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UESI Member in Focus: Kristina Swallow

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Kristina Swallow at Coulee Dam Portrait Kristina Swallow, P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE  is a civil engineering leader with more than twenty-years of professional practice in water resources, transportation, and land development. Ms. Swallow is currently a program manager for the City of Las Vegas. She leads a team of engineers responsible for delivering public works projects and planning the sanitary sewer collection system. Kristina also advises on bicycle and pedestrian-related infrastructure, representing the city as needed, working with the Nevada Legislature, participating in public meetings, and guiding public outreach policy.

Kristina has been active in ASCE for more than two decades, serving as the new Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute's first Board-appointed Governor and is a member of ASCE's Transportation Policy Committee. Among many past roles, she served as Region 8 Director, Region 8 Governor, Educational Activities Committee Chairman, and on ASCE's 150th Anniversary Steering Committee.  Locally, Kristina served as president of the Younger Member Forum, Las Vegas Branch, and Nevada Section and chaired the Nevada State Infrastructure Report Card  Committee.  Kristina was recently elected to serve as ASCE President-Elect in 2017 by the voting members of the Society.

Kristina Swallow Las Vegas Women EngineersCity of Las Vegas Women Engineers: Rosa Aragonez Cortez, Anita Marquez, Alisha Auch, Kristina Swallow, Lorrie Linnert Dunford, Connie L. Diso, Gina Venglass, Christina Ryan Karanikolas and Joanna Kajkowski Wadsworth. Photos courtesy of Kristina Swallow.

Outside of the Society, Kristina has been active in her community, chairing the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth  in 2002 while also working her way up the ranks to serve as president of the Junior League of Las Vegas in 2003-2004.  As ASCE's Congressional Fellow in 2009, Kristina landed a position in the Office of Senator Tom Udall as his Lead on transportation policy until 2012. During that time, she worked on the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill and development and passage of the MAP-21 surface transportation authorization bill.

kristina and david swallowKristina with husband David Swallow.

Ms. Swallow earned the ASCE Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement in 2008, the ASCE Young Engineer of the Year Award for the Western Region in 2000, and the ASCE Young Engineer of the Year for Southern Nevada in 1998.

Kristina received her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering at the University of Arizona and a Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is a licensed Professional Engineer (Civil) in Nevada. Kristina was awarded the UNLV Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering Alumna of the Year in 2013 and the University of Arizona Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 2005.

Kristina Swallow EWB GhanaJuly 2010 - Ho, Volta Region, Ghana. Kristina with Engineers Without Borders Orphanage Implementation team.

In this feature interview, Kristina shares on her life and career path, her love of civil engineering, running, and her vision for civil engineers and ASCE.

Interview by Frank Kim, UESI

You stated in your statement for the candidacy for the ASCE President election: "To build a better quality of life is why I became a Civil Engineer." When did you know you wanted to be a civil engineer and who were your primary influence(s) that encouraged you to go into civil engineering?

KS: I don't recall exactly when I knew I was going to be a civil engineer but it definitely was early in my life. My dad, Ed Konrath, is a civil engineer and probably the most significant influence on my choice.  His influence was strong, as my brother, Treye, also chose to be a civil engineer. And, if that wasn't enough, I married Dave, who is also a civil engineer!

I remember learning of Jack Welch, an engineer and former CEO of GE and thinking that engineers are the right people to lead international organizations. We don't just address symptoms, we learn how to recognize the core problem and develop solutions that optimize the use of resources, create change and improve the situation.

kristina swallow asce buildingOne of first visits to ASCE Headquarters in Reston, Virginia.

You attended the University of Arizona for your BSCE and UNLV for your MSCE. Where were you born and where was most of your upbringing?

KS: I was born in Newport News, Virginia, and my family moved to Tucson, Arizona before I was 2 years of age.  I spent most of my childhood in Arizona until my senior year of high school, when I went to Germany to study as a foreign student exchange student.

I was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down and feel fortunate to have experienced history in the making. It was also a great opportunity to learn more about myself and our country through the eyes of others. Those experiences shaped me then and continue to have an impact on my perspective today.

You have been an active member of ASCE since you were a student member? How did you first get involved with the Society and how did you find yourself in leadership roles?

