Everybody knows the traditional way of building your dream home. Long story short, it’s a lot of headaches. Today, however, civil engineer Khamini Fennelly will prove it doesn’t have to be that way. From location and land selection to internal and external customizations, you can now “order” your home online.
What You’ll Learn:
- How High School Made Her Go from Architecture to Civil Engineering
- What It Was Like to Be a One of the Few Women of Color to Go to College
- The #1 Secret to Getting Through Engineering School. And It's not IQ
- Day in the Life of a Site Civil Engineer and the Tools She Uses
- Tips on How Engineers can Find Better Opportunities if They Want to.
- The One Place to Make Personal and Professional Connections for a Lifetime
- How to Find Work You Love Without Abandoning The Skill Set You’ve Built
- How Welcome Homes is Changing the Way Americans Build Their Houses
- What It’s Like to be the Only Civil Engineer in a Tech-Based Company
- Test-Prep Strategies and Tips You Can’t Afford to Miss
- How Social Media Can be a Powerful Learning and Inspiration Platform
CEA Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/newsletter
CEA Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
Khamini Fennelly LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/khamini-fennelly-7a681675
Khamini Fennelly Instagram (@khaminifennelly) – https://www.instagram.com/khaminifennelly
Welcome Homes – https://welcomehomes.com
High School For Construction Trades, Engineering And Architecture – https://www.hsforctea.org
Syracuse University – https://www.syracuse.edu
Civil 3D, by Autodesk – https://www.autodesk.com/products/civil-3d
HelloFresh – https://www.hellofresh.com
Reddit Community about the PE Exam – https://www.reddit.com/r/PE_Exam
Other CEA Resources:
CEA Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
CEA FE and PE Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
CEA YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Additional Resources Mentioned:
NCEES – https://ncees.org
Engineer to Entrepreneur – https://engineer2entrepreneur.net
Civil Engineering Reference Manual – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi (Use this link to grab a copy for a 15% discount)
Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: All right! What's going on, Khamini? How's it going?
Khamini Fennelly: Hi, Isaac! How are you?
Isaac Oakeson: I'm doing very well. Welcome to Civil Engineering Academy Podcast. I'm excited that you decided to join us. And this will be a good time.
Khamini Fennelly: Thank you so much for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, before we start diving into things, I'll probably do a quick little bio about yourself. But tell me a little bit more about yourself, how you found yourself into civil engineering.
Khamini Fennelly: My civil engineering journey started in high school. That's when I started at -- I attended the High School For Construction Trades, Engineering And Architecture. Which is a crazy sounding name, but it's the normal New York City public school in Queens. And they had an engineering program that I sort of fell into. I thought I wanted to be an architect at first, and realized I wasn't good at drawing or sketching. And in the engineering academy there, I learned really basic AutoCAD, and some engineering principles. And just things that you would learn in your basic first year, freshman year of college, I was kind of learning incrementally throughout high school. And realized that this is kind of what I wanted to do. And I was fortunate enough to kind of figure that out in high school through process of elimination.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow! That's pretty cool. And so what school did you end up going to? And did you like it?
Khamini Fennelly: I attended Syracuse University for my bachelor's degree.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay.
Khamini Fennelly: And I liked it. Yeah. It was really cold in upstate New York. Lots of snow. But it was always my dream to go away and live on campus for college. And it was just the right [inaudible] distance from New York city. And the civil engineering program there was just eye-opening to the types of people I got to meet, whether it be international students or other students from across the country who came from less diverse backgrounds, as opposed to me who grew up in Queens. But other than that, you know, we were all in the trenches together learning civil engineering. And I also lived in a learning community my freshman year. That was all engineers. And that wing in my dorm room by freshman year, I just became friends with all those guys and girls who were all different kinds of engineers and stayed friends with them for the entire four years of college. And we're all still really good friends today.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. That's awesome. Yeah. You make good connections in college. And some of those will probably last the lifetime.
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. One thing I tell students there right now when I go back and speak is that these are networking connections that are happening every single day. So when I can pick up the phone and call a guy that I had a soils class with and ask about a project he's working on, or a firm that he's working for, that's a really great resource. And what happens is, once you graduate, those network connections spread across he country and even the globe. And you can say you have a really great resource just by the commonality of what school you went to.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So, you know, I think it's awesome that -- Well, for one, we need more women in engineering. Did you notice in school there were a lot of women going into civil engineering? What was your observation?
