December 4, 2005Her job: Chemical Engineer, Stress Engineering Services, Inc.
Describe what you do in your current work situation?
Have you ever watched the program "CSI." There are a lot of similarities between that and my job in forensic engineering. The only difference is that I don't investigate crimes and I don't work with the police. I typically work for an attorney who has been hired by an individual or a company. The cases I investigate include: plant explosions and fires where people may be killed or injured; people injured by consumer products which may or may not be defective.
Why did you choose engineering?
When I was a high school senior and deciding on college and a major, I just knew that I liked math and science, and that I was good at math and science.
Where did you go to school and what degree(s) do you have?
I chose to go Miami University of Ohio because it was a very good school, but it did not offer Chemical Engineering, so I decided to get a B.S. degree in Paper Science and Engineering, and worked at Mead Paper Corp. in my hometown during the summers. After that work experience, I decided that I wanted to do the same kind of engineering work but I wanted to be able to work in any industry, not just the paper industry. So I went to Pennsylvania State University for an M.S. in Chemical Engineering. I really enjoyed my research there, and decided to go on for a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware.
What kinds of activities have typically been part of your work?
I did work in R&D (and various other positions) for Phillips Petroleum Co. for about 12 years. Then at age 40, I decided to try forensic engineering since I've always liked solving problems, reading mystery books, and watching detective shows. In 2000, I left Phillips and went to work for Stress Engineering Services, an engineering consulting firm based in Houston, Texas (www.stress.com). I conduct the on-site investigation, gather evidence, and submit it for chemical analysis or other testing. Sometimes we recreate and videotape the incident (such as a fire) so that the jury can see what happened. Then I write an expert report discussing how the incident occurred. I may give a deposition and then testify at trial if the case is not settled before that. In forensic engineering, you have to be able to explain something very technical in simple terms to a jury. I don't determine who is at fault; I just explain to the jury what happened. Most cases that I investigate are settled before trial.
What do you like best about being an engineer?
I love the variety in my job the most. I have many different types of cases, so I get to learn about a lot of different things. I am always learning in this job. However, I always apply the same engineering and physics principles to each case.
Please tell us a little about your family.
I enjoy spending time with my husband, our children,11-year old son Samuel and 9-year old daughter Callie, and our only pet right now - a Miniature Dachshund named Lucy.