KS: Actually, my involvement with ASCE really began as a younger member right after college. I remember searching for my first job, going door-to-door and contacting engineering firms about potential career opportunities.  This was a different time - before the global Internet age - when you had to call companies, go door-to- door, or fax your resume.  Research via the Internet and email were not available.

Late on my first day of searching in Las Vegas, a past president of the ASCE Southern Nevada Branch - Nelson Stone - agreed to meet with me. He didn't have any openings at his firm at the time, but he shared with me his network. That was my first real exposure to the benefits of ASCE.

A few years later, another engineer, Ed McGuire, whom I met through work, reached out to me about starting a younger member group. Our Younger Member Forum was engaging and fun, quickly building momentum through its membership and going on to actually design and build a pedestrian bridge for one of the local cities.  Later, we hosted the Western Regional Younger Member Council in Las Vegas in 1998.

My first ASCE Society appointment was to ASCE's 150 th  Anniversary Steering Committee, I think in 1999. That committee really opened my eyes to all that ASCE does beyond our local efforts. Serving at that level enables members to meet others across our organization and learn from them. I recall joining that committee at the same time as Carol Haddock. She served as a Congressional Fellow later on and I followed a similar path.  It's cool how paths cross and careers are shaped through ASCE involvement

Kristina Swallow Friedman Award Group PhotoPittsburgh 2008 - Kristina receiving the ASCE Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement with Eric Fisher, Renee Michelle Schwecke, Sean Merrell and Ann Epler Bryant.

You first began your career in consulting with Engineers and Surveyors, Inc. and then later launched your own engineering firm AVP Consulting, Inc. What were some of the motivating factors for you to start your own company and what was the process like for you?

KS: Yes, when I first started my career with Engineers and Surveyors, Inc., I mostly worked in water resources, conducting hydro-logic studies and hydraulic analyses to identify flood control measures to protect new and existing developments in the rapidly growing Las Vegas Valley.  I continued working in the private sector as a consultant and broadened my experience to include transportation.  After 10 years, I took the opportunity to start my own firm.

Working in the private sector, I had seen significant peaks and valleys in workload.  At many of the smaller firms in town, they lacked the staff resources to meet peak demands, often putting heavy burdens on their teams.  My husband and I felt that I could support other local firms through the peaks with supplemental engineering services. My firm, AVP Consulting, provided flood control, traffic impact, and air quality analyses as well as design services for civil engineering and architectural firms.

In addition to assisting other firms meet their challenges, having my own business helped me  find some flexibility in my work-life balance.

You also worked as a Congressional Fellow in the Office of Senator Tom Udall from 2009-2012, assisting on transportation policy- working on the FAA's re-authorization bill and the development and passage of the MAP-21 surface transportation authorization bill. What are some important lessons you learned in that time and how did you enjoy working as a Congressional Fellow in DC?

KS: The first 6 months as a congressional fellow were hard.  I thought I went in with no expectations; but quickly I found it very different than what I was accustomed to as an engineer.

One of the things I found most challenging on the Hill was that in most offices, there was only one person working on any given policy issue.  As an engineer, I  constantly worked and collaborated with others to complete a project.  I was used to lots of meetings and interactions throughout the day. In my congressional role, we worked more independently as we developed and researched policies, and supported the Senator on his initiatives.

After about 6 months, I began getting used to the process and the way people worked.  More importantly, I learned how critically important it is for us, as engineers and voters, to be active as public policy advisers and assist in the legislative process.

During my first year, when I was ASCE's Congressional Fellow, I lived in Haymarket, Virginia with my husband's parents. The 3-plus hours of daily commuting via car and train was tough; but living with family was good.  After my one-year fellowship, the Senator hired me on as staff, so I stayed on the Hill for two more years.  During that time, I lived in the southeast area of Washington, D.C. and every day I got to just walk to work, passing the Supreme Court, Capitol and Library of Congress.  I don't think I could ever get tired of that commute.

What do you enjoy most about civil engineering?

KS: I enjoy the opportunity to solve problems and work on projects that benefit our communities; whether it's working on flood control measures, planning wastewater infrastructure, or improving transportation options.

kristina swallow chines railroad landmarkKristina at ASCE National Historic Landmark Golden Spike, Utah.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you see on the horizon in civil engineering and globally?

