When it comes to thinking outside the box, Kimberly Del Col is required to do so on a daily basis. As a Senior Staff Engineer at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services, Kimberly oversees and documents day-to-day activities on construction sites to make sure contractors are compliant with environmental regulations. Her days start early, but every day is different which keeps things exciting.
Majoring in Chemical Engineering and Sustainability from Villanova University, Kimberly knew early on that she wanted to study something that combined science and math. As a female in a very male dominated field, Kimberly is learning how to be more assertive. We can’t help but be inspired by her drive, passion, and determination to make a change. Read on to learn Kimberly’s advice for those interested in being an engineer, how we can take care care of the environment on a daily basis, and the resources that have professionally and personally inspired her.
Name: Kimberly Del Col
Education: Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and Sustainability from Villanova University; Master of Science in Sustainable Engineering from Villanova University
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”
Kimberly Del Col: I envision youth as a resource we are given. Like any resources (physical or other) we have the ability to use it to our advantage, to help us grow, or we can waste it. To me, seizing your youth is the ability to harness this resource for your better good and use it as a foundation to help you grow and meet whatever goals you’re trying to achieve.
CJ: You majored in Chemical Engineering and Sustainability from Villanova University. How did you determine what to study?
KDC: I’ve always had an interest in science and math, so I knew when I went to college I wanted to major in something that incorporated both. Engineering seemed like the right balance of the two. At Villanova University, the first engineering class you take helps you explore the various disciplines of engineering through lectures and labs on each disciple. When it came to the Chemical Engineering portion of the class I found the concept and theories discussed made sense, everything clicked.
As I progressed in the Chemical Engineering degree I had the option to take classes that incorporated some of the foundation classes of the degree (such as mass transfer and reactor engineering) and applied it to environmental scenarios. That is when I decided to pursue a concentration in sustainability.
CJ: After college you decided to earn your Master of Science in Sustainable Engineering from Villanova University. What led to your decision to go to graduate school?
KDC: I’ve always had an interest in sustainability, climate change and environmental health, but it wasn’t until I was a senior at Villanova that the Sustainable Engineering program was formed. Once I began working, I became more involved with local sustainability initiatives and educating myself on what it means to live sustainably. I decided to go back to school part-time about a year after I finished my undergraduate degree so that I could incorporate the knowledge I attained from class into work (and vice-versa). Also I was able to use what I learned in class to drive new initiatives at work and my personal endeavors, that’s how you create change.
CJ: You worked as a Staff Engineer at H2M architects + engineers, a consulting and design firm. What did your duties entail and what takeaways did you learn from that experience?
KDC: At H2M I worked as part of their water resource group. The group’s responsibilities were primarily designing and overseeing the implementation of drinking water (groundwater) treatment, distribution and storage systems. I also worked on groundwater models that would predict groundwater impacts (contamination) down the road. These models helped us better understand the challenges these water districts may face and help us better design treatment systems so that the water can be clean and safe to drink. I learned so much at H2M; the biggest take away was learning to effectively communicate with my team. It easy to think engineering is just about numbers but if you can’t communicate that idea to someone effectively, you’re project can’t succeed.
CJ: You are now a Senior Staff Engineer at Langan Engineering & Environmental Services. What does that mean and what does your role entail?
KDC: At Langan, my responsibilities are a bit more hands on. As environmental field staff, I’m responsible to oversee and document day-to-day activities on construction sites, as due diligence for our clients and making sure contractors are compliant with environmental regulations. Upon completion, we compile all of the information from the project and provide a report explaining how the requirements were met. We also are responsible for the planning and execution of sampling events to meet certain environmental requirements. Once the event is completed we compile the results and provide alternatives for moving forward with remediating the site.
CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?
KDC: Every day is different! On typical day in the office I’ll be working on various reports explaining the findings of previous investigations, compiling information for final reports on construction jobs I’ve overseen or doing historical research of new sites to determine if there are any notable causes for environmental impacts. If I’m in the field the day usually starts around 6:30 AM where I’ll be on-site receiving any equipment I may need for the day’s work.
Field work varies from overseeing construction and making sure the contractor is being compliant with not only our specifications, but regulations set forth by various environmental policy makers (ie: New York City Office of Remediation (NYCOER), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) etc.) to completing the physical investigation of a site. This includes the sampling of soil, groundwater and soil vapor and conducting a visual inspection of the site to look for any indication of environmental impacts.
CJ: What are the three most important skills you need as an engineer?
KDC: Adaptability, ability to communicate (written & speaking), and critical thinking.
CJ: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in being an engineer?
KDC: Engineering is a challenging profession, so be prepared to think outside the box and take things day by day.
CJ: Sustainable building and planning, water and soil remediation technologies, and sustainable farming are interests of yours. What makes you so passionate about these topics? How do you think people can be better about taking care of the environment in their everyday lives?
KDC: Often times people think of ‘sustainability’ as an environmental concept when really it is so closely connected to social and economic impacts (commonly referred to as the ‘triple bottom line’). There are technologies that have been developed to create more resilient infrastructure that can handle some of the recent climate events we’re seeing (ie: hurricanes, droughts, floods etc) so people aren’t left homeless, farming techniques that not only preserve soil integrity but help crops survive floods or drought, and materials that use fossil fuels to produce and are less harmful to produce for factory workers. I think once people start to look at sustainability in this light it takes on a more personal meaning. On a day to day level things like turning off lights, choosing post-recycled or sustainably sourced products all contribute to a greener society. Being educated is your greatest resource. Read labels and ask questions. The more you know, the better decisions you can make.
CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?
KDC: It is critical to be organized and efficient, especially in the field. Before any field investigation I put together a binder of all of the information I need – contact information, site plans, previous investigation reports, sample tables etc. – so that when I’m on site I have all of the information I could need readily available. In the office I have a list of critical items that need to be completed, their deadlines and if there’s any outstanding information I need to complete them. Once a day I go through the list, make and updates and if there’s something I need to address I make sure to do it and note the action. With the constant flux of information on various projects coming across my desk, it’s easy to forget something if it isn’t right in front of you.
CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?
KDC: It’s easy to be intimidated as a female in a very male dominated field so I’m constantly working on my ability to be assertive. It’s easy to back down and try to compromise when someone is arguing with me but if I compromise my work then I compromise my integrity, which is not that standard I hold myself to.
CJ: What are some books, resources, and websites that have influenced you – either personally or professionally (or both)?
KDC: Engineers without Borders and Society of Women Engineers are two groups that I’ve found a lot of inspiration. Both societies offer resources for both learning and networking that have been instrumental in molding my interest in sustainable engineering and its social implications. Also, many of Michael Pollan’s books, which focus on the sustainability of the food chain, have helped me foster my interest in sustainable farming and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
CJ: What is your favorite book?
KDC: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
CJ: If you could have coffee with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?
KDC: Emily Warren Roebling. Roebling had a huge hand in the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, even became the chief engineer of the project when her husband fell ill. For a woman to have such an esteemed role in such a monumental project during a time when women did not really have a presence in the field is awe inspiring.
CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
KDC: Never apologize for being ambitious or driven. I used to always start sentences saying, ‘I’m sorry/ I’m sorry but…’ when I had nothing to be sorry about. Once you stop apologizing and start being confident in your ideas and concepts, people will notice (and respect) you.
Images by Carpe Juvenis