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Women In Construction Week 2021

Women In Construction Week

Check out each profile below to learn more about these amazing women.

Christiane Nelson, EI | Major Projects Manager | Orlando, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
Busy! I try to plan my days out to fit it all in, I get my son Cooper ready for school while calling into conference calls.  I spend lots of time on the phone with managers, technicians, and clients.  Half of the day I manage the 35-mile Brightline East West project testing services and the rest of the day I work on Archer Western design builds and other company-wide projects. I devote time in the field at least once a week, where all the action is happening!  In the evenings I play outside with my son and husband, we do homework with Cooper, watch movies, workout and read when I have time. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Working with staff on career development. I love when our employees are successful and I get to be a part of their growth. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?
There are so many possibilities in engineering, spend the time to research and if you can job shadow at different companies to see which branch is the best for you.  Especially in Civil engineering, you can work in geotechnical, structures, transportation, civil site design, in the field, at a desk, with a contractor or a consultant, there isn’t one choice or the right fit for everyone.  There is a vast array of jobs, and it is vital to find the right career fit for your personality. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
I have been really lucky to have several mentors at Universal that help me every day my technical and professional growth. They have lead me to aim for positions that I will be successful at. I try and help other also choose positions that work for them and I like to give people opportunity when it arises.  I think it’s incredible to see what people can do when you give them a chance. Hobbies or fun facts:
I have so many hobbies! I love to travel, do yoga, hike in the mountains, swim, spend time with my tiny human, Cooper and my husband, drink wine, and read fiction. It’s never easy to fit it all in, but I sure try.


Kylie Lim, EIT |
Staff Engineer | Wallace-Kuhl & Associates, a UES Company | West Sacramento, CA

What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day would go one of two ways; I’m either out in the field or in the office. When I go out in the field, I work with drillers to log soil borings, work with backhoe operators to log test pit excavations, perform percolation tests, or perform double-ring infiltrometer tests. When I’m in office, I set up laboratory testing, assist in preparing reports, coordinate field investigations, and communicate with colleagues. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
My most satisfying professional accomplishment was when I worked on the Magpie Creek Levee project and learned new field tests to help me classify soil better.  I felt a much better understanding of the different soil types and classifications.  I now feel more confident in my soil logging abilities. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?
I would reach out to someone who is in the field you are interested in and get to know what they do in their day-to-day life.  Also, get to know engineering fields you might not find interesting because they might surprise you. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
In college, my sister acted as a mentor to me because she is a civil engineer. She helped me navigate my way through engineering courses. She made me feel more comfortable entering a male-dominant field. At WKA, I have amazing coworkers that have mentored me. My coworkers have been very welcoming and made me feel like I’m part of the team. They have guided me and taught me a lot about different soil types and geotechnical engineering. My coworkers are always willing to help me find a solution to a problem. I have helped other staff by sharing the knowledge I have gained from previous projects and from the different engineers and geologists I have worked with. I offer help to my coworkers/teammates whenever possible. Hobbies or fun facts:
I really enjoy playing tennis, swimming, and baking.

Autumn Hudiburg (Mercer) | Environmental Scientist | Orlando, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
My typical day usually includes field work, whether it be a gopher tortoise survey or a Phase I ESA site visit. But I also visit the office often to write reports , research and conduct permitting tasks. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Being featured in the “Women in Business” issue of the I4 Business Magazine in March 2020 regarding gopher tortoise relocation for UES. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?
Follow your dreams and never stop growing.  Constantly absorb new information and utilize your resources. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
The LightBox Developing Leaders Mentor Program helped me grow my brand and connect with my clients further.  I earned a lot of great advice and strategies to better myself in my line of work. I believe I am now a better project manager because of the program. Hobbies or fun facts:
A fun fact about me is that I’m a dairy goat farmer/breeder! I live on a 5-acre farm with my husband, goats, chickens, dogs, rabbits, a cat, and a bearded dragon. One big happy family!

