, hosting a neighborhood meeting to get buy-in from the community impacted by the project or writing a specific contract. As we move into spring, my work begins to focus more on bidding the projects so that Bloomington officials can hire the contractor to build the project. Summer is busy with a lot of road construction. I frequently get to visit construction sites and talk to residents about their concerns during construction. In the fall we are trying to get everything complete before it snows since winter in Minnesota can be harsh.
What do you like best about your job?
I love the variety of the projects I get to work on and the fact that I'm not tied to my desk eight hours a day. I can't imagine working a job that confines you to your desk all day.
When you were a kid, did you like science, engineering and/or math? If so, what subject did you enjoy most and why?
I loved math class! My school, unfortunately, didn't have a strong elementary science program and my interest depended on the teacher I had. I remember being jealous of the 3rd graders who had Mr. Hash, who always planned lessons around fun hands-on science things. Lucky for me I had a great 4th grade science teacher, Mrs. Nelson, who introduced me to the anatomy of the human body. It was so much fun!
Was there a moment when you knew that you wanted to become a civil engineer? Tell us about it.
At the time I didn't realize that what I was doing was actually engineering - back then I thought engineers were people who drove trains. However, looking back on my childhood I can tell you the specific event that pushed me in this direction. I was in Kindergarten or first grade and my grandparents were having a garage built on their property. They only lived about five blocks from us, so my sister and I were over there regularly. I loved to watch the construction team build the garage. We were given strict instructions that we could not leave the front stoop while the crew was there, but each day after they left we were allowed to go and explore the work site. My grandfather would explain to us what they had done from building trusses to the electrical work. I would collect my treasures from the construction debris. That was my first experience with building stuff and I thought it was so cool!
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a civil engineer?
My biggest challenge was right after college when I first went to work in the civil engineering field and I realized how male dominated the engineering industry really was. People had said that, but in college my classes were about 35% female. I didn't really notice how low female participation was until I was the only female engineer in my department, and I was also younger than all my colleagues by ten years. I reached out to the professional SWE (Society of Women Engineers) section in my area which ended up being one of the best career development moves I ever made. The people I met through SWE became a great support group for an entry level engineer.
Was there a person who inspired or convinced you to get involved in your field?
My grandfather was the person who inspired my love for math and science. He worked with batteries for Ray-o-Vac. He explained to me how they worked, as well as why testing and quality control are so important. He shared old company newsletters that had electrical circuit activities for kids and always tried to stump me with logic problems. While he didn't inspire me directly to become a civil engineer, he laid the foundation for my love of math and science that led me to where I am today.
Do you have any suggestions for how kids in middle school can get practical experience in your field? Are there any high school courses that you think would be important to take?
A fun way to gain exposure to engineering is to volunteer for a habitat improvement project. Here in the Twin Cities area there is an organization called Great River Greening, where they work on projects to help improve the environment and storm water quality. Often troops of Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts will also contact Public Works for projects they can take on, which range from buckthorn removal along a creek to participating in special projects like a dream park. Dream Park was a project sponsored by the Optimists Club and students were asked to draw up their dream park which the park designer used to develop the plans for the park. Kids participated on the steering committee and then helped install elements of the park. The whole process mirrored what I do in my job, from conceptualizing what the project should include, to involving the public, to the actual park construction and the feeling of pride once the project is complete.
Another idea is to attend a science-based summer camp to explore different areas of science. You will gain exposure to different careers that you may not learn about in school. I attended a science camp that had a medical emphasis and I got to do things I would not have done in school, like dissect things. I even came home with a sheep's brain that I kept for at least six months before my mother threw it out.
My final suggestion is to check out Future Cities, which is program where you get to build a city through the computer game SimCity. Students write an essay about a topic related to their city and the theme for the year, build a model of the city and give a presentation about it. It combines all the skills you will need for becoming a civil engineer, including math and science and the ability to communicate your idea in both written and verbal formats. It's also a lot of fun to build stuff!
The Future of Your Field: Where do you see your industry going in the future? Are there any exciting changes or innovations that kids pursuing your field can look forward too?
Civil engineering is going to become a more sustainable and environmentally friendly focused field than it has been in the past. We are not going to be able to just build wider roads like we've always done. Instead, we are going to need to look at alternative modes of transportation, whether it is designing for bikes, public transit, or even personal cars that drive in a more energy efficient way than we have now. We are going to need to manage our water resources better and cope with the changing environment. The baby boom generation is going to be retiring and the public works projects that were built as part of the building boom after World War II, including the Interstate system, are coming to the end of their natural life. This means that we will need to rebuild or rehab those structures, which will provide lots of opportunities for upcoming civil engineers.
Why should kids get involved in engineering?
Engineering allows kids to develop creative solutions to various problems. It is fun to think up ideas and figure out how to implement them. Plus, civil engineers provide critical resources for helping people live their lives, especially with the simple items we take for granted. From the tap water we drink, to flushing the toilet, to the streets we drive on, to the parks where we play-you couldn't do any of that without a civil engineer helping to build and maintain the infrastructure.
Civil Engineering Facts to Bridge the Gap...
- The Interstate Highway System was started on June 29, 1956 as a military project by President Eisenhower.
- The interstate highway system accounts for only 1.1% of all public roads in the United States, but it carries 24% of all traffic.
- Currently, the Interstate System is 46,876 miles long.
- Even though the Interstate System was initiated and built by the federal government, the individual states own and operate the highways.
- The interstate highway system is known as the Greatest Public Works Project in history.
(adapted from fhwa.dot.gov)
Buckthorn - an invasive species found in Minnesota. It was originally brought from Europe and used for hedging
Easement - a certain right to use the real property of another without possessing it.
Optimists Club - an organization devoted to bringing out the best in kids and doing their part through community service programs.
Oxbow - a bend in a river shaped like a "U"
Public Works Department - is a department under the government of the state and is dedicated to building and maintaining the infrastructure of a city.
Ray-o-Vac - company that builds batteries
Roundabout - A modern roundabout is a circular intersection where drivers travel counterclockwise around a center island.
Streetscape Master Planning Project - is a plan designed to improve the overall aesthetics of a city section
Trusses - support something with load-bearing members: to support or strengthen a roof, bridge, or other elevated structure with a network of beams and bar
(adapted from dictionary.com)