02.20.2019  |  News

How I Became an Engineer/Scientist


Engineers and scientists take many different avenues on their way into the engineering field. This National Engineering Week, we want to highlight a few of the paths our own employees took into becoming engineers and scientists.

Steve Pritchett- Civil/Structural Engineer
Schaumberg, Illinois

I got into Engineering by accident—As luck would have it, I graduated from a high school that was located very close to a highly regarded University (which was also known for being inexpensive). I went there and chose Civil Engineering as a starting major, mostly because that field of study had the most scholarships available. As the coursework progressed, I found that I really liked some of the courses, particularly those on the topic of Structural Engineering. I found that I had a knack for visualizing forces moving through structures and connections and I loved having the opportunity to solve complex problems. I was lucky enough to have randomly chosen the correct path for me right from the start, and although the path hasn’t always been a smooth one, I’ve not regretted the decision to pursue engineering yet.

Sarah Williams- Civil Engineer
Norfolk, Virginia

I became interested in engineering because I really enjoyed physics class in high school.  I’ve always been passionate about protecting the environment, so water civil engineering design seemed like a fitting nexus of the two.



Nicole Pulido- Mechanical Engineer
San Diego, California

My dad is a Civil Structural engineer at Bechtel and would visit my high school to talk to the students about engineering careers. He would tell us how interesting the work was, and it was obvious that he genuinely enjoyed it. Many of my friends went on to study engineering in college because of his visits. I did too.
#NeverSeenHimWithoutHisMustache #SameNose

Jason Bybel- Senior Project Manager
Austin, Texas

I grew up in a small-town west of Lubbock, Texas that is dominated by the oilfield and agricultural industries. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I “grew up” so I started at Junior College in my hometown thinking I would go into banking. I got a job at a local bank and started taking finance-oriented calculus and quickly figured out that it wasn’t challenging/rewarding. I took an engineering calculus class where a professor took notice and recommended me for an internship for the City of Denton Water/Wastewater Engineering Department in the Dallas/Fort Worth area the summer before transferring to Texas A&M University. I really enjoyed the work and respected the challenges that the utility was tasked with solving. 

Allie Syiem- Mechanical/ Civil Engineer
San Diego, California

I became interested in engineering because “how” was my favorite question. I was not only interested in the entertainment of robotics or the aesthetics of bridges, but also how robots’ limbs moved and how a bridge could stand. Engineering allows me to satisfy my questions of “how” while giving me the opportunity to do fulfilling work providing for people’s needs.

Pictured here is my husband and I on an engineering service trip to India where we built a schoolhouse for the community. 

Dawn Taffler- One Water Practice Leader
Pasadena, California

At an early stage in my career I became a LEED Accredited Professional, to demonstrate my commitment to finding solutions that balance economic, environmental and social goals. My high school physics teacher told me I could save the environment with math and physics, so I became an environmental engineer. Over my career I have transitioned between engineering natural treatment systems, like wetlands, to advance treatment systems for potable reuse of municipal wastewater; saving the world one drop at a time for future generations.

Alicia Nakano- Staff Engineer
Honolulu, Hawaii

I got into engineering because it is the practical application of science and mathematics to solve problems.  I am proud that infrastructure we design helps society each day without anyone even thinking about it.




Josh Sales- Vice President
Mission, Kansas

My first job in the environmental field was an internship for a large waste management company doing construction observation on a remedial excavation along a river.  It was shift work and we worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, one week on, one week off. I was living about an hour and a half away from the site, so my days began at 4:00am and finished up around 8:00pm.  This made for a short summer, but I learned a lot about the waste industry and once the two month project was over (the end of my internship) I was offered the opportunity to do other work to finish out the summer, which I gladly accepted.

Deonne Knill- Principal
Portland, Oregon

I always wanted to go work for NASA. When I enrolled in college, it was into the aeronautical engineering program at Purdue. My first semester living away from home (Montana), I was feeling homesick asked some friends about going fishing. They all thought I was crazy. No one would eat fish from the local rivers because of the pollution from factories and farm runoff. It was an eye-opening experience. I switched programs to civil engineering so I could focus my work on water and environmental projects. I love water and the beach and photography. Pictured here is Hug Point, Oregon. You can only get to this spot at low tide.


Greg Arakaki- Senior Engineer
Honolulu, Hawaii

I was pretty good at math when I was in elementary school, and several of my teachers suggested that I should be an engineer or architect.  I guess I was pretty good at following directions back then too!



Sachi Itagaki- Principal, One Water Practice
Santa Clara, California

I started out as a biology major (to study oceanography perhaps?) but quickly discovered that bio majors are often pre-meds too!  I enjoyed geology and oceanography classes and ultimately self-designed an ocean engineering major as an undergrad (even got to spend a summer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography).  After I graduated, I did an environmental internship at Polaroid in Boston then went to Lake Tahoe to work for the Regional Water Quality Control Board as an engineer working on permitting of development (stormwater), wastewater treatment plants, solid waste sites and leaking underground storage tanks.  When I realized that I was making decisions about groundwater that I had no background in, I returned to Stanford for grad school and did an MS in Civil Engineering, Water Resources – Groundwater hydrology after which I started to work for Kennedy Jenks.  I’ve worked on a broad range of projects from groundwater, stormwater, recycled water planning; helped develop a funding practice; water quality including drinking water and water discharge compliance.  Consulting has allowed me to be exposed to a broad range of problems for clients throughout California.



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