Month: March 2022

The Journey to Becoming a Certified Wetland Scientist

Joanne Theriault’s interest in environmental science began in high school, but her journey to becoming a New Hampshire Certified Wetland Scientist (CWS) didn’t begin until nearly two decades later. Beyond her college years, Joanne worked in several career positions that provided her experience with identifying wetlands, wildlife and other natural resources. However, unlike in some of the other New England states, in New Hampshire there is a formal process to becoming a CWS who is legally able to delineate wetland boundaries. Because she worked with and under the direction of a CWS for several years, Joanne knew it would be a challenge to complete the certification process, which includes an exam that is notoriously difficult to pass. After years of hard work and determination, with a few unanticipated hiccups, Joanne officially became a NH Certified Wetland Scientist in 2020, and this was her journey.

What has your career path been? Why environmental sciences?
When I was preparing my college applications many years ago, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a nursing major, but the biology class I took my senior year of high school changed my mind. I’d found a subject that I was really excited about! My interest shifted from cell biology to ecology when I tried out a few different co-op jobs as part of my undergraduate work at Northeastern University. This path felt pretty natural, because my mother was also in environmental sciences.

Do you have an analogy that helps me understand your job better?
Delineating a wetland is like trying to complete a connect-the-dots picture on the ground….where nobody exactly drew the dots yet but rather left some clues under the ground and then also it might not actually make a picture. But be sure to draw the picture right.

What made you want to begin this certification process?
Becoming a CWS seemed like a natural professional step, and I was excited to take it. I had been working with wetland scientists for years and knew the field procedures well. I just needed to learn how they actually did it!

Were there any setbacks to your journey? Any outcomes that weren’t expected?
I came close to having a pretty major setback right out of the gate. My written exam was held on March 13, 2020, and state offices and schools closed due to COVID-19 two days later. It was pretty amazing that the exam was held at all!

I also failed the field portion of the exam the first time I attempted it; I know that this is not uncommon among those who have taken the exam, but it was still a pretty tough blow. I’m lucky to work with a wonderful and supportive team who cheered me on. Many of my teammates are engineers who were able to sympathize and share stories about the Professional Engineer examination process.

Describe the day/ what you felt like when you found out you passed the exam.
I was honestly kind of a mess waiting for the results of the field portion of the exam. When the results came in, my husband and I were both working from home. I bolted out of my home office to go tell him, but he was in a big meeting, so I had to wait for almost an hour before I could tell him. It was an exciting day!

What is your favorite part of your work?
I truly enjoy the process of collecting data in the field, bringing it back to the office, and having the chance to report on that data and contribute to how it’s used on projects. I know a lot of environmental professionals wish to be in the field every day, but I’ve been there and done that. Now I love getting to take ownership of the entire process.

Since becoming a wetland scientist, have you come across any surprising discoveries on site?
One of my favorite discoveries was at a bridge site in western New Hampshire. I was surveying in the early fall and found an amazing collection of dragonfly exuviae on the underside of the bridge where hundreds of larvae had crawled out of the river, shed their “skins,” and taken off in flight as adults.

Any advice you’d give to students studying for the exam?
When preparing for the written exam, simply knowing how to delineate wetlands is not enough. Carefully review the reference materials and expect to be asked about quirky details. However, you just need to delineate the wetland when you get to the field portion! I got bogged down with those pesky, quirky details the first time through and made a complete mess of my map.

What’s next in your career aspirations?
Even post-certification, I come across so many things I don’t know every time I’m in the field. My current aspiration is to bring home and learn about at least one plant, soil sample, or wildlife sign that I don’t know every time I’m out working. I know I’ll never know everything, but the more I learn, the better I’ll be at my job.

Joanne’s hard work to advance her career and professional goals as a wetland scientist makes her invaluable on wetland projects. Adding a CWS to our roster of highly qualified environmental staff has allowed us the capability to complete wetland delineations and functional assessments for our clients throughout most of New England. We are proud to support her in her continued journey in gaining more knowledge and striving toward preserving the region’s wetland ecosystems. To learn more about the environmental sciences or about Joanne’s journey, please contact her!

