Aswathy "Ash" Sivaram
Black & Veatch
What is your current role and what does your job entail?
I am an Engineering Manager at Black & Veatch in their heavy civil department. I’m currently working on multiple projects, which include two dam projects in South Carolina and Texas and an Integrated Pump Station (IPS) in Toronto as part of the construction management team. On a day to day basis, my job varies from geotechnical planning, site investigations, tunnel and shaft designs, preparing contract documents or looking up at often 6’5” tall tunnel superintendents (I am 5’2”) and making sure construction is progressing according to design and schedule!
Can you explain the Young Members (YM) committee of UCA of SME?
We coordinate all of the activities that young members can take part in, including scholarship and networking events at the two tunneling conferences, North American Tunneling Conference (NAT) and Rapid Excavation and Tunneling Conference (RETC). At the conferences, we host a happy hour networking event for younger industry professionals. We host monthly professional development webinars that feature a variety of presenters that discuss projects, technical challenges, and academic study. We have an active LinkedIn group where we communicate opportunities and stay connected. We also mentor younger professionals and students that we meet at conferences.
How did you learn about a career in tunneling?
When I graduated from Georgia Tech, I had applied for two different positions. One was for more of a traditional role and the other was for Black & Veatch, where tunneling was part of the job description. While the role at Black and Veatch seemed somewhat unknown, I knew I would still be using fundamentals from my education. I met a senior engineer, sort of a “genius grandpa” named James McKelvey (who unfortunately passed away in 2015) who helped me make my decision. He didn’t say, “You should definitely go into a career in tunneling.” Instead he said, “If you choose to come work with us, you will be working on large infrastructure projects. You can always downsize from there.”
I appreciate the sheer scale of what we get to do. It’s like when you look at the night sky. While it makes you feel insignificant, at the same time it is also awe-inspiring.
Who do you think would be a good fit for a career in tunneling?
Really anyone can be in this field. As an Indian woman engineer, I try to help both women and people of color know that an opportunity in this field can be an option for them, and it is not a boys’ club anymore. I wish the scenario changes in India soon –although my graduating class comprised of 50% women, it pains me to see civil engineering jobs there still advertised as “only male candidates need apply”.
What do you think is most interesting about this field?
I appreciate the sheer magnitude of what we get to do. It’s like when you look at the night sky. While it makes you feel insignificant, at the same time it is also awe-inspiring. It’s the duality of what we get to do: we are somewhat insignificant as individuals but as a team, together we can build large-scale infrastructure like tunnels in an effort to improve quality of life.
If someone were interested in pursuing a career in this field, how should they go about it?
Get involved with UCA of SME Young Members because we are awesome! Really though, there are a lot of opportunities and we want to help support people interested in this career. UCA of SME Young Members includes undergrad and grad students and young industry professionals. As a student, you can apply for a scholarship to attend industry conferences, North American Tunneling Conference (NAT) and Rapid Excavation and Tunneling Conference (RETC), where you’d get a chance to interact and learn from industry professionals.
And as always, please reach out to the YM Executive Committee if you are looking for a mentor in the industry – we can hook you up!