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Inspired by the endless amount of knowledge in plumbing, Jennifer Olsen can't just stop seeking it. She moved from Portland, Oregon to Rochester, New York to pursue an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester. After graduation, Jennifer began working at STV Inc. in Boston where she worked on HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection designs.
“For the first two years,” she says, “I did all three disciplines. Then I focused on only fire protection and plumbing design.”
At first, she knew absolutely nothing about plumbing engineering. “I didn't even know there was a difference between a duct and a pipe,” she jokes. But the industry offered a world of knowledge for this young engineer. “There is no shortage of questions that can be asked."
After a couple of years of working, she went back to school to get her master’s degree in engineering management from Tufts University in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. “I couldn't get enough lecture type learning and decided to enroll in another master’s degree program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, this time, in fire protection engineering. I now have four years of industry experience at STV Inc, and I feel like I am learning more every day.”
Today, back in Boston, she is a plumbing and fire protection engineering specialist at STV, Inc. A typical day at work consists of answering RFI's, reviewing submittals, performing plumbing and fire protection calculations, coordinating designs with other disciplines, and mentoring people who are new to the industry.
“I would probably say I didn't explicitly choose the plumbing engineering industry, but rather, the plumbing engineering industry chose me.”
Equipped with one master’s degree and another on the way, coupled with a quest for knowledge, Jennifer stays in the industry because she says she’s grown to love it.
“I love every single thing I learn. I love the fact that the amount that one can know is truly limitless,” she says.
Jennifer isn’t done gaining knowledge. Her short-term goals include getting her PE license, as well as her CPD certification. “I’m currently reading from cover to cover the ASPE fundamentals plumbing book.”
As for long-term goals, she says she wants to build an army of plumbing engineers at STV Inc. “I want to pass on all that I have learned in the past four years to the people who have more recently started in the industry.”
Being one who seeks knowledge, it’s not surprising to learn Jennifer turns to research when she doesn’t fully understand an aspect of a system. “When I figure out how it works and how to properly design it, I get really excited,” she says. “I want to share that new understanding with others. I love teaching how plumbing systems work to the younger people because I enjoy solidifying that knowledge I have attained, and I feel like I am helping others progress in their understanding of plumbing engineering.”
It’s refreshing to see someone not only get so excited about the work she does, but also in wanting to share it with others. “I think the biggest challenge facing the industry today is the lack of knowledge that it even exists,” she says. “In college, I never heard of plumbing engineers. I think that the lack of available plumbing engineer staffing and the lack of new-hire knowledge of plumbing engineering sets the industry back.”
She sees her role as a plumbing design engineer at STV as an opportunity to address the challenge. “I make a difference at STV by mentoring the people who have recently graduated and getting them up to speed on plumbing engineering design,” she says. “We sit down and go over why certain things within the design need to be done in different applications. I answer questions and teach them about what the designs on paper will look like in real life.”
Jennifer’s been thinking about writing a children's book about a girl walking down a sidewalk and observing different plumbing items along the way. “This would help some of the younger generation have a general understanding of some of the common plumbing related items we see every day,” she says.
She points out that she was attracted to plumbing engineering because it is everywhere, and it is a necessity in almost every occupied structure. “I love that there is no shortage of work and a great diversity of work since most projects involve some sort of plumbing.”
She adds, “If you have ever wondered how a toilet works, what the various pipes in your basement are, or why it takes a few seconds to get hot water from a sink, you should consider a plumbing engineering career! The coolest part of being a plumbing engineer is you have a technical understanding of why the scupper is pouring water during a storm, why the shower is hot for a while then slowly gets cooler, why there is a p-trap under the sink, etc.”
At 26 years-old, Jennifer is on her way to being a knowledgeable and enthusiastic ambassador of the industry. When she’s not in that role, she’s a soccer player, children's book writer, hiker, adventurer, camper, laugher, traveler, planner, and cyclist! “I’m very satisfied with my life and it seems it just keeps getting better,” she says. “I feel confident at work, I feel like I am progressing my academic life, and I recently got engaged to my best friend.”
The sky’s the limit for Jennifer, and we’re excited to see where it leads next.
Click here to read about the other Plumbing Engineer’s Top 10 in Their 20s.
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