A Day in the Life of Architectural Engineer Hailey B. Ihlow

Hailey B. Ihlow is a design engineer at BKF Engineers. Learn more about her work in land development and how you can #BeThatEngineer!

Hailey B. Ihlow, EIT 

Architectural engineer Hailey B IhlowI didn’t always want to be an engineer. In 5th grade, I was fascinated with architecture. For years and years, I wanted to be an architect. My parents taught math, so my brother and I were oriented in a more math-related direction. When I got to high school, my mother and I realized that since I enjoyed math and architecture, I would probably love civil engineering. Architectural engineering wasn’t something we knew about at the time, but as we were researching different schools, the major came up at a couple of places. That was really exciting since I was still interested in architecture. I would be able to pursue both loves, civil and architectural engineering.

I received my bachelor’s degrees in civil and architectural engineering from Drexel University in 2019. For my architectural engineering degree, I concentrated in Digital Building. Digital Building is exciting to me since it focuses on the new technologies being implemented in the field and the building as a whole. For me, civil engineering is about infrastructure, from bridges to sidewalks, to storm drain or water distribution design. It’s pretty much everything outside of the building. Architectural engineering is about things inside of the building, like mechanical work (MEP, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), some structural design (which is on both sides), and facades (the face of the building). There is a blurred line between the two since they overlap a lot; there are many more parts to be explored in both Civil and Architectural Engineering.

I went to public school in Oswego, New York growing up; my parents had me involved in many extracurricular activities, from orchestra to springboard diving to community service. These activities fell off a bit when I went to college since you’re more focused on school than your extracurriculars. However, I still dove at Drexel University for three years. At the beginning of the third year, I had an impactful conversation with one of my professors; they asked, “Are you going to be a professional diver?” My answer was no. Realizing this allowed me to focus on traveling towards the end of my college career.

This conversation inspired me to do my second co-op (a six-month, full-time internship) in Singapore. I worked at an architecture firm. I gained great experience working in an office and working in a completely different cultural environment. While I didn’t get a paid co-op position (compared to typical Drexel engineering co-ops, which are paid), it has been the best decision in the long run. I wouldn’t trade that time for any amount of money. It was, indeed, worth every penny I spent. If you have the time and ability, I highly recommend doing any traveling, whether it’s a study abroad or internship abroad. Right after my co-op abroad, I did a study abroad in Denmark, which was also a fantastic experience. Finally, during my senior year, I did an intensive study abroad in Iceland with The Green Program, another tremendous experience.

For my first co-op, I worked at Pennoni Associates as a Civil/Site Design Engineer. There, I received advice to try other places and do different types of co-ops. If I wanted to go back, I could. There was no reason to stay in one position if I didn’t know precisely what I wanted to do. I had a great experience at Pennoni. My third co-op was in Philadelphia with Sowinski Sullivan Architects, for another architecture firm. I ended up doing mechanical engineering work using Revit. Learning and knowing more than one design software made me a more versatile candidate during the interview process. It was a great experience, even though I thought I wouldn’t be interested in it when I initially applied. The advice from my first co-op helped me find other aspects of engineering I enjoy.

I currently work for BKF Engineers in San Francisco. At BKF, we provide civil engineering, land surveying, and land planning services for government agencies, institutions, developers, architects, contractors, school districts, and corporations. There is a lot of overlap between all these; in short, we strive to improve the environment people live and work. Land development can be taking a grassy field somewhere and building a skyscraper on it. Site improvements, part of land development, can be updating a sidewalk and utilities to a refurbished building. The San Francisco office has some cool projects in Silicon Valley, and we also have projects in San Francisco that I get to work on. BKF Engineers has projects through the Bay Area and is starting new relationships outside the Bay Area.

I’ve been at BKF for a little under a year and a half, and I’m learning a lot. I’m helping my team finish projects, and I’m on my way to becoming a professional engineer. BKF encourages me to learn and not just get the task done. Even though I recently graduated, I’m already doing designs and calculations for my supervisor. BKF also has around 500 employees. BKF is on the bigger side of companies I’ve worked for, yet I feel at home at BKF.

For girls interested in engineering, my piece of advice is to get your hands dirty! Don’t be afraid to jump right in and try different things. Learning is experimentation. Eventually, every experience brings you closer to your goal, whatever it may be.

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