I had the exciting opportunity to represent PES Structural Engineers as well as the SEAOG Young Members Group at the 2016 NCSEA Structural Engineering Summit in Orlando, FL this month.  Given the location, it was fitting that the keynote speaker was an Imagineer!  Kent Estes, S.E., Ph.D. from Walt Disney Imagineering gave a welcome speech and introduction to the conference with some insight into every kid’s dream, working for Walt Disney World.  Kent presented a case study of several projects including the Monorail and the recently opened Shanghai Disney Resort.  I learned that the unique chalegollenges you are faced when designing for a Disney theme park require a lot of creative thinking and problem solving.  We got to test our creativity by creating LEGO® towers and testing them on a shake table.  While this was a fun teambuilding activity and some towers performed better than others, I think we all learned a lot from our creative designs and their good or bad seismic performance.

Creative thinking and problem solving aren’t just important factors for Disney projects and LEGO® towers though.  They are a key ingredient to the success of all engineering projects.  We are rarely faced with a perfectly square building that fits the mold of the code provisions.  Each project is different and requires us to exercise our “engineering judgement” to figure out the intent of the code and how it should be applied.  While sitting through the session, “Has This Ever Happened to You?” I realized that all young engineers struggle with adjusting to these real world projects.  A panel of members from the NCSEA Young Member Support Committee gave some good insight into bridging the gap between school and engineering and some important tips they learned along the way.  Two of my favorites were:

  • Lessons Learned in Yellowstone National Park where we were encouraged NOT to underestimate the snow loads and
  • Lessons Learned in the Engineering of Artwork where we were encouraged to appreciate the look of the final product as a consideration in our designs.

One of the more interesting technical sessions I attended was a presentation on “Wind Loads on Non-Building Structures for the Practicing Engineer.”  Emily Guglielmo, P.E., S.E., walked us through several design examples of non-building structures that aren’t specifically explained in the code including rooftop equipment, screenwalls, signs, and tall parapets among other things .  I found that not only do young engineers struggle with applying the code provisions to the unique problems we are faced with, but a room full of engineers of all ages and backgrounds had different ideas about the correct method of determining design forces on these structures.  I think we all walked away from this session with a little more of a comfort level in dealing with wind loads on these non-building structures and deciphering the intent of the code.

Overall, I gained a lot of valuable technical knowledge on the updated wind codes, upcoming changes to the seismic design manual, and how to properly delegate connection design.  But I also learned some equally important lessons about the challenges that come with the complex structures we design, the creativity and engineering judgement we have to put to use to make these projects a success, and that it’s going to be a learning process every day.


casual_sarah-scarboroughAuthor: Sarah Scarborough, EIT

Sarah is an Assistant Project Manager and works with closely with our BIM team focusing on our Quality Control processes. She began her career at PES as an intern, seguing into a permanent position upon completion of  her degree in 2012, and has worked on projects ranging from car dealerships and hotels to assisted living facilities and apartments.

Sarah can be reached at sscarborough@pesengineers.com