“Engineering? That sounds too technical.”
That’s how Chris Russell responded to a high school guidance counselor who suggested she consider the career. Chris’ grades in math and science were excellent, but she couldn’t imagine being an engineer. To be honest, she didn’t know what the job involved.
So she researched it. “I started looking in catalogues with different careers, and I read the descriptions of all the different types of engineers,” Chris remembers.
Luckily, she found one she liked: environmental engineering. “It was more working with people and with the environment. It had more appeal to me than the mechanical aspect of things,” she says. “I decided, OK, I’ll try it — and I’ve been doing it for 34 years.”
Chris answers our questions about her experiences in the trade, and her top professional advice for aspiring engineers.
Q: How long have you been an engineer at OUC?
Chris: I’ll be here 14 years in August. Before OUC, I worked for a consulting firm and a private utility.
Q: What are your main projects at OUC?
Chris: Primarily I perform consumptive use permitting compliance and water resources planning. OUC has a consumptive use permit (CUP), which is issued by the St. Johns River Water Management District. It allows us to pump water out of the ground. We’re permitted to pump 109 million gallons a day to serve our customers. As part of that, we have to make sure our pumping is not impacting the environment. The permit has 45 conditions that we must meet, and there are multiple submittals every six months and annually. I’m also very involved with the Central Florida Water Initiative and the Taylor Creek Reservoir/St. John’s River Water Supply Project. These regional projects involve working with many entities to develop alternative water sources instead of groundwater to meet Central Florida’s long-term water supply needs.
Q: What do you like best about being an engineer?
Chris: It’s always challenging, and there’s usually never a dull moment. I like using critical thinking to solve problems.
Q: How can we encourage more people to go into engineering?
Chris: I think it would help if teachers in math and science classes could expose kids to engineering in their curriculum. Let them know that it’s a potential career path. Let them know a little about what an engineer might do. If I hadn’t made that appointment with the guidance counselor, I probably would never have considered it as a career.
Q: What’s the best professional advice you’ve received?
Chris: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. That goes a long way in learning, and in this profession, you’re always learning. You come in every day, and something new is happening and you’ve got to respond to that. It’s never the same thing over and over, which keeps the work interesting.
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 Update!, OUC’s employee newsletter.