Name: Annahid Dastgheib-Beheshti
Credentials: P.E., M.ASCE
Job title: Senior civil engineer
Current ASCE role: Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section Newsletter Committee member
College: Northeastern University – bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering
It’s a not widely known fact that often the secret ingredient to civil engineering success is … dancing.
“Sometimes you’re knee deep in project work, going through construction documents or staring at a drainage model and trying to figure out the next step,” said Annahid Dastgheib-Beheshti, a senior civil engineer for Arup in Boston. “And all you really need is a step backwards to look at something else in order to have things click into place. For me, that’s what dancing has always provided. It is such a great outlet to help get your mind in order so you can then return to your work, and suddenly you have figured out what was wrong with your drainage model, and everything is working now.”
Dastgheib-Beheshti, known by her friends and colleagues as Anna, started dancing – everything from ballet to contemporary – as a kid and has maintained her love for the art even as her civil engineering career has taken off. It’s a perfect work-life balance. Dancing, engineering, volunteering, mentoring, outreach. It’s all part of who she is and what she’s worked to achieve.
ASCE has honored her as a 2022 New Face of Civil Engineering. She spoke recently with Civil Engineering Source about her career:
Civil Engineering Source: What’s the civil engineering accomplishment you’re most proud of so far in your career?
Dastgheib-Beheshti: Last year, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers awarded me with the President’s Award. The president gave it to me because he kept seeing me on different BSCES Zoom calls and noticed how involved I was with judging Future City [student competition], science fairs, and all the Younger Member Group’s outreach to college students during the pandemic. I think receiving that award is probably my proudest moment in the last couple of years.
I do all those things because I really enjoy it. I like volunteering, and I like talking to students – especially to younger students during the Future City competition who are just getting started on their STEM paths.
I think that this interest comes from how I was raised. My parents always wanted me involved in science fairs, math fairs, and related activities. Like most first-generation American children [her father is Iranian, her mother Italian], my parents wanted us to succeed and do even better than they did. And I think for a lot of their generation, that meant a STEM education. For me, this worked out really well because I was good at it, and I enjoyed it! I know for my dad, who has an electrical engineering background, he really saw the value in getting involved in something technical, and from a young age I was pretty proficient in math and science.
Now that I’m a professional, I realize how helpful all of those things – learning public speaking and how to create ideas and how to work with others – were for my development, especially as an engineer.
I like to encourage young students – and older students too in college – to just keep going on their path. It makes me feel good to be able to come full circle and get back involved in the kind of events that I was doing at that age.
Source: What’s something about you that might surprise most civil engineers?
Dastgheib-Beheshti: Probably the dancing. I’m currently co-captain of a Persian dance group [called Aftab Dance Group], based out of Boston. My co-captain and I, we choreograph routines, pick costumes, and manage a group of six to nine women who range from students to young professionals. We perform all over Boston and the New England area throughout the year. So, when I’m not doing engineering, I’m dancing and managing a dance group.
I’m half-Iranian but for a long time growing up I didn’t feel as connected to that side of my culture. I grew up in a very, for lack of a better word, white neighborhood [in Long Island], and I didn’t have a lot of Iranian friends. When I went to college, as most people do, I got more interested in getting back to my roots to explore where I came from. I learned about Aftab, I think it was my senior year of college, but I didn’t join the group until after I graduated. After joining, I instantly gained a group of friends who are so passionate about sharing our culture with our communities while at the same time building each other up to do the best we can in school or our careers. It has been really special for me.
Source: What makes you excited to be a civil engineer in the 2020s?
Dastgheib-Beheshti: I guess for me what’s so exciting are the possibilities of what we can accomplish and how we can better our communities. Right now, one of the projects that I’ve been working on that I love to talk about is the MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] Green Line Extension Project. It really ties together a lot of my goals to build projects that create more sustainable, connected cities. I think the possibility of working on more projects that can connect our communities in a positive way excites me.
But really, anything about projects once they get built excites me – even if it’s the “boring” stuff. I always talk about one of my first projects I worked on right out of college. It was a porous pavement parking lot in downtown Boston that had electric vehicle charging stations and required pulling a lot of permits to complete. It was built probably seven years ago, but I always point it out to people and say, “Look at this parking lot, I helped design it!” I like seeing my designs and the projects I worked on come to life, especially if it helps the community in some way.