Passionate About Engineering
Passionate about engineering is an apt descriptor for these two recent graduates from Civil, Environmental and Geo- Engineering. Shelly Matsuda and Lindsay Gaines both graduated in December 2015 and both found a good fit in the Surface Transportation Division of TKDA, a company that strives to hire people who are passionate about engineering.
Gaines has a passion for traffic engineering that started when she attended a seminar on autonomous vehicles and Intelligent Traffic Systems. “That was really interesting, and autonomous vehicles are just super awesome! It seemed that transportation would be a field in civil engineering that would be growing—not just in the sense of job security, but also in the sense of new technologies coming out and the whole infrastructure changing with the onset of autonomous vehicles.
“I landed an internship in a traffic department and worked on traffic studies and traffic safety. I learned some software programs that are used in the industry (Microstation, Synchro) and discovered I really like using fancy software. After that, I was committed to roadways and traffic.”
Matsuda became fascinated with bridges in high school while researching occupations. “My whole senior year I shadowed a structural engineer in Oahu, Hawaii, where I am from. For my honors program, I studied the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I made a model with K’NEX and presented my research. I had to explain why it was a good design and how civil engineers work to figure out good designs. That experience sparked my interest in civil engineering and convinced me that I wanted to work on bridges. In the process, I came to really appreciate the beauty of bridges and the engineering that goes into them. I get a little geeky about it!
“I first met Kevin Cullen, the Vice President of TKDA’s Surface Transportation Division, at a career fair at UMN. I walked up to TKDA’s booth and announced, “I love bridges and I want to be a bridge engineer!” I went back the next year and he remembered me. I guess I stuck in his head because of my declared love for bridges! When there was an opening in the TKDA bridge department, Kevin contacted me and I started working here the next summer. I got lucky in that I got to work in my chosen niche almost immediately after graduating.”
Matsuda works in the Bridge Group, and Gaines works in the traffic subset of the Highway Group. Both are currently involved in the expansion of Highway 610. TKDA is handling design and construction on this large, complex project. Gaines has been working with Jeff Hilden, PE, on maintenance of traffic (MOT) signage for the highway project. “We put together plans for where to place signs for lane closures and detours and where to place barrels to keep traffic flowing. I have also been working on signal plan sheets, which show where all the pedestals should go and what should be placed on the signal poles (push buttons, etc.). I’m also working on wiring plans for Hwy 610 and some other projects, including a trail.
“I’ve also been modeling intersections in a software called Synchro, which helps us see what the traffic impacts will be when we make lane changes. That is what I did for my CEGE Capstone project, and it has been really helpful to my day-to-day work. I first learned Synchro in a traffic class with Prof. Gary Davis; he gave us really good Synchro projects. I am now the resident Synchro expert!
“On the Hwy 610 project, I was modeling a lane drop on a county highway (CSAH 81) that connects to Hwy 610 to see what the traffic impact would be. I work with a Professional Engineer who checks my work. There is a cycle: do some work, get it checked, do more work, get it checked, do more work, get it checked—even more than in school.”
Matsuda has been designing two abutments on the Maple Grove Parkway Bridge as part of the Hwy 610 project. “I made a 3-D model in Microstation, and laid out the geometry and the concrete quantities. Now I am in the process of seeing if the design will work.
“My capstone project was a general engineering project, but my mentor on that was from TKDA. I don’t work with him now, but I do run into him every so often in the office. For that project, my team designed a building site including parking, detention pond, and soil and erosion control.
“At first, switching to full-time work was a little challenging, but then you adapt. We still have deadlines. Summer will be busy because of construction season. I sometimes work longer than 8 hours, depending on when projects are due, but I’m happy to be here. There are a lot of resources in our office; a lot of people who can help, and they want to help us be successful.”
Matsuda and Gaines offered the following advice for students still studying in CEGE:
Look around. Notice roads and buildings and how they are built. Watch construction sites and see how things are built. You need to know how construction works.
Learn software. Any experience is helpful. You need to become comfortable learning software because it keeps changing.
Take advantage. There are so many opportunities at UMN; take avariety of classes outside of engineering and take advantage of the variety of activities available in school. It helps make you well rounded and interesting
Do an internship. It is way easier to get a job when you have that experience.