Profile: Kelsey Holthaus (CivE, 2014)

It was an enthusiastic high-school physics teacher who drew KELSEY HOLTHAUS (CivE 2014) to civil engineering. “She told me civil engineers are involved in building stadiums, roadways, and other big projects.” Thus inspired, Holthaus set out to do big things.

Holthaus started studying civil engineering at the Duluth campus and transferred to the Twin Cities her junior year. Holthaus was impressed by the professionalism at the Twin Cities campus, and appreciated its size, diversity, and how course material was taught. She felt she was on the right track with her education.

“Studying at both campuses, I got the best of both worlds. The Duluth program seemed to focus on the practical applications of civil engineering; the Twin Cites program, more on fundamentals and how to use those in practice. That balance should benefit me long term.”

Holthaus interned at the Xcel Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Facility, where she now works. The many safety and security measures make it a very safe place. In a typical day, Holthaus might do “seismic analysis of new parts, create models and piping programs, conduct pipe stress analyses, make sure the weight on a piece of equipment is sufficient for mounting, or do basic calculations. I also do a lot of communicating, like getting an equivalency change from my manager, talking with laborers, or coordinating with people.”

Holthaus has also learned some unanticipated career-related skills. “I was trained to do calculations and modeling and that’s what I thought would matter most, but it’s a small part of working somewhere. Shortly after I arrived at Xcel, I was put on a team that did a lot of management and document formatting. I hadn’t anticipated that the language used to communicate with different groups would be so important. I had started figuring out as an intern that it’s crucial to make connections and communicate with different people. I have supportive female role models that help me stay driven, and when I got my job, I contacted a supervisor from my internship and asked him to be my career mentor. He’s been in the industry a long time and is extremely helpful. Understanding office culture helps me make the most of networking connections.” Holthaus now realizes these skills will be important to her long- term goal of growing into a managerial position.

After working for a few months, Holthaus sees her education and experience impacting her daily life. “Driving along the highway, I count the insulators along the power lines to see what kind of voltage it is. Details other people overlook, I can’t not see. My favorite part is seeing the background of what most people take for granted. Even as a student, I had cool opportunities. For example, I went with Professor French to a steel fabrication company and saw beams for the new Vikings Stadium—most people don’t get to see that. And during a recent power outage, my friends asked if I could get their power back on. I couldn’t, but I could look at the grid and see if a tree was down or a crew was dispatched. I’m proud to be providing something that people need. I work at a place that powers one-sixth of the state. It’s very cool to be a part of something so real.”