September 17, 2019

IE1: Geotechnical Engineering

Jen Trimble



On this episode of Inside Engineering we talk with Geotech Engineer Jennifer Trimble about the ins and outs of geotech engineering and her role in the RK&K Women's Leadership Forum. Inside
Engineering: Untold stories and fascinating
people from the world of civil engineering. This is Episode 1, recorded in August 2019. Geotechnical Engineering with Jen Trimble. Inside Engineering is brought to you by RK&K. Learn more at
Welcome to Inside Engineering.
This is our very first episode and we're are excited to be bringing you this new show about the world of civil engineering and the people behind the work. And to kick us off on our very first episode Jen Trimble, a geotechnical engineer in our York Office, has come down today to join us in our studio and we're really excited that Jen is is our very first guest. So Jen thank you for joining us. I'm excited Tim this is new and crazy that we're doing this at RK&K. It is a it's a really cool opportunity that we have, obviously podcasting has gotten really big so... But we think there's a there's an audience for not just the technical aspects of how you become an engineer and this is how you build a bridge or whatever but the people behind the projects doing the work in sort of those personalities that's what we're I think really excited to talk about. I'm excited for others to see it and maybe it's going to influence somebody to do my job one day. I hope so. Not that you're bad at your job. The future of civil engineering. Right. We are influencing. Right. I mean we that's we're hoping we're hoping that this can inspire, you know folks to go want to become engineers or folks that are on a path to become an engineer to really think, 'Oh yeah I can do this.' I can do this. 'I can totally do this.' Yes so I guess in some regards we're trying to make engineering sounds realize that people... That engineering is cool. Not make it sound cool but make them realize that it is cool. It really is cool. It really is cool. Right. Absolutely. So again thank you for being here. So, Jen I mentioned you're a geotech engineer. I mean I kind of know what that means. I mean I'm in the communication side of things but help me out. What does a geotech engineer do? Simplest terms a geotechnical engineer gets to play with everything from the ground down. We deal with soil and rock and we build the foundations. Everything that our infrastructure is on. We do foundations for bridges. We do retaining walls. We look at slope stabilities of different embankments. Pavements for roadways to make sure they're not rutting and they're stable. And how that affects each project differently. So a lot of what you do isn't necessarily ever seen by the general public in the finished product. Not at all because look at a bridge. Any bridge is on a foundation. Is it on a spread footing? Is it on driven piles? Is it on a drilled shaft? Those are all things we've designed and as a requirement the bridge has to have to be stable and stand and function but nobody knows it's there. I was gonna say. I mean how about how is that important to our client why does a client care about having this stuff done. I mean having a bridge that stays standing is is kind of important. Correct. What are what are some of the cool geotech jobs that you've gotten to work on? Or some of the cool things that you get to do in geotech that you really enjoy? I really enjoy seeing how each project is different every time. Our engineering process is typically the same but what we find and how we apply it is different every time. So we go out and we do subsurface investigations where we get soil and rock samples and we figure out where the groundwater is and how it's going to influence that design we're doing, whether it's piles or a slope stability and we classify them and then we come back and we run some analysis and some magic to find out, 'Does that pile need to be 10 feet long? Does it need to be 20 feet long?' We do some little comparisons and alternative analysis to see, 'Does a drill shaft make more sense or does a driven pile? What does our clients prefer their bridges be? Do we need a bigger size steel pile? What can we do?' We try to optimize all of our designs as much as possible. Okay so let's say let's say a client gives you their preference for for what they want and so you're going out to the site and you're trying to determine how deep you have to drill down to put a pile... I'm sorry for my lack of You're doing good Tim. technical expertise here. What are you looking for when you pull out that boring, that core? What tells you that you now have to drill 10 feet for the foundation or you have to drill 20 feet? The soil consistency. So a lot of soil is soft or very loose, which is not something good you want to leave your foundations in. You want something definitely more stable. Bedrock, of course, is always the best. But we don't have all that around here. Some bedrock is really really broken up. That doesn't help us either. So a really cool thing is that once you're drilling and if you can pull out — we do five foot runs of rock and sample it — and when you can pull out a full intact piece of a five foot run a rock it's pretty cool. Is there like a like a secret celebration that geotech engineers have when that when that occurs? Oh yeah. It's very nerdy. You can't tell us what it is though? You'd have to kill us? Some of the drillers used to joke that they got a steak dinner if they pulled out a five foot run of rock because it's kind of rare but yeah it's it's very rare to do that. You have to be pretty deep to get that and just at the right location. And what would be — if you pulled out a sample — what would be indicative of a sample that is you go, 'Oh no.' 'Oh no's' are when, say the rods — the drilling sampling rods — we put the hammer on it, which weighs 140 pounds. It just sinks and it sinks through goo. So it's weight of hammer. I mean it's like pancake — think of pancake batter. It's that soft and gooey and it's going to jiggle and it's not going to be stable for you to build anything on. Okay. So you pull the core out of the ground you've drilled down into the ground you pull it out and you lay it down flat and then you put this hammer on it? Am I getting that right? No. So you've got the sample and you're putting it straight down vertically and then you put the hammer on top of it. Okay. And then it's tamping it down each time. And we're counting the blows for that. It's called the standard penetration tests. OK. OK. So while you're... So you're counting the blows for every six inches it moves. So if it moves in six inches ten blows. That's good. If it moves zero it's not good. So that's when you that's when you would go, 'Oh no.'. Yeah. OK. That's an 'Oh no. Pancake goo.' You get a lot of that around waterways. Manmade land. Any fill is never a good situation. A lot of our shoreline here in Baltimore has been extended, extended from junk fills from some of the old refineries. Right. And that's never good to find and never good material that we want to build on top of. So how would you build on top of it? As a geotech engineer what would you recommend? You gotta go deeper. You got to find the natural ground. You got to find that natural point that it's gonna be stable and like lock it into place. You've got to think you're locking into place with your concrete and your rebar and everything else. So the deeper you can go: the better, the more stable. But then economics comes into play of: time for construction, and materials, and everything else too. So how would you summarize the value that that geotech engineering brings to our clients? We help with the risk assessment. So by doing the geotech investigations we are helping with the risk assessment for what that contractor is going to find during construction. Are they gonna run into our issues and problems? Are they gonna be sending us differing site conditions? Are they encountering something different? So the risk of us doing the geotech work ahead of time and being able to incorporate that into the design helps everything flow smoother down the line and helps with budgets and the construction money and time to get the work done. So you've provided this value to the client but we kind of we also have to know how well we did in providing that value. There's kind of two different aspects to this. The technical value that we provide and also the the expertise and the people behind that. How do you measure the success of what you're doing from from those two aspects? I measure the success from how. If we're getting requests for information from the contractor. If he's looking for additional information or if he's confused or if the piles need to go deeper than we had designed them for originally. What measure were we a little off on? What number could we have tweaked? And maybe my boring was 100 feet away from where he is now working. Could I have gotten closer? Could we have... 'Cause we gotta remember we're only sampling a 2-inch diameter. Right you only get a sample from this one spot, which could be an anomaly, but you just don't know. Correct. So I gauge my our success based on, 'Is the contractor succeeding out there and getting his work done and are we not impeding him?' type of thing. Or are we not getting different site conditions claims where they're seeing something out there different than we originally thought? I measure the success of how our staff does by that light bulb that clicks on because when they're first starting out you've got, 'Guys this is what we do first. Go drill. Then I need you to type the logs; I need you to do the lab testing assignment. Can you start the report? Can you block this out? Can you look at the geology?' And that light bulb clicks on when they start to do those things without you prompting them to do it and it's, 'I already pulled the geology and I already did this,' and that is just amazing then when they're starting to do those things without you even prompting them to do it and they're like, 'I'm ready'. And you can see... I can see. I can really see it. that they've come along where they were. That's exciting. Or they're calling you from the field and they're saying, 'Hey Jen, I ran into this and this is what I'm seeing. You told me we're going to be using this boring for a retaining wall. I'm going to take the boring deeper because I think we need to see something else.' They're sort of coming up with their own recommendations... Yes. based on their experience. What they're seeing in the field and knowing now how what they're seeing in the field gets applied to the design to put that contract plan set and specifications together. So seeing them be able to put that two and two together or the fact that they are noticing something that is in the field that's not on their plans like maybe there's a utility that Miss Utility marked out for them before we started our work that's not showing up on their plans or they can bring something back to maybe our Traffic or our Transportation Department or Structures Department that then gets incorporated into the design that they're looking at everything out there too. That's got to be an exciting feeling as a manager seeing you're people under you come along and develop. We can't grow unless we're helping other people grow. So if I'm not helping somebody else grow, am I really growing myself. Right. So it's really really cool to see. Indeed. Well you know while we're on the topic of people a part of what you do here at RK&K is help run the RK&K Women's Leadership Forum, which is I think a pretty big deal and an exciting thing. Can you tell us what the Women's Leadership Forum is and and what you do and give us the lowdown on it? The Women's Leadership Forum is pretty cool. About 2015, about
15 of us senior women at RK&K
started what we refer to as a grassroots effort to kind of help women succeed not only in their career but in their community and their life in general. So over the past four or five years now we have offered Lunch and Learns on high caliber topics to just help motivate and give everybody a forum and a discussion area to kind of work amongst themselves. We have 140 women part of the forum right now. RK&K has got 26 percent women firm wide, which is pretty impressive. What are the industry numbers on on women in engineering? Lower than that. Lower than that. Lower than that. In the teens. In the low teens. That's great. That's good. And we span the gamut Tim. I mean let's be honest we have everybody from Administrative Assistants to two Partners, which is pretty cool. Indeed. It's nice to see that there's a focus on inclusion
you know and making sure that there are
opportunities that haven't traditionally been there for women. We all believe there is no glass ceiling at RK&K, you've heard me say that before. I mean we had a whole event where we went to all of our different outer offices and we took a play on Madeleine Albright's glass ceiling pin and her mantra and we all made her own RK&K pins with the RK&K logo on it because there is no glass ceiling and we all truly believe that. What are some of the the cool things that you've done with the Women's Leadership Forum? I think you do a lot of guest speakers and special presentations. Can you talk about some of those we did? We do. We do a lot of Lunch and Learns. We've done over 20 lunch and learns. Everything from work life balance to communication to career tips. Some book discussions where we offer our members to read a book or just come sit and chat with us about different topics about that book. We've done Lean In and we've done some different book reads like that. We brought in somebody that did strength characteristics for us. And she did a whole strength cloud and told us about how what our strengths were and making sure we're surrounding ourselves with the right people at the right times in our lives. And there are those right people that are going to tell you the good, the bad, the ugly and that might not be the same person for all of that and that the women at RK&K share almost the same strengths and qualities, which really knit us well together. You've got to there's another... You're about to show an interview in the coming days that we recorded a couple of months ago. We did. We got a special opportunity. You got to join me on this one. I did. I roped you in on this one. You did. It was fun. I got to film the video and audio portion of it with... Secretary Cohan in Delaware. We got two hours of her time to ask her anything and everything. We transformed her office with two cameras and. Lights and... Lights and... microphones. I'm not sure she expected all that when we came in but she was a... She was great. awesome team player for us on that. But we got to ask her 10 to 15 questions, which were all developed by forum members we said to them, 'If you got to spend time with the Secretary', which not many people get to do in an open discussion forum, 'what would you ask her? What would you want to know?' So I love the fact that they gave us all the questions we went up and actually talked her about all that. And it fits with the whole RK&K Women's Leadership Forum. Every one of our presentations and Lunch and Learns have been ones that have been developed by women of the forum and then presented by women in the forum. So we take it all an active role in the success of this organization. Sure. And so I'm sure you probably saw all the other cool thing we did just a couple months ago. I probably did. But should probablytell everybody listening about it. I'm gonna. So we did a campaign where we collect collected slightly worn women's clothes work clothes and donated them and all of our offices to local communities like Dress for Success.
What is dress for success?
It is a nonprofit organization that gives free clothing to women who can't afford them or a need and are seeking out jobs in their communities. It's really cool. So we're hoping all of our clothes inspire women to succeed and get on get on with their careers and advancing their life. We collected fifteen hundred pieces of clothing between shirts, suits, shoes, accessories. I'm the wealth was just amazing and wasn't only the women at RK&K donating these things. The emails went out to the company wide saying that we're doing this and we had staff members bringing stuff from their wives and their kids as well, which was was really neat to see that other people were reading this besides just the women of the firm. Right. Absolutely. Well Jen, you know one of the things we want to share on this podcast is is sort of the personality and get to know you know you a little bit. What's something that you're curious about right now? I'm really curious how everything we're doing these days is shaping the youth of America. One thing I think is awesome is my son is on a robotics team and just that team building and the research in the way they do things anymore. They're gonna be awesome public speakers by the time they get into their careers. Stuff that you and I probably cringed at and didn't do much of and but they do so many presentations with groups and group learning. I really really hope in there they're gonna succeed in that part. I'm really worried about their making sure they learn it on their own and they can they can stand on their own two feet and survive and be successful themselves outside of that team environment. Yeah absolutely. Robotics is such a cool... There's so much happening with that now with A.I. and just the way that... The opportunities that kids have or anybody has, but it's great to see these these kind of teams and programs happening in schools. And the robotics team he's on is a Lego League but they also besides doing programming a robot and learning that coding type of thing, they also have a research project they have to do so I am super excited for them. It's all about transportation this year. Do we know any transportation engineers? Not enough not enough Tim. So it's all about transportation, and cities, and architecture, and improving your community. So I'm. I'm excited to see where they take their research project, which they've come up with is: pedestrian safety at a crosswalk. So I'm excited to see how they apply real world things at such a young age. And opportunities that we didn't have for. Jen what's something, in terms of your career, what's something that you wish you had known earlier on in your career? Patience definitely. Early on in my career I would say I was that person who wanted to get everything done, and I wanted to get it done immediately, and I wanted to make sure everybody knew I could do it. And you're trying to prove yourself and you're trying to make sure you learn the business and everything else. But sometimes that take a step back take a pause. It's all gonna be okay, one more day isn't gonna matter. I think that patience part of it — especially in geotech engineering — you've got to have. You've got to realize that rushing to get a drill rig out into the public and to do work has ramifications to public safety, your safety, safety of the drill crew. Maybe an extra day isn't gonna hurt you. Making sure all those ducks are in a row and it's all going to run smoothly. That's great. I mean rushing through things is more often than not leads to disaster.
It's such good advice.
It's hard to be patient especially when there's deadlines and you're under pressure but I feel like doing it right. And take your time and it's OK to ask a question. And even if you've asked that question to me five times. Ask it again. Ask me again because obviously I didn't explain it right or it didn't click with you. What do we need to do to make it click? So ask those questions and keep learning and that'll make it all go more smoothly too. That's great. Is there anything we haven't talked about that you want to talk about? I don't think so. This has been fun. Has it been fun? Well, if it's been fun then we're not done with the fun yet because we still have to get to: our pick of the week. Pick of the week is where Jen is going to recommend something to us that she thinks is interesting and that she also thinks we will think is interesting. So Jen your pick of the week, please. I'm excited about this one. So every October the 3rd Saturday of the month is Bridge Day in West Virginia. Bridge Day. Bridge Day. Where you can base jump off the New River Gorge Bridge. Base jump. Fayetteville West Virginia. I hope they close the bridge? They do. They close the bridge. You get to walk the bridge. So not only do you get to watch these people jump off the bridge, and base jump, and throw their parachutes, and land down in the water you get to walk the bridge and they've got vendors and not to mention it's West Virginia in the fall and you got all these gorgeous leaves and it's a great great tourist event you've got to put on your bucket list. Let's look a double pick, like West Virginia in the fall... West Virginia the fall. And then bridge day. OK. The whole day that a they close the bridge and you... Wow, so when is this again? Third Saturday of every October. The third Saturday of October. Alright, so we'll put that in the show notes some info about Bridge Day. If you're in the West Virginia area, check it out because it sounds... It is pretty cool. It sounds terrifying. You're not going to jump Tim. They don't force you to base jump. You have to sign up for that. You get to watch them get to lean over the rail and you get to see all the way down to the New River Gorge. Awesome. Like how I got a West Virginia. Right. You had to work in something about West Viriginia. For those of you don't know, Jen is probably the largest West Virginia University fan ever. There is, I'm going to say like a six foot logo. It's not that it's not that big. Hanging on your wall. Or three-foot. Typical three foot. Everybody has a typical three. It's
fantastic. Well thank you all for joining us for
our debut episode of Inside engineering. The show comes out every Tuesday and you can find it on your favorite podcasting platform. We hope we're trying to be in as many places as possible. Also head to our website at where you can find all of our episodes on demand and we also have just a short anonymous survey there where we'd like to get some more feedback on the show. We're trying to make it as valuable as possible to you. So it takes some time to fill that out. Thank you again for joining us Jen. Thanks for coming up to the studio to join us for this first episode where we were happy to have you here. Thanks Tim. Sure thing. Hey we'll see you all next week for another episode of Inside Engineering.

Show Notes

Measuring Success

Of projects: Is the contractor being successful in their work based on the geotechnical work performed for them?
Of people: Watching the ‘light bulb’ click as they start to ‘get it’ and begin to take more initiative and develop their own solutions based on their experience.

Curious About

Jen, via her kids, is really interested in robotics right now and how it’s more accessible than every for kids in school.

What She Wishes She Had Known Earlier

Patience. Rushing into something doesn’t lead to success.

Pick of the week

Jen’s pick is West Virginia’s Bridge Day. On the third Saturday of every October (October 19, this year) they shut down the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville for a base jumping extravaganza. Don’t worry, you don’t have to jump and the associated festivities are icing on the cake.

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