Name: Ana Carola Tijerina Esquino
Credentials: EIT, A.M.ASCE
Job title: Engineer II
Employer: Mott MacDonald
Location: Portland, Oregon
Current ASCE role: Portland Younger Members Forum president
College: Portland State University – bachelor’s degree in civil engineering
It would be difficult to spend an hour talking with Ana Carola Tijerina Esquino and not leave the conversation thoroughly excited about the future’s possibilities.
She’s a talker and a doer; a natural leader; a young engineer in Mott MacDonald’s Portland, Oregon, office, passionate about resilience, sustainability, and the power of community.
ASCE has honored Tijerina Esquino as a 2022 New Face of Civil Engineering.
Tijerina Esquino has channeled her enthusiasm into leadership roles with ASCE’s Younger Member Forum in Portland and on key projects reshaping her adopted hometown. She’s also a co-champion of the Advancing Race and Culture Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion group at Mott MacDonald, as well as a frequent outreach leader for Portland students, including workshops with Adelante Chicas, encouraging young Latina women to explore civil engineering.
“Framing engineering as a thing that helps people, I think, tends to attract a different group of individuals,” Tijerina Esquino said. “And getting to both say, ‘We help people’ and ‘The problems we deal with are very cool and really exciting,’ makes it fun and hopefully teaches them that they can do it too if they want to.”
Tijerina Esquino shared her passion for engineering in a recent discussion 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?
Tijerina Esquino: There are two things that come to mind. My first project was a stormwater capture on a marine terminal on a berth for the Port of Portland. The stormwater requirement in the City of Portland is new, so this was a project that had never really been done before, and I came in absolutely fresh when we started the design.
It started with simple things – designing the handrails, designing some ladders, designing pipe hangers – and then as we worked through the structural calculation package, I learned a little bit more and a little bit more. We were also the owner’s rep through construction, so I got to see the site and, for the first time, see these things I had designed but in the full real-life size that they were. Then as we finished our project, we also got to hear from the client about how well the functional system was working.
I ended up presenting on this project at a sustainable stormwater conference, so it really felt like a big project for my own transition. I got to see myself develop as an engineer, from learning really basic things to becoming more and more familiar with this project, getting a relationship with the client, and eventually getting to a place where I knew enough about all these things that I could submit an abstract that got accepted. I’m very, very proud of that full process.
And I think that anytime you’re designing something that is not already under a specific code or standard, you get to do a lot more thinking of like, “Well, how does this actually work?” or “How can we meet this objective?” and that was really exciting. It feels very lucky to see a project from inception to functional use.
The other was a pavement analysis. Mott MacDonald also has a suite of digital tools, and one of them is a carbon calculator. It calculates the equivalent of carbon for any certain project. It’s a really incredible tool. I mentioned that if we were comparing flexible or rigid pavements, we could also compare the carbon cost of the pavement, and the client wanted to. So it was the first time that I was like, “Wow, I had an idea that someone appreciated, and they went for it!” It felt really important that we were kind of shifting how they could think about picking a design solution. I feel very blessed. I love working at Mott MacDonald.
Diana [Walker] is the best manager I have ever had by far, and she remembers the things I like and has been able to put me in situations to do those things. I think having a senior engineer who listens to these, maybe at times silly, ideas that young engineers have, it’s been a gift and has allowed me to get into a lot of aspects of engineering that I think people at my stage don’t normally get to do.
Source: What’s something about you that might surprise most civil engineers?
Tijerina Esquino: I was a nontraditional student. That means I did not go into an engineering program straight from high school. After I graduated high school, I worked full-time and was doing school part time, and was only learning finance at the time.
So, I took a long path to get into engineering. It wasn’t a thing that felt like a calling to me when I was a kid. My brother was born wanting to be an architect, and he became an architect. I was born not knowing what engineers do at all, and frankly, I didn’t even know what civil engineers did until I was already enrolled in a civil engineering program. I was born in Mexico City and was there until I was 11, and then we moved to San Diego. So that’s where I went to high school.
We talk so much about imposter syndrome now, and I am often told by people in ASCE here locally and people I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring that I carry myself with this big confidence. But I still almost everyday doubt whether I’m doing the right thing or whether this is the right decision that I’m making. There is not the feeling that, “Oh, this is just a natural skill that I’ve been gifted with.” And I think that would possibly be surprising to a lot of my colleagues.
Source: What makes you excited to be a civil engineer in the 2020s?
Tijerina Esquino: I feel like I could talk about this for years. I think we’re at a point in time where we have some gigantic challenges in front of us, and we have some really smart engineers who want to think outside of the box and get some really world-changing things done.
I think what we think of as engineers is also changing, and it’s changing for the better. When I was young, thinking about what engineers were, I had this idea of, like, “mathy” guys who didn’t talk to people. And I think that perception maybe has hurt our profession. But now I see that we have more engineers who are a little bit more like me – engineers who are talkers, who are ideas people, who believe that what is at the center of civil engineering is helping others, it’s helping communities. I think when more engineers fall in love with this profession with those ideas at the center, we’re going to make really cool things happen that are going to be more community-centric. I see that shift now. My cohort that I graduated with is more diverse than the senior engineers that I get to work with, and they do have big ideas and they are the ones who really excite me for what the future might hold.
I think we’re going to communicate better about what engineering is to society and help politicians and communities understand the importance of the things that we do and the importance of prioritizing certain things like sustainability and resilience. And all of these really big ideas and these young people, I think we will transform the world.