September 2022 Centennial Engineer of the Month

September 2022 – Carolyn Rose Desrochers Perry, PE, SE, M. ASCE

Ms. Carolyn Desrochers Perry currently acts as the Structures Team Lead of the Richmond office for WSP with a focus on bridge design.   Carolyn received her BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Maryland and her MS in Sustainable Engineering from Villanova University.  She also has her PE in VA, SC, and DC and her SE in NV.  She is working towards her Envision certification and is hoping to incorporate more sustainable design practices in her future work.  She has experience designing a range of bridges, from simple culverts to road and pedestrian bridges utilizing a variety of materials including steel, concrete, and timber.  She has enjoyed working on the Virginia Capital Trail near Richmond, VA, a braided ramp at the I-285 & I-75 Interchange in Clayton, GA and several other bridges throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.

Ms. Desrochers Perry has been a member of ASCE for over nine years. She has served as the Richmond Branch President, Vice President, and Younger Member Committee Chair among other roles.  Carolyn was also a member of the ASCE Steel Bridge team while attending the University of Maryland.  In addition to ASCE, Carolyn volunteers with the WTS Central VA chapter. 

Ms. Desrochers Perry grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ though frequently visits Massachusetts and New Hampshire where most of her extended family reside.  She currently lives in Richmond, VA with her husband and daughter, and is expecting a son this November.  In her free time she loves hanging out by the river, playing ice hockey as well as other sports, and just simply being outside (whether it be a hike in the woods, a trip to the beach, or spending time at a Richmond festival). 

Centennial EOM Questionnaire

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

In our Section area, I have enjoyed participating on the Virginia Capital Trail project and the I-66 Transform the Beltway project.  During the Capital Trail project, I helped work on several top-down construction pedestrian timber bridges in the Varina and New Market Heights sections of the trail.  It is amazing to go out and enjoy the trail, biking through the woods, and seeing the community utilize a trail that we helped build.  On the I66 widening project I worked as the Retaining Wall Task Lead overseeing the various wall designs and submittals of Segment 2.  I am also currently working as the Bridge Task lead focusing on construction support as the project nears completion.  In addition to widening the interstate, I admire that the project brings several miles of a shared-use path to the area, allowing for pedestrians and bikers to benefit from the project as well.

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

Growing up, I always gravitated more towards math and number patterns.  I like that there is a correct answer to be found and being able to work through formulas to unveil that answer.  Due to this love of math and problem solving my mom suggested engineering as a career.  I entered the University of Maryland as an undecided engineering student, but quickly settled on civil engineering as my chosen career path.  My favorite aspect of civil engineering is the direct impact to the surrounding community. You can walk across a bridge, drive on a road, and drink clean water: all due to civil engineering.  I also had a grandfather who was a civil engineer and I admired his various projects brought to life, including my cousin’s local swim and tennis club.  Every time I sit down to work on a project or design a new bridge, I think about how many people will use these structures every day.

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

One of my biggest pieces of advice is to not be afraid to ask questions!  I know google is sometimes the first place people go for information, but nothing can replace the depth of experience and knowledge gained by your coworkers through working.  In addition, the more questions you ask the more you can learn, as answers can yield additional explanations and ideas that you may not have even thought to ask.  Your coworkers and mentors also grow and benefit by teaching and answering your questions.

In addition to asking questions, I also advise joining professional societies to grow your network.  Events hosted by groups like ASCE will help connect you to your peers in a casual and comfortable setting.  The more you can develop connections within your profession the easier life will be as you progress through your career.  In addition to developing true friendships, these relationships can be used for finding mentors, getting advice, or even partnering on projects.  I would also advocate volunteering for a board position with your local Chapter. This provides an opportunity for you to have a say in the society events as well as develop deeper relationships with others on the board as you work together to bring the events to life.

My last piece of advice is to find passion in what you do and why you do it. We spend a lot of time working and it’s important to be able to get up every day and know that you are making a difference on every project.  Through passion comes new ideas, and an enthusiasm that can spread to your fellow coworkers and teams.

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

I think the biggest challenge to a career in civil engineering is having the time and opportunity to find your passions within the profession.  There are so many wonderful elements within civil engineering to explore; building bridges or buildings, improving the environment, modeling or designing roads or traffic or ITS systems; the list is endless.  You may also find your passion through remaining technically focused, becoming a project manager, or taking on other managerial roles within your company.  However, I see the challenge that for many students, decisions on which “track” (environmental, structural, transportation, etc.) that you would like to pursue as a career happens early in college. Internships then offer a small opportunity to explore options within the profession, but once you enter a full-time job that flexibility becomes a little more limited.  Depending on your employer, you may have opportunities to experience different types of work.  However, most of the time, there may not be a wide range of projects to work on or space in the budget for continuously learning and experiencing various aspects of civil engineering.   While the civil engineering profession is certainly more flexible than others, the more that managers can support younger engineers to explore their passions, the better the profession will be as a whole. 

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

In addition to volunteering with ASCE I also serve on the board of the WTS Central VA chapter.  I have served as treasurer and membership chair for WTS in addition to serving on various committees. One of my favorite committees within WTS is their Transportation YOU program.  In this program, we expose middle school aged girls to various careers in transportation.  I really enjoy getting to connect with the girls and teach them more about my career in structural engineering and share my passion for bridge design. 

I also enjoy helping our ASCE branch host their annual Popsicle bridge competition for middle and high schoolers.  In addition, I try to take advantage of other opportunities to go into local classrooms to discuss bridges, or engineering as a profession.  It offers a chance to connect with students and help them understand the opportunities that careers in civil engineering could provide.

During college and prior to growing our family, I enjoyed volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.  Not only does it give you hands-on experience constructing a home, it also offers a way to connect with your community.  I also enjoy the hands-on, sweat equity that comes with volunteering with Habitat, especially since most of my day job is spent indoors in front of a computer.

I feel that my life benefits from these volunteer efforts as much as what I am able to give back through volunteering.  ASCE and WTS have helped me develop a strong network of peers in my profession that I can connect with and grow throughout my career.  Also my time volunteering with students has helped me realize my own passions and be grateful for my current profession.