Exploring Careers: Environmental and Sustainability Technical Career Trek

Author: Marissa Kivi, Class of '19

Students on the Environmental and Sustainability Trek visit the Chicago Shedd Aquarium.

  With an icy breeze moving between the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago, our small group of nine began our explorations in the industry of sustainability at one of the biggest names in environmental design and engineering: Stantec. We filed into the lobby in our black suit jackets and ND-embossed folders, and, setting the tone early, we quickly found ourselves going in the wrong direction, going up and then immediately back down the escalator, backtracking towards security. We received our visitor passes and made it to the elevator, which, of course, did not have any buttons on the inside. Thankfully, it went up to ~almost~ our floor, and we eventually arrived at the bright, clean conference room of Stantec.

 

  Considering my initial impression of Stantec, there are three values that I would use to describe the company: loyalty, innovation, and passion. Our morning in the conference room was spent meeting many different members of Stantec’s Chicago team, listening to their backgrounds, learning about their projects, and asking questions about their company’s philosophy. The conversation was engaging, the coffee was hot, and the internship and career opportunities seemed almost too good to be true. I know I may sound a little overly gung-ho about Stantec, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t yearning to be an engineer when leaving that building. The people that work there rave about their community, work culture, and projects, and as an engineering firm, the majority of their staff is composed of engineers.

 

  The first person we met was Mr. Joe Johnson, a ND civil engineering alumni, who greeted us at the spotless glass doors leading to Stantec’s reception desk and immediately walked us to the conference room. Like the other students, I received my visitor badge, grabbed a cup of coffee from the assortment of treats they offered us, and sat down around the large conference table. Mr. Johnson began with a brief overview of Stantec’s company values, emphasizing the importance of the company’s community focus. Upon completing his presentation, he gave the floor to the other five people in the room, who introduced themselves, their history, and their projects at varying lengths. The list of job titles among the group included geological engineer, electrical engineer, BIM architect, and project manager. Their titles were intimidatingly technical, and the crazy cool projects  they presented were even more so.

 

  Personally, one of my favorite aspects of the session was hearing Hannah Maas’ story, who began as an intern at Stantec and, now, works full-time as a geological engineer. Clearly very passionate about her work and her company, Hannah presented a few of the projects that she has worked on over the past few years at Stantec. The pride with which she described the different components of her work demonstrated just how much she truly enjoys her career. It was a type of work satisfaction that I hope to also find someday. Stantec prides itself on its retention rate for employees, and I would guess that Hannah will remain at Stantec for many years to come.

 

  Leaving the warmth of the bus for a second time in our professional, yet inadequate jackets, we, next, walked to 1 South Wacker Street in the crisp Chicago winter air, crossing the street and looking left and right for Invenergy LLC. After entering the sleek, sky-scraping building containing our destination, we found ourselves again at a security checkpoint, where we showed the reception desk our id and shuffled through a small security gate. Our small group had reached one of my favorite group phases where individuals start to make jokes and engage in relaxed conversation with those around them. I will admit that I love watching spontaneous friendships spring up between strangers walking the same path.

 

  With an interdisciplinary team driven primarily by the desire to reduce anthropogenic environmental impacts, Invenergy had a very distinctive atmosphere from the other two companies we visited on our Career Trek. In fact, one might say the company had a vibrant and innovative ~energy~ (pun intended). Our visit began with a quick tour of the office space, which was crowded with silver cubicles and collaboration spaces. We also paid a visit to the ICC or Invenergy Control Center, which is a room that reminded me of the command center in a Star Trek movie with rows of computers all facing a large monitor at the front of the room. The monitor was filled with a variety of up-to-date information on all of Invenergy’s wind farms, battery storage, and other areas of power generation. The Chicago office on South Wacker is their company headquarters, and they are able to remotely monitor and manage all of their energy assets from this room. Honestly, it was so cool that it seemed fake.

 

  The next step of our visit was probably the most motivating part of the day. Returning back to the front of the office, we sat down around a conference table in a small, bright meeting room and briefly did a round of introductions. After introducing ourselves as students, we then listened as five different Invenergy employees told their Invenergy “stories.” We met Andrew, who oversees the ICC, Connor, a renewable energy engineer, John, who works in environmental and wildlife permitting, Gabe, a project developer, and Regina, an associate in regulatory affairs. Each person had an incredibly winding and unique career path, all of which was driven by the desire to help the environment. Needless to say, I felt so positive leaving that visit (and not only because we were on our way to lunch). No, I felt positive because (a) not one of the five people in the room had studied engineering during their undergraduate degree, (b) all of them felt satisfied with their contribution to a more sustainable world, and (c) their company (and the renewable energy industry) was growing! The visit reassured me that I can find a career in sustainability that fits my skills, my interests, and my personal goals. Maybe that career is with Invenergy? Who knows?

 

- Marissa Kivi, Class of '19