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Patricia Frayre, E.I.T.
Graduate Civil Engineer

Who Builds Big? | Career Info Index | Engineering Webography

Patricia Frayre is a Project Graduate Civil Engineer at Walter P. Moore, a Texas-based consulting engineering firm. She has five years of experience in civil engineering design and management.

Check out a structure that Patricia is working on: Harris County New Exposition Center, Houston, Texas

Patricia Frayre, Civil Engineer
(click for larger image)

What kind of engineering do you do?
I do general civil engineering -- that is, site/land development. It includes anything from setting finished floor elevations to grading sites to making sure all the utility (water and wastewater) lines function. In general, any development project that gets constructed has to have water, wastewater, and storm drainage capabilities. That's basically what I do as a graduate civil engineer.

Patricia Frayre, Civil Engineer
(click for larger image)

What's a project you're working on now?
The New Harris County Exposition Center near the Astrodome. It's actually under construction now. We broke ground in June. It's scheduled to be finished by 2002. I'm proud of the project because it was a monster to design.

And what is involved in designing something like that?
Everything. There is research on existing utilities -- you have to coordinate with the different agencies that will be reviewing the designs and issuing permits; making sure that everything works. Parking lots have to drain. Pipes have to be sized accordingly. Most importantly, coordination with the other disciplines like the MEPs (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers), structural engineers, and, of course, the architects has to occur.

What's a typical day like for you?
I would say it's mostly spent in the office, but once a project goes into the construction administration phase, you have to go out in the field and make sure that construction is being done per the design. I think construction workers are still getting used to the fact that there are female engineers out there. We still definitely need to have more women out there representing engineers.

How did you get into your field, and when did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
When I was in high school, there was an ex-student who came back to talk to the class about her job as a NASA engineer. It was then that I decided I wanted to be just like her. I started out at Texas A&M University with an aerospace engineering major. The market was not good for aerospace engineers. People were graduating with 4.0s and not getting jobs. I decided to switch majors and study structures in the civil engineering department. I figured I could get the same basic training, but with different material properties.

I found out I really liked structures, which was the focus of my undergraduate degree. I started my Master's degree in structural engineering, but then decided to take this job as a civil engineer. I really enjoy the fact we get to interact with the client. It's not so much number crunching. There's some of that involved, but the majority of the work is coordination between the different disciplines, making sure all design guidelines have been followed, making sure all the different governmental agency requirements have been met. I think it's a challenge.

What would you describe as the most fun thing about your job?
The most fun thing about my job is seeing something you've designed being constructed or people using the facilities after construction. Seeing a clear site or something on site that gets torn down and replaced with new construction is a very satisfying part of this job.

What advice would you have for young people who might want to pursue a career in engineering?
If they want to go into engineering or a science-related field, I would say absorb as much knowledge as you can while you're in school, especially in the mathematics courses. The formative years in middle school or high school are the years that you need to be like a sponge and absorb as much information and knowledge as you can.

Do you have any particular advice for girls or kids who might look at the engineering world and ask, "Are there any engineers like me out there? Could I do this?"
I would say, you can! Look around. I'm part of an ASCE task committee on diversity. We're working on programs that will stimulate an interest in engineering. I would direct kids to Web sites like this one. All it takes is to log on to the Internet, and you will see there are people like you. There's everything from young to old, from white to African American, and everything in between. There is no reason why anyone should say, "Well, I don't know if I can do this. There's no one like me out there."

I don't know. I can't identify with that mentality. I was the first in my family to get a higher education, and it's difficult for me to understand why some people don't believe in their ability. I can see where it would be harder, but I'm a strong believer in if there's a will, then there's a way. You just have to apply yourself.

Did you build stuff as a kid, or did you have those kinds of influences?
Yes, I guess you could say I had those kinds of influences. There was always something going on in the neighborhood. You see things like construction of houses or public utilities and you think, "I want to do that," but not necessarily the actual labor. The background, however, makes you think of what it would take to take it to a different level.

I notice you sign your e-mails with the letters "E.I.T." What does that stand for, and what does it mean?
"E.I.T." stands for "Engineer-In-Training." When you graduate college, you take an eight-hour exam, and if you pass it, then you become an E.I.T. You then have to work for four years with a registered, professional engineer after which you become eligible to take another exam to get your professional engineer's license. That exam is another eight-hour exam. If you pass it, then you become a registered, professional engineer. That's the next milestone in my career. Right now, I'm working on my experience. Once I become a professional engineer, there's really no stopping me.