Claris Purasinghe’s civil engineering career started at home.
Her parents bought a house in Sunland, California, just north of Los Angeles, when she was in elementary school. It had one bedroom and one bathroom.
“Over time, my dad made that house eventually into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, pretty much with just myself and my brother helping,” Purasinghe said.
“My dad was definitely my biggest inspiration for going into engineering. He introduced me to the tools, to the materials, to the entire thought process behind building a house.
“There was so much engineering and construction that I got exposed to that I feel like it’s not surprising that this is my career path.”
Purasinghe learned well and now works as a civil engineering associate for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, helping to manage more than $300 million worth of critical infrastructure.
Her volunteer schedule is intense with regular contributions to ASCE, the Society of Women Engineers, and the Asian American Architects and Engineers. For ASCE, she’s held many roles – as a student member, president of the Cal State Northridge Student Chapter, and now practitioner adviser for the same chapter; president of one of the Society’s most active groups, the Los Angeles Younger Member Forum; and member of the Committee on Student Members.
For her efforts, ASCE has honored her as a 2023 New Face of Civil Engineering. Purasinghe recently spoke with Civil Engineering Source about her career.
Civil Engineering Source: What accomplishment or aspect of your career stands out to you so far?
Claris Purasinghe: When I first started working, right out of my undergrad, being able to work on a $2 million project was a big accomplishment for me. And now five years into my career, I didn’t think I’d be working on hundreds of millions of dollars of work projects. So I’m very grateful to be able to work for such a large city as Los Angeles, where a lot of our projects are essential for water infrastructure, which means they are very large-scale projects. I didn’t think I would be where I am today in a matter of five years. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to do so far.
I remember when I first started, I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe one project is $100 million.” At first, I will say that it was a little intimidating, but there are so many wonderful people that I work with day-to-day that help make it very easy to manage these large-scale projects.
Source: How do you hope to make an impact on the profession? What would you hope your legacy is?
Purasinghe: Recently, I became a mom. She’s [Amari] 8 months old. Ever since I had a daughter, I’ve been having so many people say to me, “It’s so amazing that you’re able to do what you’re doing with your career, be the president of ASCE LA YMF, and be a mother at the same time.” I think, for me, just showing all the women out there that you can be a good mother, do great in your career, and have all these side hustles at the same time.
Source: What inspires your commitment to all of these volunteer activities?
Purasinghe: When I do something, I like to commit 100% to it. I feel like I want to be the change that I want to see. If I think there’s something that needs improving as a group, I always want to put in 100% effort to make that happen.
I guess a lot of it started in college when I was involved with ASCE, and, for me, it’s probably one of the biggest reasons why I did stay with civil engineering. I got to meet so many amazing civil engineers, and I got exposed to so much professional development that I feel like helped me become the civil engineer that I am today. And having the chance now to be able to provide those opportunities to other students is why I’m still dedicated to this day.