Diana Nishi is a registered civil and structural engineer in California. Her professional interest and expertise is in the design of concrete and steel structures, including hotels, regional malls, parking structures, office buildings, and mixed-use and institutional facilities. Since 1988, Diana has worked for Robert Englekirk, Inc./Englekirk & Sabol, Inc., a California-based consulting structural engineering firm, where she serves as Project Director on several current projects.
Check out a structure that Diana has worked on: J. Paul Getty Center, Los Angeles, California
What do you do as a structural engineer?
What's a typical day like for you? Do you spend time in the office or in the field?
So a typical day would involve managing these people and then running calculations, basically doing the vertical gravity system, your floor system, and then the earthquake system. And part of it is going to team meetings to meet with the architect, the mechanical engineer, civil engineer as part of the team to get the whole project together. Then once the job gets into construction, we go to the site regularly to look at the job as it's being constructed. So that's a typical day, I guess.
Do you use any special equipment?
The geotechnical [engineer] on the job gives us the earthquake criteria. The geotechnical report has to have all this earthquake information and data to assist us in the modeling. There's software available where you model, basically, a stick structure, and then you can put that in a program and subject it to a certain kind of ground motion. And then it moves, and it gives you output that can tell you how much the building, we think, is going to move, and how this motion creates certain forces in the members. And then we design the members for these specific forces. We're looking primarily at the lateral system, this earthquake system that I'm talking about. In some cases it's a frame or x-bracing or cross-bracing -- that's a lateral system.
Usually, at the start of any project, we go over all the different types of options with the owner. Does this building want to be concrete, or does it want to be steel? And usually there's a consultant on board who's more familiar with cost, a contractor perhaps, who would say "If you do it this way, you could save money here." We usually do a schematic, which gives them a bunch of different structural schemes, using cross-bracing or using this other type. Then they price it out, with all the other architectural and schematic packages, too, for the owner to get an idea of how much this is going to cost.
When did you know that you wanted to be an engineer?
Anyway, I realized I wouldn't have been very good as an architect, thank goodness. I love it, but I'm not a very creative person. I'm much more mathematical/engineering based. So once I started taking the engineering courses, I realized that's what I wanted to do. So I was really lucky. It was just it sounded good, and I decided, "I think I'll try that." It's a very practical school. They give you things that you will be doing when you get out of school so there's no confusion or misunderstanding about what you're going to be doing.
Later, I got my Master's. Because [Cal Poly San Luis Obispo] was a practical-based school, I felt a little weak in theory, so I worked for a couple of years, and then I went back and got my Master's degree at UCLA.
I think some of the schools that are more theory-based, I don't think they really understand what you're going to be doing, that you're really sitting at a desk for a large portion of your day just crunching numbers. And I think a lot of people think, "I'll be building buildings; I'll be out in the field." And you will eventually, but it takes time to build up to that.
What's the thing you like most about your work?
I'm curious what advice you have for kids who might want to pursue a career in engineering.
Whether you're structural or electrical or civil or whatever, it's just solving problems in whatever field it may be. And in my case, it's building buildings. I'm just solving all the problems of how to build buildings. So my biggest advice, I guess, is it's not as hard or scary as you might think.
And then I would tell all the women that I've never had any problems, ever, all along the entire way. Where I'm at now, it's pretty much still a man's world. I mean, a construction site, there's not a whole lot of women. But the world is actually changing a lot, and most men are actually pretty open now about accepting you for who you are. I think nowadays whether you're a man or a woman you still have to prove yourself to anybody and gain respect. It's not as hard as it probably once used to be.
What's the most interesting project you've ever worked on?
What do you like to do in your free time?