EWeek Interviews with Our Team

Posted on Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 by
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eweek interviews with engineers

Founded by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in 1951, EWeek is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers. In celebration, we asked PE’s on our team to share their favorite projects and the coolest problems they’ve solved over the course of their careers. Find those answers, as well as others, below.

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at Affinis?
Brad Schleeter: The Brougham Drive Improvements Project has been my favorite and not because it was smooth or free of challenges along the way. What makes this project my favorite is all the unique elements that we got to be involved with throughout the design process. Here is a list of the interesting elements that made this project fascinating:

  • HEC-HMS and HEC-RAS modeling
  • Detention basin design
  • USACE wetland permitting and mitigation credits
  • Dam and outlet design
  • Riprap basin design
  • FEMA CLOMR and LOMR at project end
  • State dam permitting
  • Partnership with Johnson County Stormwater Management Program and private development to fund this project

Linda Rottinghaus: It would be the I-470/Route 50 Interchange project

Chris Farney: My favorite project that I have worked on at Affinis is the Mill and Overlay project on 67th Street in Merriam. I grew up in Merriam, in a neighborhood just off 67th Street, so it was really interesting to work in an area that I had a lot of familiarity with. The project itself was relatively straightforward, but we ended up adding a pedestrian bridge over the creek, which turned out really well.

Maeve VanLandingham: My favorite has been the Overland Park 2020 Major Storm Repair Project. The project has seven unique sites, so I’ve learned a lot from the site diversity.

John Spell: Meadowbrook Park is a large multi-use park at the south end of Prairie Village. There was a lot of collaboration between owner, architect, landscape architect, and contractor. While the engineering of the project was rather straight forward, the results were fantastic. The large hill at the north end of the project was used for soil stockpile and removed for the building excavations to the south. By shaping it nicely and seeding it well, it transformed into a sledding hill. After taking a very long lunch on a snow day recently to go sledding with my 6-year-old, this will probably be my favorite project for a long time. There were a least 100 other kids zooming down the hill.

Jason Davis: I would say the L-385 levee system located in Riverside. I started from the beginning and was part of the project through construction and now post-construction. The levee project had all the engineering disciplines involved. Great seeing an $80M levee project from start to finish!

Lee Baer: We do a lot of cool projects and help a lot of people. Our project helping the Blue Valley School District improved school crossings and safely moved students across their campus. The Eyes Up Phone Down campaign is the type of low cost/high impact improvement we always try to bring to the table.

What is the coolest problem you’ve solved for a client?
Brad: Camp Funston drainage. Working in very flat topography, our storm system design improves system conveyance characteristics, increasing conveyance size and depth where feasible. Working around various design challenges to address the needs of the client and package the projects in a way that allows improvements to begin making an impact.

Linda: Reconstructing the main street through an old downtown district while providing ADA access to all the buildings. The doors to the businesses were accessed by stairs, so the design incorporated ramps and retaining walls to elevate the sidewalk to the doors. We had to work around the old building foundations when excavating for the retaining walls.

Lee: The coolest part of this job is problem solving in general. Every day is a new challenge.

Maeve: Getting to help solve flooding issues for a local nursing home was really rewarding.

John: Solutions to flooding problems are sometimes simple, like installing a bigger pipe. Other times, they are require creativity. For a project in Olathe, KS, the flooding across a major street was severe. One solution was a bridge improvement. However, a bridge doesn’t address home flooding downstream, so instead of buying out flooded homes and building a bridge, the design team came up with a series of dams. Ponding water in a controlled manner reduces flow rates and helps lower the water surface elevation downstream. The hydraulic benefit from the dams is enough to leave the existing roadway and also protects the downstream homes from flooding.

What has been different about being an engineer than you expected?
Chris: When you are in school, it seems like engineering will be a lot of difficult math and lots of solving equations. In reality, quite a bit of my job is just problem solving. Trying to find solutions that solve the problem and work well for a city.

Maeve: The number of civil “specialties” a typical project involves is far more than I expected. Getting to coordinate with structural, geotechnical, traffic and other engineers to solve stormwater problems adds so much value to the design.

Jason: College doesn’t prepare you for the business side of engineering. It’s great for the technical, but the business aspects you learn through on the job training mostly.

Brad: The level of people interaction necessary to be a successful engineer. My education taught problem solving skills and approaches to analysis, and while these are an important foundation for the work I do, the importance of people skills has been learned through on the job experience. Working with coworkers and clients to communicate clearly, finding opportunities to meet new people and grow relationships, and collaborating to get broad input on problems and solutions is absolutely key to being a successful engineer.

Linda: That there is no simple project. Each one is totally different, and they all have small challenges that always have to be solved.

Lee: Engineers impact every aspect of a community.

Which new trends or technology are you excited to integrate in future designs?
Brad: In the stormwater world, continued integration of GIS data and stormwater modeling will continue to be key. Using GIS data and tools to populate modeling tools, using the modeling tools to generate results, and then mapping in GIS. These transition points are becoming smoother.

Lee: Connected vehicles will change the way we design traffic signals and intelligent traffic systems. The debatable part is when and by how much. It is true that the ripples of this change are already here. The future will tell us how to adjust our designs.

Maeve: I’m excited to integrate new erosion and sediment controls to our future designs. Having adaptive BMPs (Best Management Practices) in the design helps the consultant, client, and contractor execute the project if/when challenges arise during construction.

Scott Crain: I find the automated vehicle concept appealing as it relates to the opportunity for roadways to become more efficient transporting people and goods. Will this lessen the quantity of roadways/lanes necessary for use and the associated long-term maintenance expenditures of human and capital resources? How will this impact travel delay and the consumption of fossil fuels? How long will it take for this transformation to occur on a broad scale, and how will the perceived threats of autonomous vehicles be overcome?

Jason: I would like to use more geophysical methods for subsurface investigations on my projects. The geophysical technology has improved quite a bit over the past few years. This information would be great for providing better or more information.

John: Recently, I have been doing a lot of hydraulic modeling. We use GIS and storm design software to tackle complex regional flooding issues. I look forward to expanding into 2-D stormwater modeling. Once water overflows out of a pipe or culver, a 2-Dimensional model uses LIDAR surface data to predict hydraulic movement over land. I hope this can really bring some value to our stormwater studies.

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