Tara Lane | Director of Business Development | Contour Engineering, a UES Company | Kennesaw, GA

What is a typical day like for you?
Building strategic industry alliances, securing new business while taking care of existing clients that have been good to us through the years, cross-networking with industry partners new and old, meetings/events/phone calls/emails/webinars, collaborating with my new Universal team members to benefit the broader footprint, staying in front of industry trends and creating new ideas to engage with clients to create both a personal and company brand. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Being nominated as one of Georgia’s Most Influential Women In Engineering for ACEC. It was an honor to have been nominated and the finalists will be featured in a Georgia publication that reaches thousands of industry contacts. And helping younger BD women in the industry get to the next level in their career. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?   
I firmly believe that young girls need to see women in engineering roles and need teachers to encourage them so they’ll know it’s a viable career option for them.  Diversity and Inclusion efforts are also helping bring more women and minorities into the field. If you want to be an actual engineer, you have to have be analytical and have an incredible eye and mind for detail. For someone new looking at a Business Development career, I’d relay to them it’s an exciting career particularly when you have a part in building high profile/signature projects and that relationships are everything. You need the ability to build good relationships and quickly. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
I was mentored by some great people early in my career and now I mentor one to two younger BD people a year. It’s rewarding and I think it’s not only important to give back but when I’m in the latter part of my career some of those young folks I’m mentoring today will then be in decision-making roles. The Millennials and Gen Z are important to engage with now in their early years. I also created my own AEC networking group six years ago called Shotgun Sisters. I teach women how to shoot clays so they can participate in industry clay shoots and take their clients. It gives them a skill so they can participate like their male counterparts. I’ve gotten work from the group and I’ve built personal and professional relationships that will last a lifetime. Hobbies or fun facts:
Many years ago I was in a national commercial for Brinks Home Security which was shot in Los Angeles. The TV commercial ran for a couple of years and I was actually recognized once in a restaurant and gave an autograph. And I did some TV commercials in the Washington, DC area as a child.

Vilma Sooknanan | Staff Geologist | Miami, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
My days consist of performing Pile driving or drilled shaft inspections in the field, assisting our staff engineers with reports or proposals, or helping with our drillers for the private sector and Design Build. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Passing my pile driving and drilled shaft inspection certifications and well as working on the Signature Bridge in Miami. I am a Geologist so playing with soils are a lot of fun for me. I am also currently studying to take my FG exam in the fall (This is the equivalent to the EI for engineers) What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?   
School is mandatory and very insightful. It lays the groundwork and teaches you the backbone of whatever you are pursuing. But at the end of the day, the majority of what you learn is on the job training and experience. Don’t ever get discouraged from stepping out of your comfort zone- it’s how you learn. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
My branch manager and manager Rey and Steve have been very supportive of cultivating my talents for my current and future role here at UES. They are my professional network and have helped me tremendously by allowing me to learn what else I can apply myself to, using the experience and degree I hold. I see a bright future ahead. Hobbies or fun facts:
I have recently obtained my USCG Captains license and opened a boat charter business Marine Adventures & Excursions with my partner Joshua Bartczak. I have a second degree in Marine Biology so I am able to pursue both of my passions. I absolutely love sharing my love of the ocean and teaching our guests about ocean conservation.

Estela Leon Aguilar, MS, PE | Geotechnical Department Manager | Delray Beach, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
I typically start my day at 4am (I’m an early bird!). I like to start my day with a workout then I take my dog Willie for his daily run. After that is off to the races to get breakfast ready, pack lunch and off to the office. My days are mostly spent at the office nowadays. I manage my time between report reviews and preparation, proposals, talking to clients, meetings, drilling schedule, and putting out whatever the fire of the day is. My 2021 goal is to leave the office by 6pm which I’m getting better at. Once home is time to relax and decompress with my boyfriend and our boy Willie. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
So far, definitely my professional engineering license. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?
INFORMATION is my biggest advice! The more you know, the better you can choose your career. This is something I’m currently actively working on with my role as Recruit Lead with the Women in Deep Foundation (WiDFI) Committee. We are actively working on bringing “awareness” in a sense about all the beautiful possibilities and options a career in engineering (in our case in geotechnical engineering) has to offer. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful
I’ve been very fortunate to have Carlos Mercado as my boss to help me grow as a professional and to also trust my abilities. WiDFI has also been an amazing group for me! To be able to connect with so many amazing successful women in this field and men who support us in this field has been very encouraging for me. It has also open my eyes to all the things I didn’t know Geotech field has to offer and how I wish I knew sooner. I try to help others through education. Hobbies or fun facts:
I played bass in a band during my early teens. If we wouldn’t have left Costa Rica when we did (I was 15 at the time), I think I would be a musician instead of an engineer now. My boyfriend and I love to travel for Spartan races. I also enjoy languages so during my lunch break I’m currently attempting to learn Russian. When I wasn’t so busy, I also practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but it has been a while since I’ve had time for that. I certainly enjoyed it!