How Florida airports play a key role in emergency preparedness and response

General Aviation airports play a vital role in serving their local communities through disaster preparedness and response. Hurricanes pose the largest natural disaster threat to Florida communities. Airports are not immune from the devastating impacts a hurricane can cause to infrastructure, including hangars, essential navigation equipment, and other airfield facilities. Based on the important role an airport can play during and after a hurricane, the airport must have a sound emergency plan in place. This emergency plan should consider how the facility is used and will be used during these times.

There are countless historical examples of how General Aviation airports have helped respond to a disaster or crisis. In 2016, the Flagler Executive Airport became a “Point of Distribution” for food and water after Hurricane Matthew, a Category 3 storm, left two-thirds of residents without power.

A year later, during Hurricane Irma, Marion County Airport served as the location for the Duke Energy base camp, which housed 1,700 utility trucks and 3,700 employees. The open nature of airfields and large areas of asphalt and concrete paving make airports ideal staging areas for emergency response operations.

A more recent example of a municipality leveraging the airport as part of their resiliency planning is the Marathon International Airport located in the Florida Keys. In 2019, the County decided to build its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the airport. Being a barrier island poses unique challenges to emergency management operations; housing the EOC at the airport will allow aid to come into the County even if the single highway entering and exiting the keys becomes unusable due to flooding.

Besides natural disasters, airports are also valuable in other areas of emergency response planning. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted airports’ role in the containment of an infectious disease: Millions of people pass through airports each day, making airports a primary pathway for this contagion. During the pandemic, airports are being relied upon heavily to put emergency measures in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. The pandemic has accelerated the need for airports to find ways to leverage automation and touchless technology in their day-to-day operations. Providing appropriate response tools will help in containing the spread of the pandemic.

History has shown that airports play an essential role in assisting people in times of disaster by providing an avenue for the delivery and distribution of food, water, and medical supplies. Given the critical role in emergency management, airports should add elements of resiliency planning as part of any master planning process. Spending some time now assessing risks will allow the airport to rebound quickly from unexpected events and continue to meet their users’ demands. Hoyle Tanner works with airports to create or enhance infrastructure projects so that they are sustainable and maintainable for years to come. If you would like to find out more about some steps you can take to make your airport more resilient, contact me.

*featured photo image courtesy of Michael Grawe, Airport Manager, Marion County Airport

The Journey of Becoming an Engineer – 7 Years In

Ryan McMullen corporate headshot with bridge in the background and text that says "Journey of Becoming an Engineer"

Breaking Ground

The first few years of a career in engineering go by very quickly and can be overwhelming. On construction sites, you try and ensure that everything is being built per the plans and specifications and answer the questions of the contractor. This results in a lot of calls back to the office to get answers and confirmation. I remember the first time a contractor asked me if it was okay to make a slight change to the design to make things easier on their end. I didn’t know what went into the design and reasoning behind the design, so I could not give an answer without calling back to the office. When in the office, you are tying to get familiar with multiple design codes that are always getting updated and changed, learning how to design, learning what goes into developing a plan set or cost estimating, so you’re constantly asking questions. A lot of this requires engineering judgement, which can be frustrating because at this stage in your career, that is not something you have. Throughout this time, you are gaining an understanding of how things get built and what goes into it. It is a whirlwind of uncertainty while you constantly try to figure out the right way to go about things how things are supposed to be done.

Getting your Bearings

After a few years, you start to gain some traction in what you are doing. Those calls back to the office when you are on construction sites become much less frequent. You know where to find a lot of the information you need without asking for as much guidance and start to notice some of the differences in the design codes when they are updated. You are beginning to grow an arsenal of past projects you worked on that you can draw from and start to take on more responsibility.

