February 17, 2021
Read the latest interview from SEAOI featuring Steven Nolin:
This month, we welcome Steven Nolin to the Young Engineer Spotlight interview chair. Steven is an Associate II at Klein & Hoffman, where he began his career in July 2018. His experience at K&H includes restoration of conventionally reinforced and post-tensioned concrete structures, adaptive reuse of tenant office spaces, and peer reviews. Most of Steven’s projects are located around Chicagoland, such as at Park Ridge’s Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, 311 S. Wacker, and 600-780 S. Federal.
He received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in civil engineering from U of I. Steven was the rare student to start his undergraduate career as a business major and then switch to engineering, instead of the other way around. He’s come to appreciate the work-life balance that his career in engineering has provided him, so he’s glad he made the switch. While studying in Champaign, he played on the club tennis team and worked with Associate Dean Liang Liu to help launch new capital projects for the College of Engineering.
Steven grew up in the western suburb of Clarendon Hills, the same town I grew up in, so we actually knew each other from childhood and then reconnected a couple years back at SEAOI’s Young Engineer Symposium. A Chicagoan through and through, Steven loves exploring all that our city has to offer, while remaining close to his family in the suburbs. He plays golf often in the summers and has been reading a lot during these winter months. Recently he’s read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.
I think you’ll enjoy hearing what Steven had to offer over the course of our interview. Please give him a warm SEAOI welcome!
Joe Porada (Interviewer): What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?
Steven Nolin (Interviewee): I have always been fascinated with rockets and space travel, so if I was not a structural engineer, I could see myself working in the aerospace industry. I think it is amazing to see what private aerospace companies have been achieving recently. I like being challenged by my job, so anything that gets monotonous I would struggle with.
Porada: Why did you decide to choose structural engineering?
Nolin: I learned about structural engineering as a college student at the University of Illinois. I chose to pursue structural engineering because I think it is exciting to be able to design and repair the structures that we use every day. It is extremely rewarding to use the skills I have learned and continue to develop on projects that impact so many people.
Porada: What do you enjoy most about working at your company?
Nolin: I feel extremely lucky to have ended up at Klein and Hoffman. As a young engineer K&H provides me with the opportunity to grow and learn by working on a wide variety of projects including restoration work as well as new design projects. The team of people I work with has also done an amazing job of teaching me more about the industry and supporting my interests as an engineer.
Porada: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
Nolin: I have recently started studying for the S.E. exam, so I hope to receive my professional licensure in the next couple years. Following that, I hope to continue growing in my career and working on important engineering projects in Chicago and beyond.
Porada: What has been the most gratifying moment, thus far, of your young career?
Nolin: The most gratifying moment of my career, thus far, has been growing my professional network and working with people I have made connections with. As a graduate of the University of Illinois, I have several friends who went on to begin their career in Chicago and it is always rewarding to hear and learn from their experiences while gaining new friends along the way.
(P.S. I used to play little league baseball with Joe Porada – so this interview is a great example of this.)
Porada: What is one piece of advice you would like to share with other young engineers?
Nolin: One thing I learned very quickly when I started my professional career is that undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees cannot prepare you for all you will need to know as a practicing structural engineer. I would always advise other young engineers to keep an open mind and never stop trying to learn if you want to be the best engineer you can be.
Porada: What is something fun you enjoy doing on the weekends?
Nolin: I have always enjoyed playing sports. My whole life I have played tennis, and it is a great way for me de-stress while having fun. In the winter I have started to pick up paddle tennis which uses a heated floor that allows you play in the colder weather when you are normally stuck inside.
Porada: What’s your favorite part of living and working in Chicago?
Nolin: I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and I always dreamed of living downtown near Wrigley Field and working in a skyscraper. I can luckily say that I am currently living out that dream, but as a structural engineer I also get the privilege of working on those buildings as well. I have worked in and visited many cities throughout the US and nothing ever comes close to matching Chicago in my opinion.
Porada: What are the qualities you look for in a mentor?
Nolin: When looking for a mentor I think it is extremely important to find someone who has experience with what you hope to someday achieve. I also think it is important for your mentor to care about your future just as you do.
Porada: Are you involved with any groups or clubs outside engineering?
Nolin: One thing that I do outside of engineering is volunteer with the high school ministry at my church. My church has always been an important community for me, and I enjoy being able to give back in that way.
Porada: What’s the best vacation you have ever taken?
Nolin: I am a triplet and my two triplet sisters and I all went to college in different states. However, for our junior year spring break we all met together and flew to Italy for 5 days. It is the only time I have ever been out of the country, and it was an amazing opportunity to be together and explore Rome and Florence. I will never forget it.
Porada: What’s your favorite book?
Nolin: My favorite book is The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I used to work with Professor Liang Liu at the University of Illinois, and he would recommend this book to all his students. It has an amazing amount of life lessons crammed into a short format and now I recommend it to all my friends.
Porada: If you could have dinner with anyone (real or fictitious, dead or alive) who would you choose? Why?
Nolin: I would love to have dinner with the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike Bryan. The Bryan brothers are identical twins and the most successful men’s tennis doubles partners of all time. I have always been amazed by their career and how they sacrificed their own individual singles careers to become such great doubles partners.
Porada: What’s one of your favorite or most memorable projects that you’ve worked on in your career thus far?
Nolin: Throughout 2020, I worked on a large concrete restoration project for a parking garage in Skokie, IL. I was originally the project engineer for this job, but the project manager who was working on this project for K&H left the company before the project was complete. Given my experience with the project, the other project managers in the office allowed me to take on some of the project management responsibilities. This was an amazing way to learn and grow as an engineer and made the project even more rewarding when it was completed.
Porada: As you have gotten older, what would you say has become more important to you? Less important?
Nolin: As I have gotten older, I have learned to focus more on the things that interest me and care less about what other people think. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Porada: Great talking with you, Steven. Thanks for dropping in and taking a turn in the YES hotseat!