The phrase “STEM career” is a vague term that actually represents an exciting array of jobs. For STEM month, we at Girl Scouts of Central Maryland would like to introduce you to several women who work in STEM fields. They will tell you in their own words why STEM careers are the best!
Zaniah Andino Viruet, P.E.
Project Engineer with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Baltimore District – Construction Division
University of Delaware, Class of 2007, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Minor in Spanish Literature
What do you do?
I manage military construction for the Government. If the Army (or any Department of Defense Agency) needs someone to oversee construction of a new building (offices, lab, park, day care, anything they need), they pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to be their representative. We make sure the Contractor builds what we asked for in a safe manner while still maintaining quality, budget, and time constraints. Sometimes I get to provide my input on the design, but it depends on what kind of contract it is. If there are any issues with the design when construction starts, it is my job to meet up with the designers and get the answers to the Contractor’s questions in a timely manner as to not delay the project.
How did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
Civil Engineering has 5 different concentrations – Transportation, Structures, Water Resources, Environmental, and Construction. When you go to school, you learn a little bit about all of them. I applied to UD as a Structural Engineer because I wanted to design Roller Coasters. How awesome is that!?!? Well, when I started taking those classes, I found out that I really DID NOT like doing that work. I could do it, but it was really boring for me. Blah! What was I to do? I was already starting my junior year; I was almost done! Luckily, that semester I took a ‘Water Processing/Treatment’ class. I loved it! I wanted to work for a company that would test water treatment processes for their efficiency and provide recommendations. They, sadly, did not offer me a job before graduation. I got a job with my least preferred agency – the Army Corps of Engineers. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to work for them, but not in Construction. Boy was I wrong! I was hired as part of the ‘Federal Career Intern Program’ into a 2 year rotational program. I got to do every Engineering job USACE had to offer in those 2 years visiting different sections before I got to my final assignment at Ft. Detrick, MD, as part of Construction division. I have been here for 7 years, 5 of which were full-time just in construction, and I love my job!
What is a typical day like at your job?
I try to establish a routine for my projects, but it really depends on what the important tasks are that day. The things I do every day can be summarized into 3 categories: Administration, Site Visits, and Meetings.
- Administration: Paperwork! I am responsible for reviewing submittals that contain information on what the contractor will be installing in the building. I make recommendations to my Boss, on whether things should be approved or rejected. I answer Requests for Information with the Design Team for questions/problems the Contractor may be having with the design of something in the project. I also have to log what I saw going on when I do my site visits into a special computer program that we use to manage the contract. (Don’t worry; I work as part of a team with usually 3 other people in charge of different parts of administrative stuff!)
- Site Visits: I have to go visit my project at least once a day to make sure the Contractor is following all the safety and quality rules. Once the submittals are approved and RFIs answered, I go out and make sure that what the Contractor said he was going to install, is actually getting installed! Safety wise, I make any comments on things that are not safe. (When the Contractor signs onto the project with us, they are agreeing to follow certain rules. Safety rules are governed by our safety manual called the EM-385-1-1.)
- Meetings: There are different types of meetings, but they usually don’t happen on the same day, or every day. Progress meetings usually happen once a week. The contractor goes over where they are in construction, what they’re missing, and what they’re planning on doing for the next 2 weeks. They bring up any issues that they may have like submittals which haven’t been returned, things that may be affected by weather, and when they have deliveries scheduled.Sometimes I have to meet with the group who will be using the building once it’s complete. I make sure that they are engaged in the process, and answer any questions they may have about how things are supposed to work. I also have to make sure I properly explain which things are included in our contract. If they need something, I explain the process for a change order, and get all the information on what they need to change in the contract. I take that information back to my team and we work with the contractor on including the new things/changes the end-user needs to properly work in their new building. Other times I have to meet with other agencies when my project has conflicts with the neighboring areas and the issues have to be resolved in the best interest of everyone involved.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is interacting with people. Sometimes it can be a hassle to get the contractor to understand your side, but that is all part of the challenge. Presenting the facts, getting your point across, and staying professional. It’s not personal, it’s business. I also love meeting new people as a volunteer for USACE’s STEM initiative. (Like answer questions for Girl Scouts!) I got the chance to go visit my High School and present at their career day, as part of work!
What is the most surprising thing that you have discovered about your field?
I think the most surprising thing about my field would have to be that Civil Engineering covers so many things. If it’s a big thing – roads, buildings, dams, levees, bridges, water parks – a Civil Engineer was involved at some point.
What did you have to learn in order to do what you do?
I have a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Civil Engineering, but a lot of my coworkers are other types of engineers. I also have my Professional Engineer’s license in Civil: Environmental and Water Resources engineering. You don’t need a professional license for my job, but it helps since I can’t get promoted anymore without it.
What is one piece of advice you would give to girls about careers in STEM?
My advice would be to stick with it. It may seem hard at first, but everything is hard when you’re new! Stick with it to learn new things and expand your horizons.
What is something girls should know about STEM?
STEM is awesome! I have always been good at science, math, and technology. Engineering is when you use all of those things to solve problems.
Were you a Girl Scout?
No, but I have always wanted to be!