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January 2021

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Kris Cotharn

Name/Title: Kris Cotharn, client executive/principal at IMEG Corp.
Age: 52
Educational Experience: Bachelor’s degree, architectural engineering, Kansas State University
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Professional engineer (P.E.) and LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP)
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE member and Wisconsin Health Care Engineering Association (WHEA) Chapter 1 member

What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?

I’ve been interested in buildings since a young age and enjoyed constructing with my architectural block set and filling notebooks with floor plans and sketches. In high school, my parents took me to an engineering open house at Kansas State University, recognizing that science and mathematics were my strengths in school. While there, I discovered architectural engineering, which seemed to be the perfect blend of my love of the built environment and problem-solving.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?

Working with clients to navigate the construction world to help create and produce their vision of a building has been the most rewarding aspect of my career. I enjoy talking with clients about what’s important to them, discussing how they wish to function organizationally, and working with their design teams to produce the ideal environments for them to achieve their goals. As the engineer on the team, I focus heavily on how their buildings will function.

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

Wow, I’m not sure I can narrow it down to a single moment. I feel the greatest accomplishment in my career is that I get to do something I truly love doing that combines creativity and working with people. After nearly 30 years, as a project begins, I still get excited to work closely with clients to establish their goals and determine how they define a successful project.

What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example? Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?

I think one of the challenges is simply not having enough women as role models in this profession. There are women who would make great engineers who aren’t even considering this profession because it’s not something they’ve been exposed to before. Through STEM programs in schools, we can start that exposure at a young age to foster that curiosity and show the possibilities and opportunities in an engineering career.

What does your day-to-day job entail?

That’s a loaded question, and the answer changes daily. The day very rarely unfolds how I envisioned it would. In my role now, I spend many days writing fee proposals or preparing responses to project opportunities. I spend other days on activities related to specific projects. I’m also heavily involved in team supervision and the training of younger staff. One of the great things about the construction world is that your job activities change and evolve with the process of the design from early planning to detailed design and then to construction. We get to be part of the complete project evolution.

What drives/motivates you every day?

My clients and team members inspire and motivate me every day to do my best work and find solutions to the difficult questions. I want to constantly learn and improve, and they push me to do that. I’m especially interested and motivated on projects that involve existing buildings being transformed for a new purpose or more current function. I love seeing a building that was a bit tired and underutilized be restored into a vibrant, active hub.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?

Like everyone, I’ve had to adapt and learn new ways to do everyday life functions. In May, we celebrated my daughter’s high school graduation, not as originally planned, but we held a celebration nonetheless. We hosted family Zoom meetings, since our families are spread around the country and navigated sending two kids off to college during these unknown circumstances. Professionally, we moved to a more virtual platform to still provide services to our clients.
With the focus and questions about SARS-CoV-2 transmission and the potential role HVAC can play in that regard, it’s been a rapid learning process to be able to assist our clients and provide guidance to them regarding their questions about building operating recommendations. It will be interesting to see the changes that come to our industry as a result of this pandemic.

What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?

I’d like to play a larger role in teaching and helping younger professionals in the industry. I’m not sure if this would be a more focused, single-seminar platform or a true teaching role in an academic setting. … I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

What’s one thing no one knows about you?

If I wasn’t an engineer, I’d be a baker. Some folks may know that about me but not many.

List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.

I’d have to say my parents, first, as they encouraged me to become an engineer and search out a profession that allowed me to use my natural tendency as a critical thinker combined with my desire to have a creative outlet.
Professionally, it was my supervisor, Dave Smith, who challenged me and gave me opportunities to grow in my career.

What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?

I’d want them to know that they can do it. They can pursue this career and find success and fulfillment.

Lead image [Photographer sturti/[Collection E+] via Getty Images

January 2021

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