Khamini Fennelly: There were not a lot of women. I'd say a little bit more in environmental engineering than civil. And I think, you know, every year as the program was accepting more and more women, that was kind of really cool to see an upward trend. However, still really small trend on women of color particularly. You know, I was one of the only women of color from my high school to graduate and go into civil engineering program. So similarly as I was in the program itself at Syracuse University. So that was just something that I -- It was kind of like a reverse effect, where I came from a really diverse environment and I ended up in a collegiate environment that wasn't. And it was kind of jarring at first, but I was able to sort of find my roots and kind of figure out what I wanted for myself. But you have to just be able to find those connections. That's why doing interviews like this with you and making yourself a little bit more public and outward, especially in other types of platforms, and meeting these people, whether it be at conferences or networking events, is super important to me.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And I'm thankful that you jumped on and did this. And so, I really do appreciate that. Do you have any advice for people that are in college, or maybe thinking about college, and maybe thinking about civil engineering and wondering if that's a good fit? Do you have any advice around that?
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. I think a lot of people think you have to be super smart. You have to love math and science. That is, you know, the reality of your first two years of college. But it's not the reality of the rest of your profession. So if you are able to really hunker down and work hard, and allow yourself to fail in order to succeed, that's what it takes to get through engineering school. And I always say they were the most difficult four years of my life, but now the most rewarding. So don't think that you have to be some sort of whiz to be an engineer. A lot of people, you know, are just really hard workers and are dedicated, and sometimes it may take them a little longer, but you can come out successful.
Isaac Oakeson: You gotta jump through the hoops in college.
Khamini Fennelly: A lot of hoops. Yeah! After that fourth calculus class, you're like, "All right. What next?"
Isaac Oakeson: Like, "Oh man. This is kind of brutal."
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I think that's great advice. Like, if you just -- You know, if you can put in the hard work and do it, I think anybody can do it. It's just a matter of getting through the process. You know, every teacher has a little bit different spin on how hard their classes and stuff. But you know, do your best and I think you can definitely get through it. So, good advice. What do you do now for a living, and how did you end up getting there?
Khamini Fennelly: So I'm a site civil engineer. I work particularly in land development. In my previous job after I graduated, I worked for a design consulting firm that was based in New York City and did all types of commercial developments in urban environment, particularly New York City. Where I was working on sewer, water mains, all different types of utility connections, sidewalk design, coordinations with landscape architects, and a lot of really cool stuff that was just high profile and really interesting. And that's sort of how I got my footing into land development and site civil engineering.
Isaac Oakeson: What is kind of a day in the life of being in land development? What are some of the top tools you're using, issues, and likes and dislikes that you got through?
Khamini Fennelly: Sure. Day in the life: I am reading surveys, understanding permitting processes, familiarizing myself with different municipal rules in order to develop land, and site planning. I am now at a more high level, where I'm doing design more schematically than I was previously, where I was in the trenches, you know, calculating inverts, slopes, pipes, and things like that. But from a higher perspective now, I'm able to sort of oversee land development happening at a higher schematic level for more designs.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. That's good to know. And if you could list off maybe a software too, what are some things that maybe you dive into?
Khamini Fennelly: Civil 3D, for sure. Always, you know, trying to develop a quick surface off those some sort of survey that I've received. Let's see. Civil 3D is definitely my main component. I've been doing a lot of Excel lately, just trying to like map out data. And kind of taking a different approach now on land development and trying to see other ways I can use tech to incorporate it into maybe predicting or understanding different municipality permitting processes.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Awesome. I just like to ask people what they do and then kind of some of the tools around that, because I think a lot of people don't understand, you know, what goes into different disciplines or different areas of civil engineering. So it's good to hear that in general.
Khamini Fennelly: For sure.
Isaac Oakeson: So, now you work for Welcome Homes. Is that correct?
Khamini Fennelly: That is correct.
Isaac Oakeson: What do they do? How does that work?
Khamini Fennelly: Okay. So Welcome Homes is a venture backed startup that allows you to build your entire home online with our custom studio. Everything from land selection to selecting any home model, and then all of your interior fixings. So what is traditionally a very chaotic process that has multiple points of contact, and it's usually all kind of on the shoulders of a customer, we now have a single point of contact and streamline the entire process for you all in house. So where I come into play as a civil engineering manager at Welcome, I was the first civil engineer to be brought to the company. I oversee the land selection portion of that process, and ensuring that our parcels that go through our land researchers are fully vetted and that we understand the entire permitting process for those municipalities in which we are listing those land parcels.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Wow! How well do you feel like the company is doing? And are they only in New York? Or where other areas are they in?
