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Katrina Kalafatis, 33 Project engineer HNTB Corp.
Nominator’s quote: “Katrina has been consistently praised by the managers she performs work for as having a strong technical background, taking responsibility for her work, and being a very well-organized engineer. She takes a lot of initiative and her excellence in abilities to coordinate and communicate are key to successfully executing projects locally and remotely.” — E. Gregory Thorpe, HNTB
What is your educational background? I earned an undergraduate degree in 2009 in civil engineering technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. Recently, I completed a master’s degree in 2019 in civil engineering with a focus in transportation from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Describe your current job and responsibilities. I’m currently a project engineer for HNTB in the Salt Lake City office. I’m consistently working on various projects in various locations around the country. Locally, I’m involved with Utah Transit Authority for the project to relocate the TRAX light-rail station at the Salt Lake City International Airport. The design was completed in early 2020 and is now under construction.
Due to my rail experience, I continue to support the Massachusetts office that I transferred from and also support our Washington and California offices. My responsibilities on these projects are mostly lead design work, as well as various aspects of project management. I’ve also recently taken on the role of office quality manager in the local office. It’s been a great experience so far, and keeping an emphasis on quality is what makes our deliverables so successful.
Briefly describe your career path. My career started as a field engineer for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). My engineering career transitioned into the railway design engineering field with HNTB, and I have progressed within the company to the position of project engineer. My career path as I see it moving forward is to become a project manager on larger, more complex projects.
How did you get into the railroad industry? Honestly, I had almost zero awareness of the railroad industry until applying for the initial position I landed with HNTB. I had worked in transportation right out of college for MassDOT, but I wanted to work in the private consulting sector, so I applied to a track design engineer position at HNTB. I have enjoyed being in it ever since.
What is the best career advice you’ve received? The best career advice I’ve received to date is to avoid comparing yourself to your colleagues, and instead to just be the best that you can be. You will often find you surprise yourself with how much you can achieve.
What advice would you give to a new railroader? Ask questions and get as much information from the older generation as possible. The institutional knowledge gained from colleagues with vast amounts of experience is invaluable.
What was your very first job? I was a lifeguard at a pool for a private tennis club in central Massachusetts. The lifeguards doubled as snack shop sales people. Seems safe to have your lifeguard cook you a burger on the grill with their backs to the pool, right? Luckily, there were always two of us on duty!
Describe a fun fact about yourself. I took a hiatus from engineering two years after graduating college to pursue a career in personal training. I enjoyed the experience and value the communication and people skills I gained from it, but that lifestyle just wasn’t for me. My first job back into engineering was for rail design and I haven’t questioned my career since.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and physical activity. Growing up it was organized sports, mainly soccer. After college I was obsessed with hiking in the White Mountains with my husband and our first dog, Penny, who is a Newfoundland. Since moving to Utah, it’s been mostly mountain biking and skiing.
What is the biggest challenge the rail industry now faces or will face? The biggest challenge the rail industry now faces is documenting information. I’ve found that a lot of railroad design practice is passed through word of mouth or through experience like review of special trackwork. Many of the older generation who had worked a summer job on the railroad and gained that invaluable institutional knowledge are now retired or looking to retire and we can’t lose their knowledge and experience forever.