Welcome to our new series, Getting to Know the Team! If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a structural engineer or simply wanted to learn more about the people behind Engineering Solutions, this series is for you. We’ll feature a new team member every month, so be sure to check back regularly and enjoy our first installment below!
Name – Valerie Hill
Location – Charlottesville
Title – Structural Engineer
Years with Engineering Solutions – 3 years
When did you know you wanted to be a structural engineer?
Growing up, I wanted to be an architect. I would play The Sims and build houses, pushing the limits of the game for square footage and design. Once I realized how much school was required for architecture, I changed my career path to business. After I started college at Virginia Tech (go Hokies!), I realized I missed taking math and physics classes. I switched to Civil Engineering because I found out that civil/structural engineers can design roller coasters. I ended up liking Virginia Tech so much that I stayed in college for 6 years, getting my BS and MS in Civil Engineering. Although I do not design roller coasters in my current career, I came full circle and now provide structural engineering for high-end houses.
What is your typical day at work?
My day-to-day tasks vary each week. We have a wide range of projects that come through our doors, so it tends to keep me busy. My tasks can be anything from going to a site visit, inspection, or project meeting, to being in the office performing calculations, analysis of structures, and drafting.
What is the best part about your job?
It is always exciting to go into the field, meet our community, and help figure out solutions to problems. I love being exposed to a wide variety of projects, from commercial to residential buildings, partial to full design, inspection or forensic investigations, and even some bridge design. We work with all the different building materials and even some new proprietary materials.
What are some of the challenges in your job?
Being a woman in a male dominated industry has its own unique challenges. I have been to structural engineering seminars where I am one of only a few women in attendance, and have had people ask me why I was there, assuming I wasn’t an engineer. I have experienced people not respecting my knowledge in the field and not trusting me to provide them with valuable solutions to their problems. On one hand, I feel like I have to work harder to gain the client’s trust and prove my worth in the project team. But on the other hand, once I earn that respect and trust, it is unwavering.
What is one of the coolest projects you’ve worked on for Engineering Solutions?
A project I am proud of was actually one of my first big projects at Engineering Solutions. I was able to design a 120-foot diameter concrete flow equalization basin (retaining tank) that held non-potable water from an organic turkey processing facility. The tank was made of reinforced concrete and had walls that were 20-feet high. It may not be the most glamorous project, but it pushed the limits of engineering design and was a unique experience for me.
What is your favorite Core Value and how do you live it out?
My favorite Core Value is also the one I think is most important in our careers and daily lives: communication. Communication plays a huge role between us and the client, architect, contractor, or homeowner. We must articulate our recommendations clearly and understand what our client needs. We also need to communicate well inside the office. Collaboration among our engineers is how information is being passed, ideas are being generated, and high standards are being maintained.
If you had to give one piece of advice for working with a structural engineer, what would it be?
When people ask what a structural engineer does, I like to explain it this way: Architects provide the design of the building, and we make it stand. I think it is important for our clients to understand the value of what we do, what we can do for them, and how much we try to make it work within the project limitations. We don’t like to tell the client “No, you can’t build that.” Instead, we give them ideas for how they can achieve their final product in a structurally sound way. Like our name states, it’s what we like to do: provide engineering solutions.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Outside of work, I enjoy rock climbing, hiking with my husband and two dogs, trying new things, and of course, enjoying the local wineries and cideries. On the weekends, you can find us smoking some meat and hanging out by our firepit with friends.
Tell us about your family.
I was born and raised in Northern Virginia. However, my family was originally from Northern California, where some of my extended family still resides. I have an older sister named Odessa who makes me laugh and loves unconditionally. She has Neurofibromatosis (NF) and lives with my parents in Manassas, Virginia. My parents, Lynne and Dan Black, are wonderful and are my constant support system.
I recently got married to my best friend, Colby Hill. We bought a house together, are continuously renovating, and always playing with our two dogs, Brownie and River.
Fun fact about yourself?
I played soccer 7 days a week, almost every day of the year, from age 7 to 18. I continued playing intramural soccer at Virginia Tech. After 3 years of making it to the semi-finals, we finally won the intramural championship game! However, I ended my career by tearing my ACL in the first 5 minutes of that same game.
What is your favorite food?
Hands down, my favorite food is bacon. I consider myself a bacon connoisseur.