When Lauren Norland graduated from Iowa State in 2014 with her degree in Civil Engineering, she dove right into the solid waste industry as an Engineering Intern with Barker Lemar Engineering Consultants. Having a passion for water quality and a strong belief in environmental stewardship, she describes the solid waste industry as a perfect marriage of engineering applications and environmental protection. Over the past 5 years, Lauren’s passions continue to push her professional aspirations, passing her professional engineering exam in 2018 and now leading the Water Quality group for the firm. We sat down with her to understand her experience as a young professional (YP) in this industry and how her involvement in various groups and associations has helped her better understand and serve solid waste clients.
Q. Many civil engineers go on to pursue infrastructure projects – designing and maintaining systems such as roads, buildings and bridges. How is solid waste engineering different and how have the principles you learned (infrastructure) transferred to the environmental side of engineering in the work you do today.
A. The solid waste industry is a great place to build, grow, and evolve your career to what you want it to be. Engineering principals can be applied in a variety of different ways depending on your area of interest. Landfill cell design incorporates piping system layout and design, slope stability and settlement calculations, engineered liner systems, and groundwater underdrain system design.
Q. In 2016, you became a member of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), how has this membership impacted your professional career.
A. I was fortunate to have been awarded the Young Professional (YP) Sponsorship by the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations (ISOSWO) in 2016, to attend WasteCON, SWANA’s largest industry conference. WasteCon, like many industry conferences, offered specific events that highlighted the interests and career aspirations of professionals 35 and under; it was nice to see that the industry recognized the influence of this demographic and was supporting the future of our profession thru networking and provided resources. Through my membership, I became involved in my local YP chapter and have held the position of SWANAs Young Professional Chapter Liaison for Iowa since 2016. This provides me a platform for my voice to be heard, become more involved in the ISOSWO board and bring more focus to YP’s in the industry.
In 2018, I ran for a board member position and was elected by ISOSWO members; this past October I was honored to be re-elected to that position. Each day you have an opportunity to do great work, and assist your clients with sound engineered solutions; getting out of the office and coming together with a broader group of professionals in my industry has allowed me to gain an intricate knowledge of my business, and I have a front row seat to help make decisions about the direction the solid waste industry is going.
Q. As the YP Chair for Iowa SWANA, what advice would you tell YP civil engineers coming into the workforce.
A. Being involved in industry-related groups is a great way to be more rounded in your profession and stay informed on industry-related topics. So, GET INVOLVED! Textbooks and lectures provide you some insight into the many different facets of civil engineering, but there is nothing like talking peer to peer. You can immediately tell when someone is passionate about the work they do – they want to share stories, collaborate and drive sustainable solutions that secure their future in this industry. During the 2019 Iowa Recycling and Solid Waste Management Conference, I hosted a mentoring event for YPs and experienced professionals in the industry. The topic of discussion was ways to engage young people in the industry and how to use networking events to grow your career. I would encourage YPs to participate in these type of events and bring up these opportunities to their company leaders for support.
Q. What challenges do you feel your industry is going to face in 5-10 years?
A. Creating an environment where young professionals have an opportunity to network with peers is becoming increasingly more important with the wave of retirements we are about to see in the industry. The majority of the workforce in a number of landfill facilities, recycling operations, and engineering consultant companies in Iowa are made up of employees who have serviced the community for 20+ years. This is an optimal time for YP’s to put down roots in a firm in the industry and grow to be the next community leader. Those looking to have a larger presence in the industry and make meaningful connections will be highly sought after as the job market gets increasingly tight.