Environmental Works, Inc. hung out at a project site in south Kansas City with Environmental Engineer Paulina Tinoco while she performed some well development work in November 2020. Paulina talked about her mentors at EWI, how the company gives her practical, hands-on experience, and how her work is improving the city she calls home.
Position – Associate Environmental Engineer
Office – Kansas City
Tenure at EWI – Two years
Hobbies – Rock climbing, hiking, biking, kayaking
Degree and College – Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology
EWI: What do you like most about your job?
Paulina: I think the people that I work with. Just getting to interact with a bunch of people that do a bunch of different things for the company. I get to learn a lot of different things, and that is one of my favorite things to do.
EWI: What things do you get to learn?
Paulina: Well at my previous job, I didn’t get a lot of hands on experience and I think that’s really important for an engineer – things like how a pump works and how a motor works. Working with (EWI Associate Engineer) Jon McKinney, I’ve had the opportunity to get into all sorts of situations with him and fix things up. He’s taught me a lot about how to use tools. I didn’t even know how to turn a wrench really, and now I can do that. I can fix small pieces of equipment. Just anything that I can do with my hands and get my hands on, that’s what I really like to do.
EWI: Were these things that you didn’t learn in college?
Paulina: They don’t teach you any practical engineering in college. It’s all math and science. There were some cool classes, for sure, like water resources and fluid mechanics. Those classes were cool and super applicable. But not like fixing a pump or anything like that. But then again, I wasn’t a mechanical engineer. Maybe mechanical engineers learn that stuff, but I never learned that.
EWI: What do you like least about your job?
Paulina: Filling out my damn timesheet. I try to do it throughout the week like I’m supposed to do it, but sometimes you’re working late or working long hours and you have shit to do after work. I write some notes down on my phone and usually fill my timesheet out on Sunday night. That is probably it.
EWI: What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Paulina: It’s usually always field work. I’m usually not in the office.
EWI: Do you like not being in the office?
Paulina: I love it. I would rather be out in the field for 40 or 50 hours a week and not be stuck at work sitting at my desk all day. I hate that. It drives me nuts. But sometimes you have to do that. Still, I’d rather be out here.
I don’t have a niche or anything like that. If someone needs help, they ask me and I show up. I’ve done work in the city. I’ve been out here a lot helping Jon with control systems stuff and setting pumps. It’s usually outdoors work.
I would say every week is different.
EWI: Do you travel for work?
Paulina: It’s all local stuff, which is really nice. I think the furthest I’ve traveled since I started this job was like Wamego, Kansas. We could have come back every single day, but we elected not to as to be more efficient. That’s as far as I’ve gone.
It’s all local stuff. And I like the local work too because it kind of gives me a bit of insight into the ins and outs of what’s going on in Kansas City. I really like that.
EWI: Does it mean something that you can be directly involved in the betterment of the city?
Paulina: Hell yeah. I would do anything to give back to my community. I literally live like a mile down the road from here. I go home and tell (my boyfriend) Dylan about everything going on. We discuss what that’s going to do to the value of our house. It’s going to bring jobs and impact this community in a very positive way.
This project benefits me too. I am a part of the community. If I can put some hours into this and also benefit from my work, then it’s a win-win.
EWI: How do you feel about the manual labor that you perform for your job?
Paulina: I mean, I’m fine with it. I’m young and healthy. I kind of enjoy it a little bit. It’s nice to say that I can lift a five-gallon bucket.
I’m not doing anything super strenuous, and the company never puts me in a situation where I’m uncomfortable. If I can’t do it, I know my limit and I’m just going to say something.
EWI: What companies did you work for previously to EWI?
Paulina: I was an environmental engineer for Ash Grove Cement in Lewisville, Nebraska. The plant itself was really cool. I primarily had an office job there because I was in environmental compliance. I did all of the permitting and compliance for the company – air, water, waste, solid waste, hazardous waste. I also did all of the reporting and sampling that goes with it and all of the monitoring. It was a lot, to say the least. I was there for almost exactly two years.
EWI: How do you feel about your coworkers?
Paulina: Honestly, they are just awesome people. There’s no one out there that’s super selfish or lazy like some of the people I’ve worked with in the past. It’s totally different here at EWI because if you have a problem people will go out of their way to try and help you figure it out. And vice versa, I would totally help out anyone. But they’re also just really cool people. Like if you have a conversation with anyone, they’re going to have something interesting to say. They’re totally just chill, nice people – hardworking, too.
EWI: How do you feel about your opportunities for advancement?
Paulina: I think it’s totally up to the individual. I don’t think the company puts it out there. It’s kind of just up to the individual. If you see some work that the company could capitalize on and get money from, pitch it and maybe they say yes.
I feel for me it might be a little different because I feel like the obvious path that EWI wants me to take is to get my PE (Professional Engineer license), which will get our name out more and bring us opportunities to do other things.
There’s the other side of it too, where you might see an opportunity and capitalize on it like Jon’s done, where he said he could fix something and just kind of rolled with it.
EWI: Could you see yourself taking a similar path to Jon?
Paulina: Yeah, I mean I really like what Jon’s done. To me, it’s every environmental engineer’s dream to build remediation systems. I think that’s really cool. That’s one of the big things that drew me to environmental engineering was remediation.
Something existed here before and we just renovated it.
EWI: Has anyone pushed you along to get your PE?
Paulina: I have talks with Steve (Brauner, Environmental Engineer and Colorado Market Manager at EWI). We’ll discuss how I’m doing and if I should be doing more things. He definitely mentions it every single time we have a conversation.
But I can’t get my PE until at the earliest next April.
EWI: Has Steve served as a mentor to you?
Paulina: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I want to learn as much as possible from anybody, but I’m going to be attracted to the engineers since that’s what I am. If I have any questions or if there’s maybe some training that I want to do, I’ll reach out to Steve. And then Jon’s more of the hands-on engineer, from scratch kind of guy that’s helping me build my thought process, whereas Steve’s helping me build my career.
EWI: How do you feel about the compensation and benefits you receive at EWI?
Paulina: I really like our HSA (health savings account). It’s been really cool.
I think the salary is about average.
EWI: What do you like to do outside of work?
Paulina: I like to rock climb. I’ve really been focusing on outdoor climbing. Really, I like to do anything outside. I mean, rock climbing is the main focus, but also hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, going on floats. Usually, that’s what I spend my time doing.
EWI: How do you feel about your work/life balance?
Paulina: I think it’s really good right now. I think when I first started, it was a little overwhelming because I was working a lot. But I was also trying to establish myself and I wasn’t going to say no. But now I feel like I stand up for myself a little more.
Right now it’s really nice. I usually do 40ish hours, and the rest of the time is mine.