Stephanie Pluta, PE

Water Resources Design Engineer

When Stephanie Pluta is not helping keep communities safe and assisting with their water and infrastructure needs, she is helping the engineering profession in multiple ways through her role as President of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) North Carolina Chapter. Stephanie has been involved with ASCE since she was a college student to help bring support for the civil engineering industry.

After college, she became more involved with ASCE as Treasurer of the Northern Branch in Greensboro, North Carolina. In that role, she helped gain support for the local branch, which led her to become Treasurer for the ASCE North Carolina at the section level. Her involvement has continued, from serving as Vice President to President-Elect and now, as President. As President, she will help set the agenda for the section’s year and be involved in various activities for the state’s Infrastructure Report Card, government liaison work, STEM outreach and much more.

Stephanie and her fiancé, Troy, are getting married in May this year, and she is busy planning the big event. She also is looking forward to helping the ASCE NC Section celebrate their 100th Anniversary.

What drew you to engineering?

I have always been interested in how things work, and in high school I had the opportunity to take a class that would equate to a shop class. We studied technology, engineering, mechanics and more. We got to do everything from taking a lawn mower engine apart and putting it back together again, to using a CNC machine, to building bridge models for structural stability and testing their integrity. I was particularly good at taking things apart and putting them back together and wanted to do something that involved problem-solving. I got into the Virginia Tech Engineering program, where I was exposed to diverse types of engineering. I decided to go with civil engineering because of the broad variety of disciplines and the goal of safeguarding the public, specifically in water resources and geotechnical engineering.

How would you sum up what you do?

As a dam engineer, I spend most of my time cracking jokes. In all seriousness, I work with all disciplines of civil to develop designs and construction documents to keep people safe. For a design, we will analyze the existing dam integrity and stability and determine whether it is up to the standards for the state’s Dam Safety Program, or other regulatory criteria. We provide engineering analysis and design services for existing dams as well as new dam designs. We also provide engineering analyses to determine impacts related to dam removal. The biggest part of what I do is coordinating design objectives and details between the different civil disciplines involved on a project to make sure that our design is constructable and will be facilitated well during construction.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is working with so many talented people. The best feeling comes after putting our heads together to produce a design that works and is executed successfully. Seeing a design come to life in construction is the ultimate manifestation of our work together. I also enjoy helping our clients and educating them about how to maintain their infrastructure and creating structures that will provide safety for the community for the next 50 to 100 years.

The ASCE NC Section attended the national ASCE Legislative Fly-In at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to discuss infrastructure needs with congressional representatives.

What’s your advice for young professionals trying to get into the industry?

Do not be afraid to get your hands dirty; go into the field and see how projects are built. After I spent multiple years in the field, doing construction oversight on multiple dams, it gave me a deep appreciation and drive to make sure the designs we develop are constructable and easy to follow. Before doing this, I had absolutely no concept about how any infrastructure was built.

Also, get involved with an engineering society. There are so many advantages to joining a society, including improving your soft skills, expanding your professional network and even having travel opportunities outside of your work. Those relationships you build could one day help you to land that big project you have always dreamed of working on.

Stephanie helping the stormwater group get field measurements for the stormwater culverts in Fayetteville, North Carolina

What does a typical day look like?

The thing I like about being a dam engineer is that every day is different. I could be doing anything from working in AutoCAD Civil3D to design an excavation surface, writing technical specifications for the earthwork involved in that excavation, developing erosion and sediment control designs for the site, to developing contracts, and running dam studies or supplemental watershed plans. Coordination with multiple disciplines of civil engineering is a key part of dam design, so I will follow up with Technical Leads on their design components to make sure that it works for the overall design and relay the message across to other groups as well. Another part of our work involves doing field assessments, inspections, instrumentation reading and construction oversight activities. There is no limit to the variety of types of work you could do with dam design.

What’s your favorite part about working at Freese and Nichols?

My favorite part about working at Freese and Nichols is engaging as family. The community of people the company encompasses includes incredibly rich characters, and I love to get to know as many people as I can. Not only are the people who work here incredibly knowledgeable in their disciplines, they are also great to be around. In the North Carolina office, we engage as family a lot, and it makes coming to work even more enjoyable.

How does Freese and Nichols compare to other firms where you are?

I have worked at a few other firms prior to Freese and Nichols, and they varied from a smaller 500-person firm to a 20,000-person firm. The work share and willingness to collaborate with other groups companywide is hard to come by in those firms, and it is a testament to the integrity of the firm.

Our mindset of continuous improvement and engaging as family sets us apart. Even as we grow, we continue to support each other as a whole, and opportunities for growth within the company go along with that. It is fantastic to be a part of a company that is interested in building that community and fostering internal growth.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you or like to do for fun?

Growing up, I took part in about every sport you can imagine, from soccer and basketball to ice hockey. At 2 years old, I started gymnastics and was a gymnast for 12 years. I also played soccer competitively at the same time and continued to play intramural after college. These days, I love to stay active, and yoga is one of my favorite things to do to build strength and unwind. One of these days, I want to get certified as a Yoga Instructor to help bring the practice to more people.

Most of all, I love to spend time with my friends and family doing everything from enjoying the outdoors to sharing a meal together.