Melisse T. James, PE | Environmental Department Manager | Orlando, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
It all starts with COFFEE. Much of my day is spent consulting with clients on environmental matters for their projects, supporting my team, and seeing that the department is running smoothly. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
I recently passed my Professional Engineer exam! What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?   
Learn about all aspects of engineering to see that you find the best career fit for yourself. Internships are a great way to learn about real-life applications. Take advantage of any growth opportunities presented to you and you will go far!
How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
Endless support from the leaders in my company has given me confidence in my career. Their wisdom and advice is always appreciated. I do my best to pay it forward and offer support to my team in their career development. Hobbies or fun facts:
I love gardening and I am working to create a tropical oasis in my backyard!

Michelle McIntyre, MPH, CIH, CSP, CHSP, CMC, CIEC | Director of Occupational Health & Safety | Fort Myers, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
My role is to support all branches as they grow the OHS consulting service line in their region. A typical day involves technical support of industrial hygiene and safety consulting work, project management, proposal development, and staff training. Your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Helping clients solve challenging and often dangerous environmental health and safety needs.  Finding out why toddlers were lead poisoned, locating the source of mold in a house with an asthmatic, performing a study on a cluster of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, abating a classroom with an infectious agent, creating a radon program where residents were able to find radon levels 35 times higher than recommended, and sampling workers for exposure to carcinogens are all examples of work I have performed in my career. Any advice for others considering a career in engineering?
If you are looking for a challenging career where every day is different and you are continually learning, the construction/engineering industry is a great place to look. When I started my career around thirty years ago, women were occupying about 9% of construction jobs.  We are still hovering around 10%.  It would be great to see that number rise. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
I think it is very important, especially when new to the industry to have someone to help guide the way but it is just as important to have support throughout your career – I learn something new every day from my peers and co-workers. The most influential mentors I have had were strong, smart women who I worked for early in my career who helped navigate the nuances of working in a male-dominated field and were fearless when continually asked by clients to ‘speak to the man in charge’. Hobbies or fun facts:
Currently, my three main hobbies are the gym, food and naps!

Courtlyn Hisey, EI | Geotechnical Staff Engineer | Miami, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
It varies day by day! Typically, I help manage our Geotechnical Private Sector projects by coordinating drilling, writing geotech reports and proposals, classifying soils etc. I also go out into the field for inspections for our two design-build projects! What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Passing my Engineering Intern License Exam and receiving the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Miami-Dade Branch 2020 Young Engineer of the Year! What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?   
Always continue to learn outside of the office. Whether it’s a quick article or a book related to our field, read it! The more knowledge you know the better you will be. Also, always remember to take notes! You may not use what you learn every day so it is important to keep record of everything. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
I have actively been involved in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) since I was an undergraduate at Florida International University and it got me a job here at UES! Through this society, I have really built my networking skills and met some of our clients. I always try and encourage everyone to come to these events in effort to help them build their professional network as well! Hobbies or fun facts:
I really enjoy being outdoors and out on the water. I used to work for a manatee tour guide company and loved being out in nature with these amazing creatures!

Kathy Sabac | Department Manager of Construction Special Inspections | Port St. Lucie, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
I love being in the field! I am very fortunate that I have two fantastic teams that are out in the field performing blower door, construction support inspections and our health and safety testing. I am then able to be in the field performing various types of inspections and consultations for residential and commercial structures including third-party inspections, quality control inspections, water intrusion investigations, thermography/moisture mapping, building envelope and pre-construction surveys for DOT jobs. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
My passion is to help and make a difference that I can see. It is very satisfying for me to be part of a team that helps our clients and the consumer by providing services to assure that the end result is a project that is built safely and to the highest standards. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?
Get involved and learn all that you can about the many opportunities available and find the area that provides YOU with the most rewarding challenges, personal growth and success. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you?
How do you help others be successful?  Every person I meet is my “teacher” in some way each day for some reason. Understanding the reason and the lesson through awareness and gratitude allows me to be better at helping others be successful. I am grateful for the experiences in the field and office every day because I am surrounded by amazing teachers with different skills and backgrounds. I want others to be successful and I believe that starts with personal and career growth satisfaction. I do my best to encourage this growth by listening, recognizing, appreciating and supporting others to continue their education, cross-train and find the career path that provides them with that balance and satisfaction each day. Hobbies or fun facts:
I am an avid “Fangler” a female angler, diver and thalassophile! The ocean is definitely my “go-to” and where I find my peace.

