#Eweek2019 Spotlight | Lindsay Watters

 Sees beauty in art, music, and logical structural solutions

For National Engineers Week 2019, we’re sharing stories from some of CTA’s engineering talent to learn more about how they chose their profession and what makes them tick. 

What inspired you to become an engineer?

Music and math were integral to my young life. Having played acoustic guitar for six years, then classical saxophone through college, I developed a deep appreciation for the beauty of music. I see music as a combination of sounds played in patterns that are “structured” in a way to create beautiful, dynamic, audible art — evoking emotions and painting pictures for the listener.

It was because of this interest in music that I knew I wanted to go to the University of Illinois. My plan was to major in music, however, my mom suggested architecture instead — reminding me how I would draw detailed elevations of houses for fun. My decision to become a structural engineer happened at the end of my architecture undergrad program when it came time to choose a master’s degree emphasis. I chose architectural engineering (structures).


Lindsay (right) with friend and fellow graduate student in the structures program, participating in architectural design reviews. 

What is your specific area of expertise and why did you choose it?

I ultimately chose structural engineering. I feel like architecture is the tangible 3D expression of music, and that the practice of structural engineering has given me the tools to be a “sculptor” of buildings.

Tell us something about the field of engineering that is surprising or not common knowledge.

The occupancy use of a building in conjunction with the site-specific environmental components such as wind, snow, and seismicity all need to be considered up front in order to determine the design parameters for any given project. For example, a roof designed for a home in the high-elevation mountain town of McCall, Idaho, must be designed for six times the amount of snow that a roof for a home in Boise, Idaho, would need to be designed for.

What is one of your favorite projects and why?

Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside, Montana. This design is purely an integration of architecture and the utilization of structure, both for function and for aesthetics. The structure is celebrated in that the building users can take the stairs up into the roof trusses, which also function as the second floor dining space. The roof trusses are a combination of heavy timber and steel.

What piece of advice would you give a young person interested in becoming an engineer?

Get to know your strengths and identify ways to utilize those strengths. Seek a mentor who supports and challenges you. Be thorough, finish strong.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Keep current by maintaining a “learner’s mentality.”

Develop a system for organizing information that works for YOU. I utilize Microsoft OneNote and write everything down. If you think about it, we have thousands of decisions to make each week with brain power invested in each one — document new ideas and conclusions as it makes sense — not only for future use, but for training and sharing with others.

Embrace distraction — because it’s inevitable — and learn to work around it.

Get to know yourself and when you’re at your best. Much of the work we do requires total focus. Some folks work best in the morning before work, some work best at night after everyone has gone home. Set aside time that is uninterrupted for your most critical tasks each day.

Lindsay at a glance

  • Structural Engineer
  • Living in Boise, Idaho
  • Defining characteristics: analytical, logical, sensitive; likes to prioritize process and efficiency
  • Favorite phrase: “There has to be an easier way” as it’s a call to action to analyze, boil it down, simplify, and establish a repeatable process
  • Interests: spending time with family and friends, listening to live music, artistic expression, such as drawing, photography, and coming up with beautiful solutions to everyday problems