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Alicia Czarnecki ND '17 ENVIRONMENT

AUTHOR: Allison Preston

PUBLISHED: February 19, 2018

Q: What year did you graduate? Were you involved in any organizations as an undergraduate student?

Czarnecki: I graduated in 2017, I was in the second class of environmental engineers. I was part of the environmental engineering club that started while I was a student. I was also part of the Society of Women Engineers and the Tech Team competition for two years. Outside of CEEES I played trombone in the Notre Dame Marching Band and was on my hall council in Pasquerilla East.

Q: Did you participate in any internships?

Czarnecki: The summer before I started at Notre Dame I worked in Dr. Peter Burns’ lab on campus. I was assisting a postdoctoral student with her research. We were looking at ways to remove hazardous contaminants from nuclear research and development from groundwater in soil.

The summer after my freshman year and the summer after sophomore year I interned for the City of South Bend in the Public Works Department in the Engineering Division. The summer between junior and senior year I was Team Lead Intern for the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem.

Q: What were some of the biggest gains from participating in so many internships?

Czarnecki: One of the biggest things I did that benefitted me as an undergraduate student was getting involved in community-based projects. Both interning for the City of South Bend and working with programs like Society of Women Engineers and Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem were really helpful because I was able to build a network of professionals in this area. I was also able to learn about approaching problems in a real-world context. That was really beneficial when I started my first job and I know it was one of the things that set me apart when I applied for jobs.

Q: A lot of students spend all four years on campus without venturing too far beyond the Notre Dame boundary. What made you interested in seeing what South Bend has to offer?

Czarnecki: My sophomore year is when I started to get involved with projects that were beyond the Notre Dame bubble. I was really excited to be able to apply what I was learning in the classroom to a real-world context and be challenged to problems where you can’t find the answer to in the back of the book. You are able to see how you can use the skills that you’re training in and how you can use them to benefit people and benefit the world.

I also think a lot of students don’t realize that South Bend is not a college town. South Bend is its own city next to Notre Dame. Students also don’t realize there are a lot of really cool things going on in South Bend. I work with a couple programs that help get students off campus and into the community. The overwhelming response from students is, “Wow I didn’t know that kind of thing happened in South Bend.”

Q: You made a quick transition from working for a civil engineering company to working for the City of South Bend. What did you learn from both of those positions?

Czarnecki: After I graduated I started working right away for Abonmarche Consultants, Inc., which is a civil engineering site design firm in South Bend. I was able to work on a lot of exciting new development projects and I was trained on AutoCAD. My project manager was also a Notre Dame alum. It was really great to work with someone who had the same educational experience but is further along in their career.

I am now an engineer with the City of South Bend. Part of my time is spent managing projects so I will be working on bidding out projects that have to do with work the city wants to complete or working with consulting firms that are designing projects. And part of my work is spent working on city initiatives and different neighborhood programs we have going on. One of the exciting projects I am working on is going to allow me to continue my work from the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem. I will be helping with some of the improvements and environmental enhancements going on within Ravina Park in the southeast neighborhood. It is exciting to have that continuation of a program I’m so close to and be able to work with the same neighborhood association.

Q: What advice do you have for students who may find themselves in a similar situation of transitioning from their first job to another job after a short time?

Czarnecki: It was a really big decision to make. I think it’s really important to talk to mentors that have been in the profession for a long time. I was really lucky because I had a great project manager I could talk to and I knew several people in the area in my field that I could ask about it. It is important to take into consideration all the different opinions and remember that everyone’s career is different. Either way, I would have had a great job and would have been working with great people. It’s just keeping in mind what I wanted to do and my career goals.

Q: What other career advice do you have for students who will be starting their first job?

Czarnecki: Getting your engineering degree is just teaching you how to learn. Once you get into your job you are not going to feel like you know anything. You may use some of the same equations but you are going to feel like there is a lot that you don’t know. Don’t be afraid, it’s the same skills and the same way you approach those problems.

Alicia Czarnecki is an engineer with the City of South Bend. She is also a member of the Ecological Advocacy Committee in South Bend.