Are You an Engineer in the Making?Were you addicted to Legos as a young kid? Do you like math? Do you immediately want to solve any problem you encounter? Look out — you may be an engineer in the making.

Students from Mason Elementary in Lee’s Summit, Missouri are pondering these questions now. As the winners of the 2016 Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains, they’re working with our engineers, architects, designers and construction professionals to develop the first outdoor exhibit for Science City in downtown Kansas City.

The exhibit is part of Union Station’s exciting western expansion, which modernizes the streetscape welcoming visitors and provides a pedestrian/vehicle bridge to the parking garage. The student team recently met with the project’s bridge engineer to understand her roles and responsibilities, and how engineers interact with architects and designers. But first, they heard about the basics of engineering.

What is an Engineer?

The word “engineer” derives from the Latin term for “cleverness” — and that feels just about right. Officially, engineering is the discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems. But it really comes down to problem solving. Engineers figure out why and how things work. They are constantly solving problems to improve the way the world works and how we live.

Everything built is first engineered — and much of what engineers do is behind the scenes. Consider the last building you set foot in. An engineer made sure it was feasible and met all zoning requirements. An engineer established that it could withstand an earthquake. The room is climate-controlled and bright thanks to an engineer. Engineers create places that allow us to focus on the experiences we have in those spaces.

Types of Engineers

Engineers often specialize in a specific branch. There are quite a few areas of specialty, but the types of engineers below are the ones you’ll run into most frequently at Burns & McDonnell.

  • Chemical engineers design manufacturing and industrial processes, reduce emissions from power plants and develop air quality controls for greener energy generation.
  • Civil engineers support projects with essential efforts, from pavement design and site development to utility design and grading.
  • Electrical/computer engineers master project work including electrical systems, lighting design and power distribution systems.
  • Environmental engineers address challenges in water/wastewater, biology, wetlands, erosion control, urban planning and geology, among other areas.
  • Mechanical engineers develop energy efficiency processes and design industrial facilities, airports, power plants and water/wastewater treatment plants.
  • Structural engineers handle a number of assignments including foundation design, retaining walls, bridge design, transmission structures and facility design.

So, Are You a Future Engineer?

We’re thrilled if engineering is in your worldview. But is it right for you? Answering these questions from might provide some insight.

  • Do you enjoy math and science?
  • Are you curious about finding new ways to do things?
  • Do you enjoy being faced with a challenge?
  • Do you want to make a difference in the world?
  • Do you like helping people and improving their lives?
  • Are you curious about how things work?
  • Do you prefer to work with other individuals or in teams?
  • Do you enjoy being creative?

We heard a lot of yes answers from the kids at Mason Elementary. How about you? If these questions get you amped up, you’re ready for the next step! Check out the opportunities available through our job shadow program. We take the experience of job shadowing seriously, because we know there’s no substitute for this experiential learning experience.

Are you one of the next generation of innovative engineers? Does job shadowing a STEM professional sound like an awesome way to spend the day? Send us a note or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Julee Koncak is director of the Burns & McDonnell Foundation and community relations director at Burns & McDonnell, where giving, volunteering and grant programs are focused on STEM education and other community initiatives.


A Day in the Life of a Wetland DelineatorBri Richards is a wetland scientist and delineator at Burns & McDonnell. She spends her days conducting wetland assessments and delineations, regulatory permitting, and mitigation monitoring. Here she shares a look into her day-to-day life as a wetland delineator.

My Fitbit buzzes to inform me that I’ve achieved my 10,000 step-goal for the day. I chuckle when I glance at my watch and see that it’s only noon. Step goals are easy to meet when you’ve been hiking since dawn — something I do regularly as a wetland delineator at Burns & McDonnell.

What is a Wetland Delineator?