I remember when a younger engineer asked me a question on how to perform a certain design calculation, and I was able to provide the reference in the code and an example calculation that I had done on a previous project. I was pleasantly surprised with myself after the young engineer successfully walked away with all the information they needed, with a clear understanding of how to proceed, and no additional questions. As your experience grows, so does your involvement on each project you work on. Then it is time for the next big step, studying for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Before you know it, you are a licensed Professional Engineer with a stamp.

On your way to Substantial Completion

Looking around, you may not feel like you are at the level of those around you who have been stamping plan sets for years, but you are starting to make progress and have more confidence. That time spent in the field on construction sites is now coming in handy when designing by knowing what the contractor had difficulty doing and what went wrong. Your understanding of the full process of design and pulling plans together has you looking ahead and taking charge of what needs to be done to meet the overall goals of the project. You are more aware of the bigger picture of the project instead of focused on the individual task that you were assigned. You begin to give input based on the experience you gained opposed to always deferring to those with more experience. All this time, you continue to gain confidence. It all goes by so fast that being asked to write a blog about your first seven years of experience as an engineer is what it finally takes to get you to realize just how far you have come.

Employee Spotlight: Emily Belisle

Photo of Emily Belisle for Employee Spotlight with her featured in the desert

Emily Belisle – Civil Engineer & Aspiring World Traveler

1. What drew you to Hoyle Tanner?

I knew a few employees here at Hoyle Tanner from my graduating UNH class and had heard good things. When I was searching for a new job, the Portsmouth office had a job posting out for my level in the area, so it was a no brainer to apply. After my interview, I knew that I’d enjoy working with the people in Portsmouth.

2. What’s something invaluable you’ve learned here?

That the people you work with is one of the, if not the, most important component contributing to how much you enjoy your work.

3. What’s your favorite time of year to work at Hoyle Tanner?

My favorite time of year to work at Hoyle Tanner is the summer. That is when the construction projects are in full swing, and I can get a little bit of time out in the field.

4. What’s the coolest thing you are working on?

Currently the coolest thing I am working on right now is a COVID-19 memorial garden. The project involves a walkway and garden through the woods that leads to the Solstice Stone. The Solstice Stone is a giant stone cut in half and positioned just so the sun beam at solar noon on the solstices will shine right down the center.

5. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you so far this week?

The best thing that happened to me this week is my discovery of portable extra monitors. They plug right into your laptops UBS port and are the size of a notebook. Now I can work from anywhere once I buy one!

6. How many different states have you lived in?

I have only lived in one state, New Hampshire.

7. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I would eat Tuscan chicken pasta. Chicken, spinach, sundried tomatoes all in a parmesan cream sauce over whatever pasta you like, it’s delicious.

8. What kind of pet do you have and how did you choose to name it?

I don’t have a pet, but I do have a plant my sister bought me. I have managed to keep it alive for seven months so far, it is a spathiphyllum.

9. What is a fun or interesting fact about your hometown?

Dunbarton, NH was home to John Stark – “The hero of Bennington” for his service as the Battle of Bennington in 1777 during the revolutionary war. There’s a statue of him next to the town library that is dressed up for all of the holidays every year.

10. What are three things still left on your bucket list?

  • Visit at least one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
  • Live abroad for a while. Nowhere specific, just not the US.
  • Really learn to speak another language, not just the greetings.

11. Name three items you’d take with you to a desert island:

  • My kindle
  • Sunscreen
  • Wifi hot spot (so I can download more books)

12. What characteristic do you admire most in others?


13. How old is the oldest item in your closet?

I still have my Uggs from high school, so those are probably the oldest thing I have around. They even came back in style this year after nine years.

14. Words to live by? Favorite quote? Why?

“Nothing matters very much, and few things matter at all.” – Arthur Balfour

I like this quote because it reminds me not to take life too seriously.

