December 2022 Centennial Engineer of the Month

December 2022 – Lindsay Swain, P.E., M. ASCE

Lindsay Swain, P.E. (she/her) is a graduate from Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Biology and a M.S. in Civil Engineering. She specializes in water/wastewater design of treatment and conveyance systems, pump station design, and the construction administration process. Lindsay works for Meta (Facebook) as the Eastern US Water Manager, completing water and wastewater master planning for new data center infrastructure. Prior to working at Meta, Lindsay was a consultant for CHA Consulting and AECOM.  She also serves on the Virginia Executive Board for the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and is currently the ASCE Roanoke Branch President.  Lindsay is a mom to a spirited 9-year-old daughter, a partner to her husband of 20 years, and a lover of all things outside, anything dog related, dark chocolate, and handmade pottery.

Centennial EOM Questionnaire

Question 1. What do you consider your major achievements in civil engineering in our Section area?

In general, I would consider my major achievements in the Southwest Virginia area to be projects where I have helped to improve public health and the environment in some way. During my career, I have always loved working in the water industry and have specialized my engineering career to focus around water and wastewater engineering. I find an immense amount of joy and accomplishment knowing that the work that water professionals do helps to improve the lives of everyone around us.  Some of the projects that I am really proud to have led or worked as a team member in the Southwest Virginia area include a complete upgrade to a local water treatment facility, removal of a sewer line across the Roanoke River that created a man-made dam effect, and the total replacement of aging sewer and wastewater treatment facilities for a rural community.     

Question 2. Why did you decide on a career in civil engineering?

I had always wanted to be a veterinarian, so as an undergraduate student, I studied Biology, with a concentration in Microbiology.  Flash forward a few years and veterinary school was not in the cards. After graduation, I needed a job and I applied for a local Wastewater Technical Services position at Novozymes, Inc.  I didn’t know anything about the water, wastewater, or civil engineering field when I applied for the position. Funny enough, I was googling wastewater treatment days before my interview and somehow, despite my lack of knowledge of the field and much to my surprise, I was hired. Once I started the job, it was a natural fit, and while I had a lot to learn, my microbiology background helped me get up to speed quickly with how activated sludge in wastewater treatment works. I often think that getting hired into the water and wastewater field was a little bit of luck and a whole lot of fate.  I fell in love with the One Water field, and it was then that I realized that the water field chose me.  And I haven’t looked back.

Looking ahead a few more years, I followed my drive to make meaningful environmental and community impacts through the water and wastewater industry.  I wanted to be all in for the water field and I knew that expanding my education was the best way for me to accomplish that goal, so I started full time graduate school in the Civil Engineering department at Virginia Tech.  I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering in 2016, received my P.E. license a year later, and have deeply enjoyed giving back to the water and civil engineering communities in my roles through ASCE, as a consultant, and in the technology industry.

Question 3. Provide some career guidance for young civil engineers.

Your career journey is your own and professional development doesn’t always a follow linear path. You may not end up having the job or career that you once thought you desired, and that’s ok. Instead, you may end up somewhere different but amazing, and if you are being fulfilled by your career choices, it’s where you are supposed to be. Your career can be a path that lasts for forty years or more and, undoubtably, will come with winding roads, surprises, and many twists and turns.  Enjoy the many people and varied opportunities that come your way to squeeze the most out of each experience, embrace change, and learn from difficult circumstances.  Your current and former colleagues can be powerful advocates and allies in your career journey, and if you are lucky, you just might meet your best friend on the job like I did!  I am a long way from my original dream of being a veterinarian, but I feel incredibly lucky for my career journey so far, the amazing people I have met along the way, and the rewarding moments being a civil engineer who works in the water field.

Question 4. What do you consider the major challenge to a career in civil engineering?

One of the major challenges that I see to careers in civil engineering is a lack of diversity and equality to attract and retain, long term, the most talented and innovative engineers to preserve and build critical infrastructure.  I am very grateful in graduate school that the civil engineering department was full of a diverse group of professors and fellow students.  Once I graduated, I unfortunately did not see the same level of diversity carried over into the working world.  All too often, I would show up to meetings and be the only woman and young professional in the room.  The lack of gender, racial, cultural, age, and thought diversity that I was experiencing and seeing on the job was real and I have found it to be discouraging at times.  Workplace environments that are intentional about fostering equality, diversity, and inclusiveness are critically important to the civil engineering field.  Having the best and brightest engineers working to solve complex infrastructure issues who can also bring their whole, authentic selves to the workplace will be essential to the civil engineering field being successful in the future.

Question 5. Tell us about your volunteer activities. What is the motivating factor for volunteering? How has being a volunteer enriched your professional career?

I have been volunteering through various leadership positions with ASCE since 2016, and I find that helping others, meeting new people, and contributing to a sense of community is intensely motivating.  I also volunteer a significant amount of time as a foster home for puppies and dogs in need through Central Virginia Regional Rescue (CVRR) and the Roanoke Valley SPCA.

My favorite engineering volunteer event that I helped to organize this year was a hands-on learning experience held in September, called Concrete for Kids.  This program was originally started several years ago by Roanoke’s former Branch president, in connection with the student chapter at Virginia Tech, to introduce elementary school students to the concepts of materials and geotechnical engineering.  This year the Roanoke Branch decided to expand the program and open it to the general public.  We were completely blown away by the community response for the Concrete for Kids event, where our event registration was full in less than two days!  For over 100 elementary students, we were able to introduce concrete, materials, and geotechnical engineering in a safe but highly interactive learning environment.  The look on the students’ faces when they got to mix, form, and then load test (premade and cured) concrete beams was truly amazing and very meaningful.  I am also very thankful to Concrete Pipe and Precast (CP&P), Parkway Brewing and the more than 40 student and civil engineering professionals that came out to volunteer alongside our Roanoke Branch to make the Concrete for Kids event such a huge success; we couldn’t have done it without their help!