Prior to the 1970s, wetlands in the U.S. were drained and converted into other ecosystems at an alarming rate. Some states, such as California, reported wetland losses of up to 90 percent. With these rapidly diminishing wetlands came the disappearance of the unique ecosystem services provided by these areas: improved water quality, valuable wildlife habitat and protection from flooding to name a few.

Recognizing the value of our nation’s wetlands, the federal government issued a “No Net Loss” wetlands policy. Simply the put, the law states that if development will result in the net loss of a wetland area, an equal or greater amount of wetlands must be created. This policy led to a need for scientists who could identify wetlands, quantify impacts and create new wetlands, and thus the profession of wetland delineator was born.

All In a Day’s Work

By the end of the day, the mud-caked soles of my hiking boots will have added ten or more miles to their resume. They will have slogged through the saturated soil of a cattail wetland, guided me — safely, of course — beneath countless barbed wire fences, and tip-toed stealthily to spy on a flock of Sandhill cranes. Tonight I will stuff balled up newspaper into my trusty boots, courtesy of the hotel concierge. Even the best waterproof boots can’t remain dry through a downpour like the one they endured earlier that morning.

Despite the weather, the day has been a productive one. My field partner and I have surveyed several miles of a 200-foot-wide swath of land that— barring any major permitting obstacles — will become an overhead transmission line in a year or two.

I’ve dug seven soil pits, identified 20 botanical species, and carefully noted various indicators of wetland hydrology. My field partner, operating a tablet connected to a sub-meter accurate GPS unit, has meticulously mapped the boundaries of one wetland and two streams. I anticipate that we’ll finish the 15-mile survey area by the end of the week.

Once we complete the field work, we’ll board a plane and fly back to the Burns & McDonnell headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ll swap my hiking boots and fluorescent safety vest for suitable business wear, and then I’ll begin the process of assembling the wetland delineation report. The majority of my time will be spent post-processing the spatial data collected by the GPS, adding captions to dozens of photos, filling in electronic versions of the wetland delineation forms, and summarizing the previous week’s field visit in a six-page report.

Two weeks later, once my report has run the quality review gauntlet and has been submitted to the client for approval, I will already be at a new project site in a different state. But for now, at noon in a farm field in Indiana, I still have several more hours of hiking and adventure in front of me. It’s just another day in the life of a wetland delineator.

If you’re interested in a similar career path at a company that has consistently been ranked as one of Fortune magazine’s Best Companies to Work For, check out the current openings at Burns & McDonnell and apply today.

Bri Richards is a wetland scientist at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in wetland assessments and delineations, regulatory permitting, and mitigation monitoring.


A Look Inside Burns & Mac: Jerome Farquharson, Utility Cybersecurity Pioneer

by The Burns & McDonnell Careers Team May 17, 2016

When people ask Jerome Farquharson about his job, he sometimes jokes that he works for the FBI. And while he’s not really a G-Man, his career objective is similar. As a regional global practice manager responsible for cybersecurity and regulatory compliance in the utility space, he protects infrastructure networks from people who want to cause […]

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What the World Needs Now is Engineers

by Christina Conrad April 14, 2016

As if there was ever any doubt, a recent study from the United Kingdom confirms what we’ve always known: The world needs engineers to solve key problems. The Create the Future report, commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, studied public perception of engineering in 10 countries, including the United States. Its findings […]

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Career Perspective: Growing Into an Engineering Manager

by Wayne Keller March 29, 2016

Engineers are a peculiar bunch, there’s no doubt. (I can say that because I am one.) We see the world in a different light, deconstructing everyday existence into the parts and pieces that make it tick, and then putting it all back together in search of new, innovative ways to make things work. It’s a […]

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Burns & McDonnell Is #16 on FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies to Work For List

by Renee Gartelos March 3, 2016

Each year we look forward to FORTUNE’s annual rankings of the top workplaces in the U.S. For the past five years, we’ve been among top 100 Best Companies to Work For — and this year is no exception. Today we learned that we landed the No. 16 spot! The Selection Process Now in its 19th year, […]

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