ISG Graduate Engineer Bethany Brittenham was inspired to join the profession from raising and showing chickens in FFA for a class project. After the project was over, Bethany left with two things. Chickens (two of which are still at her parents’), and her desire to work outdoors. With Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and a love for research, she’s looking forward to the holidays. A trip back home to Nebraska where her father and twin brother (also engineers) will combine their collective design expertise to make her mother’s homemade ravioli recipe.
What inspired you to pursue engineering, and what keeps you inspired now that you’re in the profession?
I competed in Envirothon in high school, an annual competition testing students’ knowledge of outdoor sciences with hands-on field tests. After that experience, I got hooked on hands-on problem solving in nature, which is why I eventually pursued Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.
Now that I’m in the profession, two things in particular keep me inspired. First, I’m interested in the wide-range of opportunities for custom solutions. Water flows downhill, but there are many different ways to get it there! Secondly, it’s a constantly evolving field. More than a hundred years ago, people hand-dug ditches and buried one-foot diameter concrete pipe in the ground. What an endeavor! Even now when we use heavy equipment, it’s still quite a bit of work.
You bring a pretty unique background in education. What are some of the things that have stuck with you from the experience?
I was a TA for a few years and I’d always watch the freshmen come in wide-eyed and sure they would change the world. That energy was infectious, and it’s inspiring to dream big and never sell yourself short. In addition, one of my college roommates works in the food industry and another focuses on dairy ventilation. Who knew there were so many opportunities in life?
What skill have you found to be the most advantageous in the A/E field?
Relationship building makes a huge difference in A/E work. You have to build trust and consensus, secure funding, and keep everyone on the same page. My relationship with my team is also important—whether we’re playing cards at lunch or talking through project idiosyncrasies, I learn a lot from them! I also have a skill for puns, and have found that humor can help lighten up most meetings.
How do you approach a new project?
I always start with a list; too many moving parts in a project pulls away your focus and reduces your efficiency. If I have a list written down, I can always refer back to it. I also appreciate any opportunity to bounce ideas off teammates.
Why is ISG the right fit for you?
Our multi-disciplinary structure gives me the opportunity to be onsite for survey and staking, and then bring that field view back to the office. This experience is a huge advantage when beginning design, as you can visualize practices in the actual space and focus on the construction process to design around typical equipment.
Personally, ISG is full of great resources. I learn something new every day from a great group of mentors who consistently emphasize that they want you to communicate if you stop enjoying projects. That engrained opportunity for passion and growth is inspiring. I may focus on water quality practices, but I don’t feel pigeon-holed! I also appreciate the opportunities to attend conferences and Board of Supervisor Meetings, and enjoy meeting people and catching up with those that took different paths in life.
Looking forward, I also believe the work we do at ISG managing resources like water quality, air quality, and value-added products has a large impact on the future. It’s rewarding to be part of something bigger than yourself.
What excites you about research?
From the first time I was exposed to research in college—at an internship at the USDA—I was hooked. Another undergraduate research opportunity with the Pork Checkoff Program encouraged me to get my Master’s degree. Research is full of people dedicating their entire lives to answer questions or challenge the typical approach. It’s fun to see how approaches can be modified and the amount of work it takes for a usable and meaningful product.
A cool thing about ISG’s 12 market structure is that our experts are constantly sharing knowledge across disciplines. This keeps us up to date on the latest and greatest research across fields and helps us think outside of the box and provide the best possible service to clients. On the agricultural drainage side, we’ve been designing and constructing edge of field practices like saturated buffers, bioreactors, and wetlands to reduce nutrients and sediment in surface water. Believe it or not, some of these standards change yearly to keep up with the newest research!
How do you wind down after work?
Some days I’ll stay in and read or go for a peaceful walk around the small town where I live. Other days I’ll opt for a less peaceful rec volleyball game. Most recently I’ve been making wreaths, Christmas cards, and ornaments for friends!
What’s your favorite joke/pun right now?
What’s the fastest liquid?
Milk—because it’s pasteurized before you see it.