March 2022 Centennial Engineer of the Month – Ashley Fenouil, P.E.
I graduated from the University of Minnesota with my civil engineering degree, and have worked with Kimley Horn in Virginia Beach since. In my professional career, I have had the opportunity to touch a lot of different civil engineering disciplines including roadway and drainage design, stormwater management, transit, aviation, site development, program management, and grant writing. The breadth of what you can cover with a civil engineering degree is one of my favorite parts of the field! I am actively involved in professional societies like ASCE, where I have served as president for my Minnesota student chapter, the local Norfolk Branch, and most recently for the Virginia Section. In my personal life, I love traveling, hiking, good music, and a bingeworthy TV show.
Centennial EOM Questionnaire
Question 1. What do you consider your major achievements in civil engineering in our Section area?
Preparation for ASCE Virginia’s upcoming centennial celebration has highlighted a lot of impressive civil engineering achievements throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I’ve enjoyed seeing that come together.
One of the major achievements that piques my interest is the subsea tunnels. With the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel currently under construction, it has been eye-opening to learn from both the technical presentations and seeing the construction happen locally just how much engineering goes into the constructability of the project of that size and scope. It’s a great example that sometimes the biggest feat we face as engineers is not how to design the ultimate infrastructure, but how to build the equipment and structures…that then build the ultimate infrastructure. It’s also a great showcase of how the most impressive civil engineering achievements start in the office developing a plan set, but they can’t happen without a partnership with contractors who make it come to life.
Question 2. Why did you decide on a career in civil engineering?
I can actually say that I decided I wanted to be a civil engineer in 4th grade after job shadowing my uncle for a school assignment. I remember my uncle bringing me around to different engineering disciplines to see what they were working on, and at the time…it may have been that the civil engineer was the nicest or had the best candy dish on his desk…but I decided that was my favorite and I never looked back.
No doubt when I was in college, I remember second-guessing my career path on more than one occasion—probably while walking out of a dynamics or chemistry class. But what kept me in it was reminding myself that as a civil engineer you have such widespread opportunities for what you can do with your degree. I love that if you want to change your career trajectory, you can pretty easily make a transition from transportation to hydraulics to aviation or development services, and you have the option to work for public agencies or private companies, either directly or as a consultant. In fact, I’d widen the spectrum even more broadly to say that with a civil engineering degree you could get into a field like business—but with a degree in business you can’t necessarily do civil engineering. I love the flexibility that a career in civil engineering offers, and my career has proven to be really rewarding.
Question 3. Provide some career guidance for young civil engineers.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and stay open minded. When you’re young in your career is the best time to explore something new. You can be committed to a team or an employer and still keep an eye out for new opportunities. If I would have started my career with a singular focused goal, I may have missed out on really impactful career opportunities like learning to write grants, or sitting in a project office alongside my clients to deliver transit and aviation projects. Goals are important, but make sure they’re flexible.
Expand your comfort zone. Don’t think of it as getting outside of your comfort zone, because the idea is to be able to stay in that place – not to do one thing that feels like a risk and then come back home to comfort, but to continually stretch yourself and build your skill sets.
Don’t show up to prove anything, just show up to improve yourself every day. Don’t compare yourself to your peers, it’s counterproductive.
Accept feedback with grace. Sometimes when we’re closed to feedback we hear criticism, but when we’re open to feedback we hear advice. So be open and trust that feedback you’re hearing is from your teammates who are only trying to make you better.
People make mistakes (you included!). So don’t assign blame, stay solution focused. We all solve problems every day, and we can often get caught in the impulse to make sure everyone knows it wasn’t you personally who made a mistake – but that doesn’t help us understand the problem. When you focus on moving forward without pointing fingers, it really helps strengthen your relationships and get to a solution without putting people down. And one day, it will be your mistake, and you’ll be appreciative of the working environment you’ve built. Find your confidence and be sure of yourself, but also work to master the art of admitting and owning when you don’t know. You don’t always have to know the answer right away, but communicating and being responsive to your partners goes a long way.
Question 4. What do you consider the major challenge to a career in civil engineering?
In my career as a consultant for mostly public clients, I find the biggest challenge being able to create an effective team atmosphere amongst multiple parties in an increasingly competitive environment. When public agencies are resource constrained but have ever-growing needs to continue to improve public infrastructure, consultants are pushed to maintain high quality deliverables with tight timeframes or competitive pricing, and contractors live in a low bid environment, it can be tough to be a cohesive team and avoid an “us” and “them” environment where we are quick to assign blame and slow to address the problems at hand. I think a lot of civil engineers love the profession because we thrive in problem solving settings and we want to be the “unsung heroes” who make a City run and provide quality of life in the cities we love, so I think it’s important to intentionally find common ground and refocus conversations to find win-win solutions for all parties—especially since in the end, we are all working toward the same goal from different angles: delivering a well-designed and well-constructed project on time and within the budget that we have to work with. That means that sometimes we bend for others, and in return they will bend for us. It can be a challenge to instill a mindset that building relationships is just as important as building on our technical skillsets.
Question 5. Tell us about your volunteer activities. What is the motivating factor for volunteering? How has being a volunteer enriched your professional career?
Volunteering with ASCE has given me a lot of opportunity to expand my professional network. When I started my professional career I was new to the Hampton Roads area, and being involved in professional societies gave me a great forum to meet new people who I genuinely enjoyed spending time with and working alongside. The civil engineering community is small, and it wasn’t long before I crossed paths with people I met in ASCE in my work life. For me, I love walking into a room and seeing a familiar face, and ASCE has allowed that to happen for me in unexpected ways.
On a non-professional note, I also think volunteering is a great way to connect with your community. Whether it’s volunteering at local schools, shelters, food banks, or with any organization that supports a cause that means something to you, I’ve found volunteering time and energy to be rewarding. For me, Make-A-Wish has been an organization close to my heart—it’s the joy that it gives me seeing a child’s face light up, and the perspective I gain from opening myself up to see how bravely people walk through life. It also reminds me that everyone has a unique story and unique set of struggles, and we should show people grace and give each other the benefit of the doubt.