Mimi Hourani | Lab Manager, SUMMIT | Fort Mill, SC

What is a typical day like for you?
Being the Laboratory manager of SUMMIT’s full-service, 6,000 sf lab requires a busy day. Starting off with checking emails, organizing the lab schedule, on the phone with clients, reviewing data and overseeing the lab technicians. I’m always striving to go the extra mile with clients by keeping the lines of communication open and letting them know that they can always come to me for any questions or concerns. Your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Starting SUMMIT from ground zero. When I first started, there was no lab. The hardest accomplishment was getting SUMMIT’s lab accredited/certified to where it is now. This was important to me because when you open a lab, you want to stand out. Any advice for others considering a career in engineering?
Don’t dismiss working at the bottom because that is essential in gaining success. You have to appreciate the basics in order to grow for future success. I worked as a lab technician after receiving my Chemistry degree, and I appreciate where I’ve grown in my career since then. How has mentoring helped you?
How do you help others? Reach out for your contacts, even outside of the office. Networking is key. Get to know your project managers because people are willing to talk to help educate you. Never be afraid to ask, learn as much as you can. Knowledge will always be handy. It’s not always about the books but the people who can get you to where you need to be. Hobbies or fun facts:
I graduated from a British High School at 16 when living in Kuwait, while my father was working as a Petroleum Engineer. I completed a Chemistry degree at Iowa University aged 20. I’m bilingual and can speak Arabic and English.

Biruktait “Brook” Berta | Senior Project Manager | Las Vegas, NV

What is a typical day like for you?
My day starts by getting calls from contractors, clients and inspectors early in the morning. I respond to all calls and emails and make sure everyone’s problems are solved for the most part. I get my son ready for school before leaving the house. I like to visit some of my project sites before getting to the office. Most of my days are spent on writing reports, meetings, responding to emails, putting fires out with any problems my projects come across and do my best to have my jobs going smoothly. I also help my Project Managers with any problem they encounter with. Your most satisfying professional accomplishment?
Being where I am now gives me the greatest satisfaction. I’m most satisfied and grateful for getting the chance to mentor and guide my Project Managers and Coordinators and to see them grow in their professional lives. Any advice for others considering a career in engineering?
Engineering is a rewarding career. Being an engineer is being a part of the future. The sky is the limit in engineering, and everything is within your reach to be a part of that creation. How has mentoring helped you? How do you help others?
I am a part of professional organizations and networking in these organizations made things possible for me. Networking made me grow in my professional life. I have learned and still learning from my mentor. Since mentorship helps me with my professional growth, I take all the chances I get to mentor others who ask for it. Hobbies or fun facts:
I am a family person and doing activities with my son, husband and the rest of my family gives me satisfaction. I like to watch movies with my husband, read books and listen to spiritual music. I love making traditional Ethiopian food.

Sydney Beim | Staff Geologist | Orlando, FL

What is a typical day like for you?
I mainly focus on due diligence work, so most days I am either conducting research or fieldwork for Phase I and Phase II ESA’s to assess the potential environmental conditions/risks present at various commercial and industrial properties. What has been your most satisfying professional accomplishment?  
So far, my most satisfying professional accomplishment has been helping to manage one of Environmental’s national accounts. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be challenged in a new way with each project I am given, and as a result of it, I have grown so much as a consultant. What advice would you give to others who are considering a career in engineering?
I would tell them to be prepared for and excited by a fast-paced work environment that requires time management and multitasking skills. How has mentoring or a professional network helped you? How do you help others be successful?
I found a mentor through a professional network and she has helped me begin to think about my long-term career goals, which is important to me as I am still relatively new in the field. I try to help others be successful by making myself available to assist them with their work when they need support. Hobbies or fun facts:
When I’m not working, I like to run and spend time outside with friends.