15. What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a lawyer up until I was a sophomore in high school, but I figured out how much school that took. Then I decided on Environmental Engineer, although I didn’t really know what that was until I was already in the major in college. I picked environmental engineering because I was an environmentalist and I liked physics – turns out neither of those things are involved much.

16. If you were to skydive from an airplane, what would you think about on the way down?

Probably trying to remember to breathe.

Artistic Expression & Engineering Solution: From Metal Work to AUTOCADD

Where did your creativity start?

I start drawing when I was around 6-years-old and really have never stopped. Art, and being creative, was what I excelled at in school and has always been a great way to pass time. I enjoy a variety of mediums such as digital art, airbrushing, leather tooling and custom car/motorcycle fabrication. I draw less now than I use to – not that I don’t enjoy drawing, but more because I wanted to go a step further and thoroughly enjoy building 3-dimensional art, my primary focus being metal (don’t let that fool you; I will be creative with any medium I can get my hands on!). Most things I build involve drawing in some form or fashion whether it be conceptual designs or templates to build something.

What is the process for your art projects?

I can’t really say there is a specific process, but I would say 99% of what I do starts with an idea whether the objective is to just be creative to pass time or to create something with the intent of building it. I typically will draw up my idea numerous times refining it in the process until I’m comfortable that I’ve identified most of the “well I didn’t think about that” scenarios and I am content with the design so I can achieve what I had in mind. If I’m just drawing to be creative, I will just pick something of interest and let my creativity run free. If it’s metal, that’s a bit harder (pun intended). I look at metal as “really hard clay” and with the right tools and understanding of how it moves, it can be molded into various shapes with use of hammers, dollies, English wheels, anvils, planishers, welders and so forth but even this process usually starts with the concept of build-it-on-paper and then make it a reality.

What is your process for engineering projects?

My preferred method whenever possible for an engineering project is to first look at the project as a whole and try to identify if there are any major obstacles that will complicate things and try to solve those problems first. Secondly, I like to look at the project components as individual elements (structure, wingwalls, guardrail, etc.) while laying them out independently keeping in mind the components must meet technical requirements and not conflict. My end goal is to create a document that conveys a clear picture to a contractor of the engineer’s intended design, knowing that the plans are a map that are detailed enough to get the contractor from A to B.

Describe a project that you’ve done with Hoyle Tanner that let you be creative.

One project, albeit small in scale, opened the door for me to create 3D elements in AutoCAD and virtually build the abutments for a small stream crossing. This allowed us to develop details for construction that where an isometric view and really provide the contractor with a clear and concise picture of the engineer’s intent (which – from what I later heard – was very helpful for the people constructing them as the engineer had intended).

There is a certain physical force that is used by both artists and engineers. What are your thoughts on this? Does any of that overlap?

Yes, there are a variety of types of physical forces involved in my art. For example, if you wanted a flat piece of sheet metal to take on a curve you might roll it through an English wheel which is essentially a linear hammer that allows you to stretch metal. This is also great for smoothing uneven surfaces. You would think that once you’ve pounded on a piece of sheet metal with a hammer it’s junk, but with a little work it smooths right back out as though a hammer had never touched it. Maybe you have a piece of metal you want to shrink; you can use a shrinker which is a compressing tool that has a bunch of little teeth that forces the metal into itself causing the metal to want to curve inward (this can also be done by hand with special tools and hammering).

As far as drawing goes, it’s the complete opposite, I often find myself holding onto my pencils for dear life; I’ve struggled for years to use less force and more flow.

Anything you’d like to add about your art? Or your work at Hoyle Tanner?

As the saying goes “I’ve never failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work” -Thomas Edison. A very applicable statement as every time I draw or build something I’m often learning as I go. Sometimes it’s learning what to do the next time, and sometimes making sure I never go down that road again.

Over my many years at Hoyle Tanner, there have been various opportunities where I was able to step outside the box and tap into the artistic end of things and do what I feel I do best: be creative. This to which I am appreciative for and look forward to additional ways to apply art and creativity in an engineering environment.