In May, we caught up with Caroline Bitter, a structural engineering intern who began at Stewart in January 2021. A recent graduate of Clemson University, she earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering, emphasizing structural. Caroline graciously agreed to chat with Stewart Talent Coordinator Katherine Meyer about her experiences as a new graduate embarking on her professional career.
Can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to choose this field of study?
I went to Clemson for undergraduate and graduate school, so I’m a big Tiger football fan. I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and growing up, I did a lot with music and was a big nerd involved in many school things. I loved math and science, which pushed me toward a STEM field, not knowing that I wanted to do structural engineering.
I chose general engineering in college because I thought it would be the most problem-solving of all the STEM careers, which would suit my interests the best. I like to work with people and problem-solve—have an “input/output” relationship, where I put in work and then see a physical product that comes out, which very much lends itself to the civil engineering world. So, I picked that, got to know the different disciplines within engineering, and settled on structural pretty early in my college career. And I could not be happier. I don’t think I could find a better fit for myself.
What is it specifically that you like about structural within the world of civil engineering?
I’m someone who loves buildings, architecture, and design, but I’m very aware that I’m not creative at all. If you asked me to design a building, I would give you a square—the same column grid for everything. It would be the simplest thing ever, and I would be like, “Well, it works! Why do we need to make it fancier?”
I love that structural engineering allows me to work with architects and creative people, making sure their designs are feasible, possible, and within budget without doing the creative work myself. It lets me dip my toe in the parts where I excel.
The process usually starts with the owner, and then the architect will come up with whatever [the owner’s] dream plan is—an initial schematic design. Then the architect will hand the design over to the engineers. We sometimes have to say, “It doesn’t work as you have it right now, but here are some alternatives. Let’s figure out something that does work and makes you both happy.”
So, it sounds like you do often apply creativity to your projects!
Yes, the problem-solving creativity rather than the artistic kind!
So, how have your Stewart teammates helped you to grow as you’ve started your career?
They have helped me with their availability and willingness to answer any question I have. I’m grateful my teammates talk to me about many things, which has been helpful. Everyone is so happy to help, and not just begrudgingly because it’s their job. They do want to see you learn and succeed.
I know you’ve only been here a few months, and you’re just beginning your career, but how have you contributed to your team so far?
In some of the more specific things I’ve become more proficient at, like retaining wall design, I’m much better at that now. If someone says, “All right, we have these ten different site walls. Can you do these?” I’m like, “Yes, I know how to do that!” As I’ve grown more proficient at these types of tasks, I now feel I’ve been able to help a lot more than I could at first. There is still a learning curve, though.
Now that you are working in the engineering field, is there anything that has surprised you about the industry?
I would say that what has surprised me—and this is a product of me starting amidst the COVID-19 pandemic—is just how seamless remote work has been. I always viewed engineering as super hands-on, particularly structural, where you’re working with architects.
It’s a very collaborative, hands-on process, but I didn’t know how that would translate to remote work or if it would translate at all. Working successfully from home has surprised me so much—not only with the effortless communication among my Stewart colleagues but also through meetings with contractors, architects, and other engineers outside of Stewart.
I didn’t foresee remote work being as easy as it is. I feel like this experience taught me how flexible and versatile the engineering industry is. Specifically, it’s super possible to not be in the office every day and still feel very fulfilled and productive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well I’ve adapted to remote work.
What three words would you use to describe the culture at Stewart?
Respect. Stewart is an incredibly accepting and respectful work environment. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to and to work with everyone I’ve met. Stewart is intentional about recognizing diversity, which is essential and not consistently recognized in more corporate settings. I appreciate that.
Trust. I didn’t know how working from home would go, but I never feel neglected or micro-managed. And I think much of that comes down to trust in the people you all hire and the work culture built around Stewart. The element of trust is something that I appreciate and hope that I can also contribute.
Diligence. From a technical and professional standpoint, we review and discuss everything we produce with the architects and the contractors, and our work also undergoes thorough internal QA/QC. On a personal level, my teammates are diligent and detail-oriented; everyone has a passion for engineering. As cheesy as that might sound, you can tell that it’s much easier to do your job well when you like it, and there are a lot of people here who do their job well.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not at work?
I love to be outside. I’m not necessarily an outdoorsy person who likes to hike and jump off waterfalls, but I enjoy nature. I love going for walks or stringing up my hammock and sitting outside and reading. I am a big reader; I read several books, magazines, and all that good stuff.
I also like to work out. I’m not crazy or anything; I don’t go to the gym seven days a week, but I think it’s fun. I grew up a dancer, and so I love a great dance-based workout—because, you know, I can’t ever let the dream fully die that I’m going to be a Rockette!
What’s one of your favorite things about where you live now?
I love living in Downtown Raleigh and that I get to walk everywhere. Because, as I said, I love to be outside, and I hate driving! It’s annoying searching for parking and going out of my way because of detours. I love that I’m now in a city that’s big enough that I can walk places. If I want to get a little cup of coffee, I can walk down the street and do it. I don’t have to get in my car, and that’s so fulfilling. I really enjoy that.
We’re excited that Caroline is here, and we look forward to her long career at Stewart!