Environmental Engineer – A Day in the Life

Environmental Engineer - What is does an environmental engineer do every day? Kathryn Clarke talks about her daily routine and job as an environmental engineer.

Whenever I tell people that I am an environmental engineer, I usually get responses like this:

“You do what now?
So, do you save trees and stuff?
Oh, so you work with poop? That’s kinda gross.
Wait, that’s a thing people do? People care about that?”

Needless to say, most people don’t know. I didn’t even really know before I really got into this field. So what do I do as an environmental engineer?

What is an Environmental Engineer?

To start off, I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering with a concentration in environmental engineering and a minor in environmental science from Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

Currently, I work as a junior staff engineer at a national environmental services consulting firm. What that means is all the work we do focuses on improving the quality, distribution and/or longevity of the natural environment as it relates to water, air, and the soil. As opposed to working in the public sector – for say a municipal engineering division or for a federal/state organization such as the EPD or the US Army Corps of Engineers, I work for a private firm who is often hired to perform engineering services often for municipalities or privately-held companies who may have an environmental compliance issue or require some on-site water/air treatment of some kind.

Environmental Engineer - What is does an environmental engineer do every day? Kathryn Clarke talks about her daily routine and job as an environmental engineer.

A sample of the kinds of projects we do include stream restoration projects, drinking water/wastewater/reclaimed water/stormwater treatment/conveyance infrastructure (pipes, tanks for treatment and storage, solids handling etc.), utility performance, groundwater treatment, contaminated soil, ecosystem restoration … but I really could go on and on. Civil engineering as a whole is pretty broad, and environmental is just one of the branches of it. Compared to many of our competitors who tend to be more traditional civil engineering firms – i.e., provide structural, geotechnical, transportation and environmental services, my company only focuses on environmental related work.

What is your Daily Routine?

My day starts like most others who work a 9 to 5 job. I spend at least 60 to 70% of my time in office as my position does not entail a lot of fieldwork. I wake up, feed my cat Domino, and get ready for a day in the office. Get to work, power up my computer and get my design software up and running.

Personally, I work on what would be considered more of a traditional civil design track. It usually consists of working on design plans, meetings and addressing edits and comments on project plans from project managers. While in the office, I work on drinking water/reclaimed/sewer pipeline design projects to upgrade or expand existing systems, and water resource projects related to stormwater, watershed improvement and collapsed stream bank restoration. In the future, I hope to gain some experience creating models to forecast water consumption and flood management, as well as delve into natural/alternate stormwater and wastewater treatment.

Do You Ever Go Out into the Field?

If I do end up in the field, the hours can be sporadic but it depends entirely on the task. I could be asked to go out of state or just to another county. Early mornings, stuck in traffic on the interstate at 5, late night flights .. just depends on what needs to be done and if I have the time! In the field, I perform construction site observation services for projects we have provided the design for to a client, and inspection services for environmental permitting compliance with local, state and federal policies at schools, factories and around urban areas.

As the work of the consultant ebbs and flows, some days are slow, others are jam-packed and fast and cause me to work later than I hoped to in efforts to meet deadlines. But I am very happy with where I am currently as the work challenges me, keeps me engaged by having to work on several projects at once but I see upward mobility for myself here at my company. My next professional milestone will be to obtain my professional engineering license here in the state of Georgia.

Do You Have Any Advice for Others?

One thing I would love to leave for any woman or POC who is thinking of getting into engineering:

It WILL be hard. Don’t let anyone or anything intimidate you. You will definitely feel like a minority more than ever. But also do not feel bad if you feel bested. Engineering is not for everyone, but if you persevere, it will be well worth the sacrifice in the end.

Kathryna Clarke

Environmental Engineer - What is does an environmental engineer do every day? Kathryn Clarke talks about her daily routine and job as an environmental engineer.

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