Three engineers who recently gained their professional engineer (PE) licenses reflect on the process and how they balanced full-time jobs with studying, offer tips for up-and-coming engineers and share what’s next in their careers. Get to know Nina Bonanno, PE (ND), Chelsea Kuchta, PE (MI, MN), and Justin Anibas, PE (MN)!
Earning your PE license is no small feat. Engineers have to earn a four-year college degree, work under a PE for four years, then pass multiple intensive exams – all while working full-time in complex engineering roles. In this roundtable, find out out how Nina, Chelsea and Justin accomplished the task.
What does becoming a licensed PE mean to you professionally? Personally?
Becoming a licensed PE for me is a huge accomplishment, personally and professionally. Personally, I’ve never been the strongest standardized test taker. Pushing myself to learn the material and getting comfortable under the pressure of time limits – all while working full-time – reminded me that I’m capable of accomplishing what I set my mind to.
Professionally, I’m now an additional resource to be called on within SEH to assist with project pursuits and review. I’m also able to market myself at a higher standard within the industry, which will be beneficial when pursuing future opportunities.
Personally, this feels like a great accomplishment. In other fields of engineering, getting a PE license is not always required to be promoted, and there is a lack of incentive for individuals to push and receive this licensure. To me, though, it feels like a critical next step; becoming a PE solidifies my experience, knowledge and expertise in a way people can recognize.
Personally, becoming a licensed PE is the culmination of eight years of schooling and hard work to finally be a full-fledged engineer. Professionally, becoming a licensed PE will allow me to continue to grow in my career and, hopefully, mentor younger staff in the same way many people have mentored me.
What was the most rewarding part of the process? Most challenging?
I was originally registered for the April 2020 exam, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19. I had already spent a significant amount of time and effort studying and preparing, then had to completely push pause until October 2020. The October test date was also in the midst of construction season. I had to work with my colleagues (who were very accommodating) and find balance to not only complete our duties for various construction projects but also find time to study.
The most rewarding part was proving to myself that I’m capable of achieving the goals I set, no matter how high. Getting my results for licensure just prior to the holidays was the best Christmas present!
Receiving the letter indicating I passed was the most rewarding part! I put in a lot of hours studying and hard work, and really felt like the effort paid off. The most challenging part was keeping up with my study schedule to ensure I was on track to get through the material. Even though I am an airport engineer, we all get tested on broader civil engineering and transportation material which expanded my knowledge.
What advice would you have for someone just beginning the process?
My advice for someone beginning the process is to stick with it and don't give up. Taking an online class was incredibly helpful for me. Online classes are a great way to learn what material is most important and where everything you need to know for the test is located.
My advice would be to take an online or in-person review class, whichever will help you more. The classes do a good job of quickly covering all topics that will be on the exam and help get you used to using concepts/equations that you may not have used since college. The class also helped me figure out which areas I knew a lot about and which ones would require extra studying.
What are you most excited about now that you have your PE license?
There isn’t one specific thing, but I’m very much looking forward to the opportunities now available to me as a licensed PE. If I did have to pin down one thing, though, I’d say I really looked forward to stamping my first set of project plans. That was pretty exciting!
How can companies support emerging engineers during this process?
I think the best way teams and companies can support engineers during this process is by being aware of when we are taking the exam and understanding our schedules. Make it clear to the engineer in the middle of the PE process that you are ready and willing to help out, and keep the workload light enough, so they can work reasonable hours and get their studying in.
Having colleagues/mentors available and willing to lend support is instrumental to engineers in training and those trying to earn their PE licenses. I felt really supported by the SEH traffic team throughout the PE process. The team helped me find reference and study materials to prepare for the exam, and answered my many questions throughout the PE process.
Did anyone in particular support you along the way? How did you balance your full-time role and the PE process?
Too many to count! My family, first and foremost, but also my friends and colleagues – they all played supportive roles throughout the process.
Balancing my full-time airport engineer role and studying for the PE was a difficult task. My group at SEH was very helpful in working with me to take some days off specifically to study and do practice exams.
I also created a detailed schedule that involved planned study sessions for most days after work which was very helpful in keeping me on track.
I made sure to take a break to do something fun between the end of the workday and when I began studying. It’s important to disconnect and reset! My SEH colleagues also understood the time and energy I needed to put into studying for the PE exam. They helped make my workload more manageable which made balancing work and the PE process much easier.
Looking back at the entire process, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of sticking to it and taking the test! I'm not the best at taking tests, so I really took my time and maybe even over-studied for the exam. But I am really glad I did. The test and the studying are a grueling process. I'm so glad I made it through!
I’m most proud of all the hard work and hours of studying that I put in to pass the PE exam. It shows that you can accomplish what you set your mind to with the right work ethic and willingness to commit.
Nina, Chelsea and Justin are among a group of ~300 PEs at SEH with 700+ collective licenses in all!
Interested in becoming a PE while working full-time in a career you’re passionate about? Looking for a company and team who will empower you along the way? Already a PE and searching for the right fit to grow your career? Check out our many open engineering roles!