Ritika Kundu, Ph.D. P.E.
COWI North America, Inc.
What is your current role and what does your job entail?
I’m a geotechnical engineer focused on underground construction and deep foundation. Currently, I’m working on two major CSO projects which involve the designing of large and deep shafts; support of excavation, and tunnel. I am part of the UCA of SME Young Members (YM) Executive Committee.
How did you learn about a career in tunneling?
During my Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin, I worked on an industrial tunnel project in Edmonton, CA. That project introduced me to the underground construction industry. I presented a paper on the same project at the World Tunnel Congress (WTC) in San Francisco. Attending WTC was an eye-opening experience for me and I felt I belong to this industry.
“For me, the challenges and risks involved with underground construction are interesting. Every day presents a new challenge which keeps me motivated. This field satisfies my passion to create the underground space to support livable, resilient, and sustainable cities. Since it’s small, you get to know everyone. People are very supportive in this industry.”
Can you explain the Young Member (YM) Executive Committee of UCA of SME?
The main focus of the UCA YM executive committee is to enhance the visibility of the Tunneling and Underground Construction industries with talented young minds throughout the United States. Every year, 4-5 young professionals volunteer as an executive member. We organize webinars for our members and coordinate with speakers to present. We work on the applications and the selection of the scholarship recipients for the RETC and NAT conferences each year. At each of the conferences, we organize social events for members. We also communicate job opportunities and provide support to young professionals through our LinkedIn group. YM group has about 200 members from the industry and academics.
How did your career path influence what you are doing today?
In the U.S. there aren’t many universities that offer underground construction education, so many students don’t get exposed to the industry. That is why I got involved in the UCA of SME YM Executive Committee – to help educate students about the industry and to help connect students with professionals. I have counseled and motivated five students to join the industry.
Who do you think would be a good fit for this industry?
The person who thinks out of the box. In this field, every day brings new problems and challenges that need innovative and logical minds. The person who is motivated to learn and grow. You will be learning throughout your career and this industry will guide you.
If someone were interested in pursuing a career in this field, how should they go about it?
I never thought I would say this but keep your grad school notes: you will need them! Don’t be scared to enter. It’s okay if you don’t have experience or prior tunneling knowledge. The industry will teach you — it has taught all of us. When you join the industry, you will feel secure and motivated. Initially, if it becomes overwhelming you will get help and guidance. Attend webinars; talk to professionals in the industry. Join the UCAYM LinkedIn group, we are there to answer your questions and support you.