February 20-26 is National Engineers Week! We are shining the spotlight on a young engineer who has quickly taken on responsibilities and was recently been promoted to Senior Engineer, despite joining us only two years ago as an intern: Rebecca Bitterman. Hopefully, hearing her story inspires you to reimagine the possible too!
How She Came to Engineering and CED
In middle school, Rebecca first learned about engineering from a cousin who went to Drexel University in Philly. Her teachers such as her 11th grade physics teacher, a past engineer, encouraged her to look into it for herself.
“I always liked math and art and felt split between the two. When I discovered that engineering is both math and design, I loved that I could blend both interests.”
She ended up at Drexel, where she chose environmental engineering specifically. She said this was due to her appreciation of nature, which she credits to growing up in an outdoorsy family. At Drexel, she enrolled in a five-year program, which included co-ops as well as classroom time. For her co-ops, she worked at the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), and for Jacobs Engineering. While at her last one, she recognized our company’s name, as CED and Jacobs had adjacent projects for PWD at the time. CED, Jacobs, and PWD had to work together to coordinate the two projects to ensure seamless construction.
During her senior year in 2019 she started planning for what she wanted to do after graduation in 2020. Of course, none of us knew in 2019 that life was about to change. Having recognized the name of our company, she applied, and things moved quickly. Before she graduated, she started working here as an intern, with the understanding that if both parties felt it was a good fit that she would become full-time upon graduation. As an intern, Rebecca learned many valuable skills like CADD, spending two days a week in the office. Then, COVID happened.
March 2020: Most of the company, and the world, moved to working remotely, and she no longer went into the office. However, she did a lot of field work that March and April. She supported our resident inspector on a sewer reconstruction project in Oaklyn, NJ. With everything about the field work outside, they could stay socially distanced and follow all safety guidelines, and she got a lot of in-person, hands-on experience seeing what goes on in the field. The inspector on the project, Rodger Knudsen, has been with CED for over 25 years, and was instrumental to her growth.
He said, “In the spring of 2020 Rebecca joined our team in Oaklyn New Jersey on a sanitary sewer installation project, as well as concrete curb and sidewalk replacement and total roadway reconstruction. Rebecca’s appetite for learning and her ability to process the information she receives makes her an asset to CED.”
Without the unexpected circumstances of the coronavirus, she never would have gotten that valuable field time, learning not just behind a computer.
“I was certainly more on my own because of COVID, but it was an amazing time for growth, partially because I have such a good manager who helped me take advantage of the situation to expand my knowledge and responsibilities,” she explained. Her manager, Anthony LaRosa, is the Regional Manager for the firm’s Water division.
When June of 2020 rolled around, CED offered her a full-time position. She said the decision to stay was an easy one.
“I liked the people I was working with, how much I was learning, and the variety of work. Having variety in my week is important to me, and this company enabled me that,” she explained.
As an entry level engineer, her work began with typical entry level engineer work like CAD and drafting base plans (map of existing conditions). She was slowly introduced to more design work, specifically green storm water infrastructure and water and sewer design. When one of her coworkers went on maternity leave in November of 2021, she was “baptized by fire” and took on some of their responsibilities. That employee has since returned, but Rebecca now has a lot more experience, and works directly with Anthony LaRosa, which provides the opportunity for her to learn a lot more than the average entry-level engineer might expect.
“Becky is always willing to take on a new project regardless of the complexity, explained Anthony LaRosa. “Her ability to dissect the issues, apply engineering concepts, and solve problems make her a tremendous asset to our group. She never hesitates to jump right in to make sure the client’s needs are met expeditiously.”
“One project I am working on is for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, on the Atlantic City Expressway. I’m working on a sanitary Pump station repair because one vertical pipe sheared off of its connection at the pump. I got on-site, assessed conditions, evaluated what failed, and looked into what needed to be replaced. Part of my job includes things like calling manufacturers to research what materials are best for the specific environment and application. This is not what you learn in school. There’s really nothing better to learn from than experience. Even the industry jargon, none of this was taught in my classes. Luckily, everyone I work with, from my coworkers to the manufacturers, are always happy to explain to me anything I don’t understand.”
Remember the Philadelphia International Airport she worked for in college? She’s now working for Colliers Engineering & Design on a sanitary pump station at the Airport fire station and upgrades to the storm water pump stations located under the terminals, expanding the scope by adding several more pump stations (now 7, from 3 in the original scope), and more.
She said, “This project allows me to work closely with an engineer out of the Red Bank office, John McKelvey, who has extensive pump station experience. He runs the project and guides me through the work to get done. I appreciate that I have the opportunity to work with engineers outside of my group who have different skills and knowledge that I can learn from.”
“I get good feedback from the client for facing challenges well, which has helped with my confidence for communicating with them. And I like the variety of my work, that I can do both green infrastructure and wastewater management and treatment. I can do both traditional water/wastewater utility work as well as more cutting edge, sustainable, green work. Also, I’m working toward getting my PE, which will take about four years. I actually got a promotion this year and am now a Senior Engineer. I like the path that I’m on at Colliers Engineering & Design. It’s definitely been a good fit.”