Mary Beth Berkes, PE, Wins SAME Young Professional of the Year

Mary Beth Berkes, PE, GAI Assistant Civil Technical Leader, shares her impressions of being recognized by the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Pittsburgh Post as the SAME Young Professional of the Year.

Mary Beth BerkesQ: What do you believe qualified you to receive the SAME Young Professional of the Year award?

Mary Beth Berkes: I’ve been very active within the SAME Pittsburgh Post since I joined the organization—early on I served as the post’s Communication Chair, subsequently I was Treasurer for two years, and I currently serve on the post’s Board, which gives me the opportunity to represent the organization’s younger members. I had also attended a national SAME Post Leader Workshop, which helped me make a lot of personal and professional contacts and bring some good ideas back to the Pittsburgh Post.

It felt very affirming to be recognized. The SAME Young Professional of the Year award isn’t something that you apply for yourself … and when the presenter started describing the award winner’s qualifications, I looked at my husband and whispered, “Hey, that’s MY resume he’s reading!”

Q: What sort of work do you do here at GAI?

 Mary Beth: My expertise focuses primarily on the restoration of streams and other natural water features—specifically, with helping design and execute ways for clients to restore water environments that may have been impacted by project work or address instances where accelerated stream erosion could impact a utility. It’s a facet of the services GAI offers through our Environmental Engineering practice.

I lead the engineering side of restoration projects, coordinating the civil technical aspects including field work, hydraulic modeling, assembling drawings and reports, attending client and agency meetings, and more. I oversee and review these types of projects to help determine that the work is technically correct—and I also do a lot of mentoring of less experienced GAI staff in this field.

Q: Can you tell us how your expertise comes into play for our clients?

Mary Beth: Sure. If project work somehow impacts a natural stream or other water feature, government regulations in many cases require that the client either restore that water feature on site, or—in cases in which on-site restoration is impractical—to mitigate impacts by restoring or improving a similar water feature at a negotiated off-site location.

We perform hydraulic modeling and develop plans for restored, improved, and stable water features that will be free of washouts and accelerated erosion, won’t increase flooding, provide a suitable habitat for fish, and several other key technical and regulatory considerations.

Q: What project challenges do you commonly face in your work?

 Working within a client’s budget is one challenge that’s common to just about all projects—yet interestingly enough, clients that invest a little more up front on projects like the ones I’m involved in can in many cases save money in the long run.

While it may be attractive for clients to do a spot fix on an impacted stream, for example, investing in a more holistic improvement affecting a larger portion of the stream can better support the stream’s integrity and long-term stability—minimizing future maintenance expenses and possible revisions.

Winning the SAME Young Professional of the Year award really helped validate that the work that has always been very important to me personally also holds greater importance for the wider community.

Q: How does receiving the SAME Young Professional of the Year award make you feel about the work you do?

Mary Beth: I’m an avid outdoorsperson and a conservationist at heart, and consequently the field I’ve pursued as a professional is really an offshoot of my love of nature and desire to help preserve a healthy environment. I love being able to use my engineering career to protect the natural resources that mean so much to me. It’s what motivates me, and it’s what makes me happy to come to work each day.

Now, the SAME mission is largely centered around protecting and improving infrastructure, yet infrastructure can mean many different things to many different people—and in my mind, natural resources and the environment represent the Earth’s original infrastructure. So, winning the SAME Young Professional of the Year award really helped validate that the work that has always been very important to me personally also holds greater importance for the wider community.

Contact Mary Beth Berkes, PE, 412.399.5321, for more information about GAI’s stream restoration and environmental engineering services.

Mary Beth Berkes, PE specializes in natural channel design, hydrologic and hydraulic analyses, inundation studies and investigations, and design and evaluation of culverts, ponds, dams, wetlands, and other hydraulic structures.

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