Caitlin Breland serves in the role of senior engineer and is based in CMT’s Jacksonville, FL, office. Caitlin has worked as an operations manager, project manager, design-build manager, construction project manager, and lead designer on a variety of projects, including many for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Her expertise is in design-build projects, roadway design, and complete streets. Caitlin holds bachelor’s degrees in both civil engineering and construction management from the University of North Florida (UNF).
Which industry groups do you participate in, and what motivated you to first get involved?
I first got my start with industry groups in college. I joined the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as a sophomore in college and was very involved. I did all the regional competitions, built a concrete canoe, was president during my senior year at UNF, and then joined the professionals’ organization after school. I then served as president of the Jacksonville chapter of ASCE. My engagement with that organization has provided so many networking and professional development opportunities.
I’ve also served on the Transportation Committee with the local chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), and am engaged with the American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE) and the American Public Works Association (APWA). I’ve also gotten involved with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), which focuses on the planning side – what’s put where and how it’s decided. I know how to design and build, but this is a new side of the industry for me to explore.
Finally, I am very active with the Florida Engineering Society (FES). I am heavily involved in the organization’s signature fundraising event and will be on the executive board of FES next year.
What is the Race for Relevance, and what role have you played in the event?
The Race for Relevance is FES’s signature fundraising event. It’s an evening of high-speed, indoor go-kart racing that benefits the FES scholarship fund, which supports students pursuing engineering at the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University.
I received an FES scholarship in college, and so I started getting involved with the Race for Relevance as a way to “pay it forward” for the next generation of engineers. I’ve served on the event committee every year and just co-chaired the event for the second year.
The average proceeds we raise each year for student scholarships is $7,000, but this year, people were especially eager to get out together, network, and invest in the future of our industry. We had 300 people in attendance – 180 were racers – and we raised over $12,000.
Every year, everyone just looks forward to this event. It’s a great way to bring together the student and professional FES groups, as well as support the engineers of the future.
Why are you passionate about supporting young people’s engagement with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines?
I am always eager to have more opportunities to support young people in STEM. I’ve just recently had the good fortune to join the Engineering Advisory Board at UNF, and I’m especially looking forward to the ways that my involvement with the board will connect me with avenues to engage with, champion, and impact engineering students.
I’m a fourth-generation civil engineer and always knew I was going to be an engineer. My great-grandfather worked on the public water system for the City of Ft. Lauderdale. My grandfather worked as a civil engineer for a concrete company before opening a music store. My dad worked on water and wastewater design before switching to enterprise technology strategy.
So growing up, I knew what an engineer was, but I didn’t know what being an engineer meant. Even having that leg up, I had much more to learn, so I’m really driven to help students understand their careers options – and what those options mean for them – early on.
In addition, STEM tends to be associated with a “type” of person. I’m a very outgoing, social person, which isn’t typically associated with the type of work I do. That said, I love the work I do and there is space for me in this industry.
What motivates me is driving change around perceptions of what it means to be a STEM professional and helping to broaden those perspectives. In addition, I want students to recognize that STEM skills are highly transferrable and can get them almost anywhere they want to go. Engineering is just learning how to learn. If you can learn how to learn, you can do whatever you want with your skills.
What was your previous experience on the construction side of the industry like, and how does that experience inform your work today?
I went into construction right out of school because I wanted to be in the field and work with people. Before I started this work, I didn’t know how much interaction with others you can have as an engineer.
For me, construction was an easy way to talk to people all day long and be technical and use my degrees.
I loved it. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be – being outside, talking to people, solving problems, and watching nothing become something. Getting to see the final product – and know everything about it – in real-time is extremely fulfilling.
When I moved to design, I noticed I could often read a set of plans better than someone who created it. I learned plans “backward” from how engineers traditionally do, and as a result, I was able to visualize plans in 3-D before my eyes. It was really helpful, as well, to have that constructability eye as I was learning to design plans. I know what the end result should look like and should be – I just had to figure out how to get there.
Finally, I really value my construction experience because it supports being able to facilitate strong collaborations between the contractor and engineer, which can help create an exemplary end product. Having this collaborative dynamic is great for the teams working together, and it’s great for the owner.
What kind of work do you find most fulfilling, and why?
I enjoy working through the challenges at the outset of a project, as well as the creative problem solving that happens out in the field.
At the stage of finding and starting a project, I get to work through big-picture questions and concepts: What’s important to the owner? The end-user? Now that we have the project, what is it going to look like? As we’re setting up the roadmap for how we will accomplish what we need to do, who is doing what? What is our schedule? What is our budget?
When you reach the post-design stage, there’s a whole other element of creative problem-solving. We’ve answered the questions to standards. Our design should, in the perfect world, work. But once you get into the real world, sometimes iteration is required, that’s what engineering is all about. It’s so satisfying getting to do that problem-solving in the real world – working together as a team, playing off of each other’s strengths, and applying our creativity together to find those implementable solutions.