KS: Globally, we have to find ways to address urbanization and the needs of our growing population. Much of our infrastructure is not sized to handle these increasing demands and is already beyond its service life.  We have to educate our leaders and the public on the importance of managing our existing assets, minimizing impacts to the natural environment and making sound infrastructure investments.  At the same time, we need to continually support research and develop new, innovative solutions.

We (civil engineers) have to establish our positions as technical advisers and key influencers and become leaders shaping public policy. We have to be good stewards of our resources, optimizing the assets we have already and developing projects that will be sustainable - environmentally, economically and socially.

You served as one of the first appointed Governor on the Board of the ASCE's new Utility Engineering & Surveying Institute (UESI). What are your thoughts on the UESI and how can UESI help ASCE and the engineering profession?

KS: The new Utility Engineering and Surveying Institute is a great organization that is bringing together elements of our industry that are often overlooked but critical for all projects and often for our quality of life. I'm excited to see how the UESI will bring these aspects of our profession together to reduce risk and improve the quality of our projects and our communities.

Can you tell us about your current work and projects at the City of Las Vegas?

KS: As an engineering program manager in the City Engineer division, I oversee a team of engineers, project managers, and other staff responsible for delivering public works projects and planning the sanitary sewer collection system program.  Since starting with the City four years ago, my work has included overseeing the replacement of our main 104-inch sewer trunk line to our wastewater treatment facility to enable future growth.

As this project crossed jurisdictional boundaries, the City collaborated with Clark County on one of their flood control projects to minimize construction disruption in the area.  Another project was a 2-mile sewer diversion line to increase the supply to an intermediate wastewater treatment facility and support irrigation of area golf courses.  I also assist with bicycle and pedestrian-related policies and infrastructure, representing the City as needed, at the Nevada Legislature, participating in public meetings, and guiding our public outreach policy.

Kristina Swallow Truckee Meadows ASCEKristina and the other women engineers at the ASCE Truckee Meadows Branch annual awards banquet.

We understand you are an avid runner. When did you first become a runner and what do you enjoy about running?

KS: I started running in 2006. At that time, I was the local coordinator for AFS, a foreign exchange organization. I was looking to find a host family for a student that was a runner.  I reached out to a local running community and they said "come out!" I couldn't even run a tenth of a mile, but they assured me it would be fun. And it was!  Since then, I've completed two marathons and a number of half-marathons.

Today I run 3-4 times a week. I enjoy running in the morning, as it's a great time for me to collect my thoughts and prepare for the day ahead.  It's also a great way to see what's going on in the community, what things are changing, and how people are using our infrastructure.  When I travel, running is one of the best ways to get a feel for a city.  I'm able to see a lot more of the neighborhoods and get a better feel for the community than I can while driving or taking transit.  It's also more personal, as you get to see people.

By the end of my term as Region 8 Director, we had a solid group of board members that would regularly get together and run in the mornings before the board meetings.  It was a great way to get outside and connect with one another.  Perhaps we can have a group continue to run during ASCE BOD meeting weekends during this term!

ASCE is currently making the IMAX film 'Dream Big' with Bechtel. If you can make a film- as a director and producer of the film- what would it be about and what would be the title of the film?

KS: That's a tough question. There are always so many different things going on in my head it would be tough to choose to focus on one theme or concept. While I can't say specific plot points, I know that it would be happy, include travel and discovery, as well as leadership and growth. Those are themes that I tend to gravitate towards.

What are some of your favorite music genres or music artists?

KS: I like good music, regardless of the genre; but I probably gravitate more toward happy, upbeat tunes with lyrics I can understand and a beat to dance to.  I love dancing!

Kristina Swallow SpeechKristina speaking at the annual ASCE Truckee Meadows Branch 2016 Awards and Student Recognition Banquet. Photo by Ashley Verling.

What are you looking forward to serving as President of the Society?

KS: I'm looking forward to continuing to meet with our members to better understand  the challenges we face and develop solutions together.  I also want to educate the public and our leaders about the critically important role of our profession and the many great things civil engineers do every day in our communities.

Civil engineers are global leaders, building a better quality of life.

To contact Kristina