Using Civil Engineering to Make Boston a Better City for All

Emily Urbanski, E’24, civil engineering, knew from the start that Boston was the right place to be as a civil engineer. After two co-ops and plenty of on-campus involvement, her hope is to change the city’s transit system for the better.

Emily Urbanski, E’24, civil engineering, recognized the importance of being based in a city right from her first tour of Northeastern.

“I thought it was great to be in the city where I would be able to do this engineering work and find a lot of jobs after graduation,” she says. “Now, having gone through the co-op program, I am very grateful that I chose Northeastern and had that opportunity.”

Urbanski’s first co-op at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, or SGH, as a structural engineer enabled her to expand upon the technical knowledge she had built in her classes and learn new software such as AutoCAD and Revit.

“That was huge because we don’t really cover the softwares in classes, so it was great to go in-depth and be able to model buildings for their projects,” she says.

Her second co-op at Toole Design Group was more directly focused on transportation. This marked shift, Urbanski says, was prompted by her transit-focused Dialogue of Civilizations in the Netherlands the summer after her time at SGH. Working at Toole gave her the chance to see what options were available to her within the transportation field.

“They have civil transportation engineers, but they also have planners and landscape architects,” Urbanski says. “I chose that firm because I wanted to get a breadth of all of the design fields with a relation to transportation.”

At Toole, she really got to see how living in the city paid off for her. Much of her co-op centered on public projects for the city and MassDOT, giving her plenty of community engagement and getting to see what impact her work was having on the public. This experience solidified her interest in transportation, and she directed her coursework towards this focus in the classes she took afterwards.

“Highway Design is the project elective, and there’s also Traffic Engineering, the tech elective, and then finally I’m in the capstone now for transportation,” Urbanski says.

Urbanski with her Toole Design coworkers in City Hall Plaza for Boston Bike to Work Day.

Both co-ops gave Urbanski the opportunity to do fieldwork around Boston. At SGH, she helped inspect structures and conduct building surveys. She then used the data about the building’s conditions to model the structures in AutoCAD. She found engaging in this hands-on process to be extremely helpful. Toole offered plenty of fieldwork of the same variety but also incorporated projects such as measuring streets and corridors.

“When you’re sitting in an office, you can do the calculations, you can model it, but actually going out and seeing it is a whole different experience,” Urbanski says.

During her time at SGH, Urbanski found herself inspired by other women in the workplace. In addition to having a supervisor, she was assigned a “buddy” named Sam to work in this new environment with. Sam was one of the only other women in the office, and this helped the two connect.

“I feel like we had a deeper connection since we spent a lot of time together, and we also could relate on that level,” Urbanski says. “She was definitely a figure at my first co-op that I still keep in touch with.”

Although she preferred her field work, Urbanski still found the software she used to be extremely helpful in her classes. The most valuable skill she refined, however, is time and workload management. Urbanski is the capstone project manager for a team of six students, and her experience as the leader has been greatly enhanced by the skills she learned on co-op.

“I would not know how to delegate tasks and keep everything organized without having been on projects at co-op and seeing my supervisor or someone else I worked with doing the same thing and learning how they deal with challenges,” Urbanski says.

During her time at Northeastern, Urbanski has served as president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers as well as the president of the Northeastern University chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, or NUASCE. She is also involved with Steel Bridge, a student-run team created as an offshoot of NUASCE. The project centers around a yearly competition where teams design, build and test steel bridges to be entered in the National Steel Bridge Competition.

“We get to do a lot of hands-on work in the shop in Richards and in Forsyth; cutting the steel, milling it, welding… that was super cool,” Urbanski says.

Urbanski with the ASCE community service team in the Fenway Gardens.

Between her capstone project, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and NUASCE, she has found the many leadership opportunities she has taken on to be immensely fulfilling.

As for her plans after graduating, Urbanski has set realistic goals for herself that still push her far enough to see the impact of her work and how it interacts with the community.

“I’m interacting with [the community] throughout the project process, and after it’s done, I can see the people in the community using [the infrastructure],” Urbanski says. “And I can use it and know that I’m helping to make their transportation, something they use every single day, better.”

Keeping sustainability in mind is also crucial to her when working. Her interest in sustainable transportation, particularly transit and bikes, is visible through her work.

“I think it’s so important that cities and other communities invest in that kind of transportation and that companies are designing effective, well-designed infrastructure for this transportation,” Urbanski says.

For now, Urbanski is returning to Toole full-time to continue the sustainable transportation work she did while on co-op. In terms of her hopes for the future, she wants to make Boston’s public transit the best it can be. While she acknowledges that people often complain about the MBTA, her goal is to help make the city’s transit system something that Bostonians can be proud of.

“We have so many cities around the world that we can use as inspiration, so I think bringing that here and hopefully making people happier with their city in that aspect is definitely my goal.”

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering