Engineer Kirsten Jensen joined Milton's Public Works team in November, and in the six months she's been on the job, she's already seen the impact her work can have on the community.
Jensen graduated from the University of Vermont in 2020 with a degree in environmental engineering. While at school, she was heavily involved in the UVM chapter of Engineers Without Borders, a volunteer organization that brings engineering projects to communities in need.
During Jensen's time, the UVM chapter worked to improve a school in Tanzania's energy system by installing solar panels. Jensen had the opportunity to travel to Tanzania just before the COVID-19 pandemic and said that was an incredible opportunity to see how engineering can improve lives.
"I’ve always really liked that engineering gives you a lot of power to do good for the world," she said.
Since being hired in Milton, Jensen has presented to the Selectboard, had a hand in planning the town's upcoming paving of East and Duffy Roads and in coordinating sidewalk and stormwater improvements.
She spoke with the Independent about her path to engineering, the projects she’s been working on and her passion for community impact.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
A: During my senior year of high school.
My high school had a program where you got to do an internship or a job shadowing program instead of your last month of classes. It was sort of like a capstone project.
I wasn't really sure what I wanted to study going into college, and I applied to UVM as a Community and International Development major, but then I spent a month shadowing an environmental engineer, who worked for a consulting firm in Connecticut. I thought it was so cool. I loved being able to spend time outside. I loved the water quality work.
One day, I was in a van at a job site, and I called UVM and asked how to change my major to environmental engineering. I've been happy ever since.
Q: Can you describe what you do during a typical work day?
A: There are constantly a lot of projects being managed by the Department of Public Works. We do things like apply for grants to fund projects, create preliminary designs, put together bid advertisements so we can contract out projects.
For example, some projects we have going on around town right now include improving certain sidewalks or improving pavement or improving the water supply. On a day-to-day basis, we do all the things that keep these projects moving along and manage as many as we can to keep the town infrastructure running smoothly.
Q: Which projects are you heavily involved in or are you especially interested in?
One project we've been working for a long time that I've been really involved in is getting the town's Geographic Information System (GIS) set up.
We had all of these old map files that we were not using for anything, and now I'm updating them and making sure they have recent additions. For example, I’ve made sure our maps reflect the actual water system we have now. Now these maps are editable and can be used practically.
A project I'm really looking forward to working on is the municipal rain garden. We’re building an area that helps stormwater filter into groundwater; it removes pollutants.
We’ve been picking out plans, and we're contacting vendors, and we're making sure we have all the supplies together. This fall we're going to start construction on it.
I really love stormwater projects, because again, it feels really direct. We're constructing something that has a really positive impact on our local watershed. I'm really excited for this stormwater project right here in the municipal building because I will get to see it every single day.
Q: When you first started this job back in the fall, what did you need to learn about Milton?
A: I think the one of the biggest learning curves was actually just learning where everything is.
My boss Dave [Allerton] who is the Director of Public Works, he’s a really great person to learn from. My first day on the job, we spent a few hours just driving around town so I could familiarize myself with where everything is and learn where all of our projects are.
That was a really good introduction and I'm still learning piece by piece.
Q: What do you like most about being an engineer?
A: I’ve always really liked that engineering gives you a lot of power to do good for the world. I guess that’s sort of a big picture answer, but I really care about issues like clean water and environmentalism, and I think studying environmental engineering gave me a really practical way to approach those issues and find solutions within a community.
With this job in particular, I really like that I get to work directly with the community. It's really cool that I work on projects and then I get to see them be developed around town. It feels great to see the direct impact I have.