5 Questions for a Scientist: Civil Engineer Peter Procaccio

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.

Get to know Peter

Occupation: Civil Engineer
Field: Highway and transit design and construction
Focus: Drainage design

Peter Procaccio earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Purdue University. Soon after graduation, Peter attained his professional engineering license in the State of Illinois. He currently lives and works in Chicago and serves as his company's technical lead for highway drainage. 

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
Upon graduation from Purdue, I have been involved in the design and construction of many high profile Chicago area highways, bridges, and public transportation projects.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
I became aware of engineering as a career choice while in high school; the outside-the-textbook application of math and physics seemed interesting. It wasn't until college, however, that I sought out civil engineering as my field of study. My driving force was watching drawings and designs on paper actually come to life and serve the public.

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
Being a scientist, and more specifically an applied scientist, means that everything I do follows a logical process. The old "scientific method" that you've learned about in school ends up coming back to help you out. Every problem has a solution, and there's much trial and error along the way.

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
A typical day for me consists of running through various iterations of calculations and drafting designs in computer-aided design (CAD) software. One of the reasons I chose to specialize in civil engineering is although there can be periods of the day where I'm working on my own, I have to check in with colleagues and co-workers to examine how the designs I'm working on fit into the entire puzzle. This constant interaction breaks up the monotony of the work day. Some days, I get to work on the Chicago Transit Authority's elevated railroad performing track inspections and taking measurements.

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Scientists aren't in the business of saying "no." We love the challenge that lies in discovering a solution, however hidden it may be. Don't get discouraged when your paths reach dead ends. Be creative. Stay adaptable. There is always a solution.

Image credit: Peter Procaccio


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