Structural engineers use math and science to ensure that buildings, bridges, dams, and various other structures can withstand forces like weight and pressure in order to stay standing.
Take a large bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. It stays standing because every piece was designed with a precise understanding of the weight and stress that the piece would have to withstand without breaking. Think of the bottom-most supports that hold up the bridge; if they were built even a few inches too thin, the whole structure might collapse into the San Francisco Bay under its own weight. Clearly, in transportation, structural engineers and safety go hand in hand.
Gregory Jizba is a structural engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is part of the U.S. Army. The Corps works on engineering projects that are vital to America’s infrastructure, economy, and national security. For example, the Corps builds flood protection systems, constructs and oversees the nation’s river locks and dams, designs and builds military bases and other facilities, assists in environmental protection and cleanup, and even responds in the event of a federal emergency.
“The Corps certainly has a lot of opportunities. They’re involved in so many facets of engineering design. … There are a lot of opportunities for you to go out and do what you’re interested in doing,” Gregory said in an interview with Fast Forward.
Gregory has an interesting job with the Corps because his work as an engineer has a direct impact on America’s national security. As an engineer for the Corps, he helps to ensure that our nation’s bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure can withstand a completely different kind of force: the force of a terrorist attack.
A major bridge or tunnel could be a potential target for terrorist threats, Gregory explained. But structural engineers from the Corps aren’t about to let our nation be vulnerable. They ensure that structures like major bridges are designed to stay standing even in the event of an explosion.
“We can do things like put on armor plating on the [bridge] tower. … [W]e can put one or two inch steel plate on the outside of the tower near the roadway. We can add extra concrete, and make the concrete thicker,” he explained, naming a few ways that bridges are secured.
Making sure that infrastructure is safe and secure against threats, including terrorists acts, natural disasters, or accidental explosions is the type of structural engineering known as security engineering. It’s something Gregory has been doing since his early days in the Corps. It’s also taken him on travels all over the nation, and even to other countries.
“You have the opportunity to look at a lot of different structures. Everyday there’s a new challenge coming up. It’s something different,” he said. “One week you could be working on doing vulnerability assessments of a major bridge on the east coast of the United States, and the next week you could be working on a fire station in Japan that has to be designed for explosive safety because it’s right next to a fuel depot.”
Gregory said he arrived in this interesting career by majoring in structural engineering in college.
“I knew I wanted to be a structural engineer,” he said, explaining that he was always interested in math, and that two generations of his family were engineers before him. “And it leaves you open to a lot of different career options. You can work on buildings, bridges, dams, power transmission structures, pipelines. Just all sorts of things.”
He started working for the Corps shortly after graduating from college, and hasn’t looked back since.
“There’s a lot of variety. There’s the opportunity to apply math and science to real-world applications. And occasionally you get to travel, and see some very interesting structures. … Working for the Corps of Engineers you have the opportunity for a lot of independence, the opportunity to set you own goals and objectives. … It’s challenging, it’s interesting, and there’s a lot of variety,” he said.
Check out Gregory’s video to learn more about his work in transportation and if you’re looking for a great career path, visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site!