Our third Q & A in the series is with one of our Senior Project Engineers, Heather Audet. She has a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in Ocean Engineering also from Florida Institute of Technology. She joined the NTH team in 2005.
What were your favorite subjects in high school? Chemistry, Physics, and English. Math was OK, but I wasn’t excited to go to trig or algebra.
When did you know you were interested in engineering? For a while I wanted to be a flight attendant, working my way up to international flights. I guess in 11th grade when it came time to think about college, the flight attendant goal just drifted away. I learned about coastal and ocean engineering and that sealed the deal.
What was it that piqued your interest? I must have read something about beach re-nourishment and I felt that I wanted to save the beaches. Watching the coastal process at Cape Cod and Rhode Island growing up fascinated me.
Did you have any mentors? No one really sticks out as a mentor. My college professors Drs. Paul Cosentino and Ed Kalajian were helpful in building me up (especially while working on the concrete canoe and teaching classes), and friends such as Silas Nichols, who were a few years older than me were there when I had questions or needed second opinions. Sue Hann, who was an adjunct professor, Director of Public Works, and fellow biker rider, was the first woman I worked for and a trail blazer for me.
Who was your biggest influencer in your career choice? No one really influenced me. I just kind of fell into geotechnical engineering. It was the perfect combination of being in the office and outside.
Did you face any resistance from family or friends about your career choice? Not at all. My father was in mechanical engineering (designing pens, highlighters, fans, humidifiers, and other stuff we use every day) and my brother followed the engineering footsteps and is a mechanical engineer designing HVAC, plumbing and fire suppression systems.
Did you entertain any other career possibilities? If so, what and why didn’t you go that route? Flight attendant, because I love to travel; but I figured I’d get bored after a while. And they still had height and weight requirements back in the day. Plus, I don’t think I could be pleasant to hundreds of people over a 14 hour day.
What is it about civil engineering that caught your interest out of the other engineering fields? Being outside. I don’t want to be stuck in an office every day for the rest of my career. Even now that I’m nearing 20 years as an engineer, I enjoy the times I have to go out to a project site (no matter how hot, cold, or wet it is).
How/why did you choose NTH? The selection of projects I get to work on is fantastic. I’ve done things I never would have been able to do with a different company. I haven’t bounced around too much, but I’ve learned how important it is to work for a company that does quality work, and gets high profile projects. Being employee-owned is also nice because I worked for a family-owned company in the past, and felt like I was working hard so the board members (family) could make money off of my sweat and hard work.
What do you do at NTH and what do you like most about your job? I’m a senior project engineer and project manager. I’m in the heavy underground group, which means my project include tunnels, sewers and other large underground structures.
What is your favorite project you’ve worked on as an engineer? Anything that gets me in the field. My favorite project has got to be the Detroit River International Crossing (now the Gordie Howe International Crossing). I spent about 5 months drilling along the Detroit River to depths of 1,700 feet to make sure a new bridge wasn’t constructed over a brine well cavity (salt mine). In order to drill this deep, we had to work with oil and gas drillers, so the equipment was all new to me.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in engineering and related fields? Get out there. The gender inequality is not the issue it was when I started. Our office is even in terms of the men to women ratio.