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Engineers play critical role in ITD’s success

The lives of virtually every man, woman and child in America are shaped to some extent by an engineer. From the products we use, the buildings where we work, the systems we use to communicate, and the roads we travel, engineering is the common denominator.

“Engineering is a profession that affects just about every human being, from public health and safety to mobility,” said ITD’s Chief Engineer Jim Ross.

ITD relies on engineers to monitor traffic flow, detect bridge deficiencies, protect environmentally sensitive resources, plan new highway routes, and design highway construction projects, among many other critical functions.

As the observance of National Engineer’s Week unfolds, Ross emphasized the importance of engineers and the dozen individuals involved in ITD’s Engineer In Training process.

The 1970s ushered in the era of the interstate highway system; construction was rampant and demand for civil engineers soared. Although that system has, for all practical purposes, been completed, don’t expect the demand for engineers to diminish. It’s now time to rebuild the system, and demand for new engineers likely will remain high for the next two decades, Ross suggests.

Demand also tends to surge following reauthorization of the federal transportation bill. The new bill – SAFETEA – may be just weeks away.

ITD has been relatively successful in recruiting and retaining engineers, despite national trends to the contrary. “The demand is increasing, and we’re seeing a shortage of civil engineers nationwide,” Ross said.

A very solid Engineer In Training (EIT) program provides a steady flow of new engineers to the department.

“We have been successful in keeping EITs after they become professional engineers. Once they’ve been here eight or 10 years, they tend to stay. They find the work interesting, become comfortable with their career choices and like the work environment,” Ross added.

He also credits a very strong and growing mentor program with building the kind of professional relationships necessary to retain EITs. The program matches a trainee with a veteran engineer who serves as a mentor/adviser and makes the four-year journey much smoother.

The transportation department maintains a cadre of about 12 or 13 EITs, rotating into and out of the four-year program. Late in the process, they have opportunities to identify a specialty or career path.

ITD also encourages continued education for engineers, regularly sending them to workshops or schools in Illinois, Indiana, Utah and to the University of Idaho.

“It’s not a requirement that engineers have continuing education to maintain their license, but it keeps you – the practicing engineer – current on procedures, technology and skills.

“The new leadership we have in the department is committed to providing continued training for engineers.”

Ross said designing bridges has gone through three distinct evolutions during his tenure, and continuing education keeps engineers current on new technologies and practices.

Engineers can choose two professional paths at the transportation department – technical or management. Both are crucial to ITD’s mission. Engineers can attain positions of Staff Engineer, Technical Engineer 1 or Technical Engineer 2; or on the management side, can advance from Engineer Manager 1 to Engineer Manager 2 or Engineer Manager 3 (such as district engineers). The department also has a Chief Engineer – Jim Ross, and two Assistant Chief Engineers – Steve Hutchinson and Greg Laragan.

The transportation department has approximately 80 engineers on the technical path, 60 in the management path and about a dozen in training.

Engineers who aspire to those positions go through the EIT process, learning the application of their skills. Usually they spend three years in a district, gradually assuming more responsibility for projects. The EIT process culminates with a year at Headquarters, rotating through a variety of disciplines.

Individuals who complete the training program under a qualified professional engineer (P.E.) also are eligible to take the nationally administered comprehensive engineering exam and seek licensure as a professional engineer.

ITD director Dave Ekern holds a Professional Engineer license.

The Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors was established by Idaho law and administers the licensing program.

ITD and other organizations that rely on civil engineers generally compete for the limited number of women who choose the field.

“I think you’re seeing more women in the profession and more women in the Idaho Transportation Department. There are more women available for engineering positions. But they are in high demand in the private sector, which makes it difficult for us to recruit,” Ross said.

Pamela Lowe is the first female in Idaho history to become a district engineer. Women fill a number of other key engineer positions at ITD, including:

  • Engineering Assistant: Mary Brown, D-5; Rosalie Roberts, Roadway Design; Marsha Truman, D-5; Elizabeth Derbidge, D-4; Carol Knight, D-3; Carol Spear, D-1.
  • Staff Engineer: Lisa Applebee, D-3; Karen Hiatt, D-6; Kathy Porter, D-3.
  • Technical Engineer 1: Elizabeth Shannon, Bridge; Lynn White, D-4.
  • Technical Engineer 2: Frances Hood, Construction.
  • Engineer Manager 1: Jackie Fields, D-4; Kathleen Slinger, Bridge; Shawna King, Materials.
  • Engineer Manager 2: Andrea Storjahann, D-1; Elaine Davis, D-3.

Two others – Monica Crider and Jayme Coonce – are Engineer Associates, progressing in the EIT program.

Only a few states nationwide have a woman as a chief engineer.

The Idaho Transportation Department joins the nation in celebrating National Engineers Week, Feb. 22-28, and acknowledges the service and professionalism they bring to the citizens of Idaho.