A Young Engineer's Perspective
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Resources: A Young Engineer's Perspective

By Jonathan Levin, P.E. SFPE Alliance of Young Engineers  | Fire Protection Engineering

SFPE has always been dedicated to providing young engineers with the tools and resources to succeed in their careers. To support this mission, the Alliance of Young Engineers (AYE) was formed. Comprised of SFPE members under the age of 35, the AYE is responsible for facilitating SFPE's mentoring program, planning networking events, and other activities that benefit and support aspiring engineers and those new to the profession.

I recently sat down with four members of the SFPE Alliance of Young Engineers steering committee, Cathleen Childers, Adam Paterson, P.E., Katie Pothier, P.E., and Robin Zevotek, P.E., and asked them to give me their thoughts on the profession and what advice they would want to pass on to other young or aspiring engineers. Here is what they had to say.

How did you get involved in fire protection engineering?

Robin: While I was attending community college as a computer science major and volunteering as a firefighter, one of my mentors introduced me to the industry through his work with the International Standards Organization. I realized the potential to combine my interests in fire and life safety that I'd developed through my experiences as a firefighter, combined with science and engineering principles, was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Cat: I always wanted to be an engineer even before I really had a clear picture of what engineering entailed. In high school, I attended the Women in Engineering summer program at the University of Maryland, where I not only learned about engineering, but I learned about all the programs Maryland had to offer, including the Fire Protection Engineering program. I haven't looked back since.

What field do you work in and what is a typical day at your job?

Adam: I work in the building design and construction industry as a fire protection engineer for Smithgroup JJR. I work in the company's Washington, DC office building and I provide consultation on building code and life safety design, fire alarm and detection system design, and fire suppression system design.

Robin: I work in research, specifically relating to firefighter safety. My time is split between developing and conducting testing, and writing and presenting the results. Tests are conducted both in Underwriter Lab's fire laboratory and out in the field with acquired structures.

What do you enjoy most about your career in fire protection engineering?

Katie: I enjoy the diversity. As a consultant, we're involved in so many different aspects of fire protection and life safety that you can completely shift gears from one minute to the next. In addition, I've had the opportunity to work on pretty much every type of building and have enjoyed adapting to the unique concerns associated with each one. It is always a challenge and is certainly never boring.

Cat: The most rewarding part of a career in fire protection engineering is seeing the impact your work has on the real world. I love being involved in every step of the construction process from the moment you arrive onsite and begin documenting existing conditions, through the intricacies of the design process, and finally watching your design be constructed and implemented.

What are some examples of projects or problems you've encountered that demonstrate the importance of fire protection engineering?

Cat: The project I'm currently involved in is a great example of fire protection engineering in the real world. A multi-building hospital campus has a lot of unique hazards that need to be addressed. At any given time, a percentage of the occupants are not able to self-rescue, so the staff is instrumental in evacuation and the fire alarm system is instrumental in alerting the staff.

Robin: As a fire protection engineer, I've had the opportunity to participate in research, which has implications on current firefighting tactics. These research projects have challenged the "way we've always done it” to understand the impact current fire service operations have on today's ventilation-limited fires. Results from this research are being implemented throughout the world to enhance the safety of firefighters and improve their ability to save lives.

What is your best piece of advice for a young engineer or one considering a career in fire protection engineering?

Cat: My biggest piece of advice is to get involved. Mentors have played a huge part in my professional development. As an undergraduate, I found my mentors in upperclassmen and professors. In the professional world, I've found my mentors in engineers a few years ahead of me as well as engineers with 20+ years of experience. It's important to have someone to discuss things with – from the details of NFPA 13 to how to sign up for the P.E. exam.

Adam: Look through the SFPE and NFPA handbooks. The handbooks hold an amazing amount of information. Fire protection engineering is a relatively new discipline compared to the traditional mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering disciplines. The people advancing fire protection research are the same people who participate in SFPE and NFPA. Also, you will see many of the SFPE and NFPA handbook authors are the same people who are working in the industry.

Why is it important to be a member of SFPE?

Katie: Our profession is still relatively unknown, so we need to be actively involved in the community in order to spread awareness of our field. In addition, the networking opportunities and field-specific education and training are invaluable. Through my involvement in SFPE, I know exactly who to turn to if I have a question that is beyond my expertise.

Robin: As a fire protection engineer, SFPE provides the best networking opportunities because it is comprised of individuals who have devoted their lives to the advancement of fire safety. The organization brings together many of the leaders in the field of fire protection engineering to collaborate on the future of the profession. As a member, you are given the opportunity to participate in the advancement of the profession with other passionate fire safety professionals.

The scope and activities of the AYE is continuing to grow and we are always looking for feedback and suggestions. If you have any feedback or would like more information on the AYE and its current activities such as the mentoring program, contact us at AYE@sfpe.org.

Jonathan Levin, P.E., CFPS is a technical consultant in property risk engineering at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Weston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering, a Master of Science degree in Fire Protection Engineering, and is currently working toward his Master of Business Administration. Jonathan is a registered Fire Protection Engineer in Massachusetts and is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS). He is the current chairman of the AYE.
Cathleen Childers is a 2010 graduate of the Fire Protection Engineering program at the University of Maryland. During her time at Maryland, she was an active member of the engineering community, including a year as president of the student chapter of SFPE. Cathleen currently lives in New York City, working for Hughes Associates, Inc. and serving as Assistant Secretary to the NY Metro Chapter of SFPE.
Adam Paterson, P.E. graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. He specializes in fire protection in healthcare building designs with Smithgroup J J R but continues to work with all types of buildings. He is a registered fire protection engineer in North Carolina, Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland and is certified with NICET as a level II in low voltage systems. He is on the SFPE Licensing Committee and is pursuing a Master's degree in Fire Protection from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Katie Pothier, P.E. is a Senior Fire Protection Engineer at Fisher Engineering, Inc. in Johns Creek, Georgia. She is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a Master of Science degree in Fire Protection Engineering and a graduate of Illinois Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Fire Protection Engineering. Her experience includes enforcement of fire codes, life safety/building code surveys, and design, inspection and analysis of fire protection systems. She is also a member of the Greater Atlanta Chapter.
Robin Zevotek, P.E. is a research engineer with the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute in Northbrook, Illinois. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Protection Engineering and continues work on his Master of Science degree in Fire Protection Engineering, both from the University of Maryland. Robin is a registered professional engineer with experience in the design of fire protection and alarm systems, fire modeling and code consulting. In addition, Robin has an extensive career in firefighting, with service spanning three states and

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