Engineering Our World

March 1, 2019
LEFT TO RIGHT: CHRIS CORSMEIER, LADWP; COURTESY JAY BRANNON; COURTESY YUNG KOPROWSKI

“We’re called civil engineers because we engineer civilization.” These are the words of Yung Koprowski. She’s one of the many civil engineers who create and maintain the infrastructure of our towns and cities.

Each type of civil engineer contributes to society in a different way. But all of them have the same goal: to help people. TIME for Kids spoke with three civil engineers. Read on to find out how they help our communities thrive.

On the Move

COURTESY YUNG KOPROWSKI

The roads in your town didn’t appear by magic. They were carefully planned by transportation engineers, like Yung Koprowski. “We make it safer and easier for people to travel to the places where they live, work, and play,” she says. Koprowski works in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. She plans new transportation systems and figures out how to improve old ones.

Transportation engineers have lots to consider. They think about road signs and markings. They think about intersections and traffic signals. They are also responsible for planning bike lanes and sidewalks. Advanced math and science knowledge are needed for this work. But Koprowski says problem-solving is even more critical. “We do a lot of writing and research,” she says. Creativity and design skills are important, too. Koprowski enjoys designing visuals to explain complicated plans to the public and to elected officials.

SAFETY FIRST Transportation engineers make sure roadways, like these in Phoenix, are safe for drivers.

MOREY MILBRADT—GETTY IMAGES

Her advice for future engineers? “Don’t be hesitant to think outside the box and apply your own ideas,” she says. “Engineering is making mistakes. It’s okay to fail as long as you don’t stop trying.” —By Allison Singer

Trailblazer

COURTESY JAY BRANNON

Jay Brannon is an environmental engineer. She manages the construction of public water systems for Portland, Oregon. This means she works on pipes that move water underground. She led the rebuilding of a pipe under a hiking trail in Forest Park. Stormwater flows through the pipe so it doesn’t wash away the trail. Brannon worked with designers, geologists, architects, and contractors. “All of these people have really different communication styles,” she told TFK.

Brannon says that being a woman of color in the engineering field is not easy. “There are not many of us, so it can be frustrating,” she says. One of her goals is to open the field to more people. So she’s working on a book to inspire students of color to become engineers. “That representation is really important,” she says. —By Constance Gibbs

Master Builder

CHRIS CORSMEIER, LADWP

When Ruwanka Purasinghe was in middle school, he built a theme park in his bedroom. It was made of Lego bricks. “That was definitely one of the moments when my dad thought I would grow up to be an engineer,” he told TFK.

Purasinghe knew about engineering as a kid. His father was a professor of civil engineering. “But I wasn’t really sure I wanted to do that for the rest of my life,” he admits. Then he traveled to Italy while in college. There, he saw Rome’s ancient aqueduct system. It is still being used today. Purasinghe says it “really opened my eyes.”

Now, Purasinghe is a geotechnical engineer. He works for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. His job is to come up with solutions to water-supply problems. His projects include pipe systems and aboveground water tanks. For inspiration, he looks to the past. “Civil engineers have been solving problems for thousands of years,” he says. “I enjoy thinking of ways to help future generations.” —By Kio Herrera

To see these engineers in action, watch the videos from NBC News Learn in the paired texts below.