Meet Our People: GAI Environmental Professional Mary Beth Berkes

Mary Beth Berkes, PE, MS is one of hundreds of skilled GAI professionals who help clients create better communities, transportation infrastructure, energy generation and delivery, and more from our office locations throughout the United States. Today we’ll find out a little about what makes Mary Beth tick—the background, motivation, and methods that she brings to the table every day for GAI and GAI’s clients.

Slide Name: Mary Beth Berkes
GAI Office Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Hometown: Uniontown, PA
Education: BS in Civil Engineering, University of Pittsburgh; MS in Ocean Engineering, Oregon State University Professional Licenses: Professional Engineer in PA, WV, OH, KY, IN, WI
On staff at GAI since 2010 Hobbies/pastimes: Skiing, biking, exploring National Parks, visiting breweries with my family and our dog Barley

Q: Please tell us a little about how you arrived at your area of specialization.

Mary Beth Berkes: I specialize in water resources engineering, primarily for GAI’s energy-industry clients. I have always been drawn to both engineering and the outdoors, and this practice area has offered me a bridge between those two interests. The discipline is based around water in the natural environment and includes bridge hydraulics, inundation mapping and investigations, flood studies, streambank stabilization for utility protection, natural channel design for mitigation or relocation purposes, and more.

As an undergraduate, I took part in a research program through the University of Notre Dame, which ended with a field study in Thailand where we assessed tsunami impacts and mitigation. That was when I realized engineering could be used to protect communities from floods and promote sustainable development. I saw that engineering could help us to better understand and protect the stream resources that I care so much about. As a conservationist, I was drawn to become even more specialized in stream restoration design—and that has been the focus of my project work at GAI recently.

Q: What role do you play at GAI, and what sorts of projects do you typically contribute to?

Mary Beth: I lead GAI’s engineering design, hydraulic modeling, and field efforts for stream restoration projects, and I have also been working recently to promote and grow this service internally and externally. My role can vary from mentoring junior level staff to leading calls with clients and agencies to explain our solutions or manage field efforts. And every year, I try to attend a conference or technical training to stay up to date on advances in the industry and network with peers in my field.

Q: What do you like most about your job and why do you feel GAI is a good place to put your skills to work?

Mary Beth: I like the variety of the work that I take part in at GAI, especially getting outside for field work and interacting with agencies and clients. Stream restoration projects all have their own unique twists and constraints; I’m often forced to think outside the box to come up with economical and constructible solutions—and I really enjoy that challenge. But most importantly, I enjoy and appreciate the people I work with. My long-time colleague Adam Scheller and I work with an equally passionate water resources and hydraulic design team, which I can proudly say includes three other female engineers! Watching and helping our support staff grow and develop has been so rewarding, and the managers who our team reports to support our goals and have encouraged still further growth.

GAI employs many professionals across different specialized fields, and I enjoy integration with other disciplines to create the strongest possible project teams. I often encourage my staff to work with managers outside our group and business unit and be open to stepping out of their comfort zone to work on unique types of projects. GAI allows for career growth and technical advancement, while also offering opportunities for business development, mentorship, and empowering staff. I like that diversity. Over my career here, I’ve made lasting friendships, worked with incredible leaders, and mentored staff who have now become mentors themselves—all while growing to be a technical leader in a specialized field.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that people may not know or will be surprised to hear.

Mary Beth: I’ve always had a desire to push my limits a little through extreme sports, and I actually met my husband on a Pitt ski trip, where we bonded over our brand of ski equipment, which is specialized for skiing powder and doing tricks. I’ve been a mountain biker since high school, and in my younger days, I was a punk-rocking skateboarder. Someday I hope to teach my 2-year-old son to drop in on a skateboard and spin a 360 on skis!

Q: What inspires you—what are you passionate about?

mary beth berkesMary Beth: I’m both passionate about and inspired by resource conservation. I’ve always had an enthusiasm for the outdoors: I enjoy visiting National Parks, I have a golden retriever that loves stand-up paddle boarding (#SUPpup), and one of my 2-year-old’s favorite words is hike! With that in mind, it is inspiring to see environmentally forward change incorporated into projects I work on. In fact, my favorite field tasks are the annual monitoring of the geomorphic surveys that we perform to see how well our projects are doing—being there to see wildlife visiting our restoration and mitigation sites is truly rewarding.

Q: How do you feel that the job you do at GAI benefits the community and the world?

Mary Beth: We currently live in a world faced with a rapidly growing population. It’s a fast-paced environment in which development is happening at a rate that may not be sustainable. Meanwhile, climate trends are showing more frequent high-intensity storms, rising sea levels, and extreme wildfires and droughts. With that in mind, protecting water resources and helping our clients understand how to develop their initiatives while satisfying evolving regulations is essential. Not only does resource conservation provide wildlife habitat, but it also provides places for people to step back, look at the world around us, and take time for recreation and leisure.

Contact Mary Beth Berkes, PE, 412.399.5321, for more information about GAI’s stream restoration and environmental engineering services—message GAI online and start the conversation about how our multidiscipline professionals can meet your unique project needs.  

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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