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. We're currently operating in the tri-state area? And it's still going really well. We have a lot of buzz around us right now just because of the concept and that's something that's never been done before. I think particularly for millennials who really like to text and maybe have like one point of contact, and they are always privy to picking up the phone and calling someone. I see it as a really great opportunity for that millennial who's thinking about finally leaving the city and starting their family, and maybe moving to Westchester-Putnam county or North Jersey, to say "Hey, I want to do this. And I think I can put in a little bit extra instead of settling for a house that I don't really love and I'm going to have to be fixing up for the next 10, 20 years, to get something that's new construction in the location where I want to live, in a whole model that I really love, with all the fixings that I personally selected myself."
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. So Welcome Homes. Do you see this expanding to other states?
Khamini Fennelly: Absolutely yes. We are definitely trying to develop a product that is scalable for the entire country.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, that's exciting to be a part of. How did you find that? Or did they find you?
Khamini Fennelly: I found them, actually. It was a job posting and I just applied. You know, like everybody else during the pandemic, I was kind of thinking about that what next type of step. And it just seemed like the right moment to switch things up in my career. And as I've mentioned before, I was previously doing large-scale commercial developments. And I thought I could continue doing this and build maybe like 20 awesome big buildings in my career, or I could build thousands of homes. And the switch to residential was kind of powered by that, and having a more personal touch with my customers that I work with everyday.
Isaac Oakeson: Do you feel like you're going to use this service one day yourself?
Khamini Fennelly: You know, now that I understand what it takes to build a home, and understand what we've done to make it so much easier, I think definitely I'm more key on potentially building for myself one day. I joke that my husband used to send me homes for sale all the time, and now he's like, "Well, this piece of land is for sale." And I say, "That one for sale over there." So we can be, maybe, looking for land to at this point. But yeah. Why not?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Why not? That's awesome. So I'm curious, in your current role, what do you find challenging about being a civil engineer? And along with that, what do you feel is most fulfilling?
Khamini Fennelly: So it's challenging, like I said before, I was the first civil engineer to be hired at Welcome. And that means I have to explain all of civil engineering to a lot of web developers and people with tech backgrounds who have no idea really what it takes to fully permit in develop land. But that's okay because I don't speak tech. So we're kind of bridging the gap between each other, and that's sort of the challenging part of my day to day. Which I've come to really enjoy because I learn a lot and they learn a lot from me.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Ss that's a challenge, but it's also fulfilling for you.
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah, for sure. Because now we're able to take something that has been done for years and automate processes, improve upon them, and streamline them in a way for our customers that hasn't been done before. And making a better experience for the next person that wants to build their home with us.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. To go along with that and the civil engineering world here, do you have any tips for engineers on networking or helping others just find a better job in general?
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. I mean, I definitely mentioned before that your day-today friends that you make in college are the base of your network, even if you don't talk to them right after you graduate. But when you go to a networking event, definitely just don't be afraid to go right up to someone and introduce yourself and shake their hand, and just, you know, kind of share what you're looking for and try and find commonalities between people. I also think that just casual conversation is one of the best ways to network, whether it doesn't have to be about business 24/7. And then that itself can open up opportunities for jobs, work, and all other types of things.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Great advice. You mentioned that you go back to school and you give speeches. What do you do with that?
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. I'm part of like a young alumni association for the engineering college at Syracuse University. So I've given some talks during the pandemic, especially now that they're virtual. I'm able to just kind of jump in and share it with the incoming freshmen about what I do. And I used to do career day as well for my high school and middle school when I was able to visit, pre pandemic. So I really feel strongly about kind of giving back to those educational institutions that kind of helped molded me. I am a first-generation college graduate. So I feel like seeing other first-generation alumni come back and speak about their career and what they're doing is really encouraging. Because I remember, you know, you start off with a large freshman class and people tend to [inaudible] down and change majors by your second and third years. So I hope that, you know, by me being present and kind of speaking to these students, I can help them kind of push forward a little bit and encourage them in what I do now.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Do you have any siblings? Are they interested in what is going on in your world?
Khamini Fennelly: My brother, my younger brother, is an accountant. And no. He's kind of his own world. But my husband's in commercial real estate. So I build and he sells.
Isaac Oakeson: That's a nice tag team there.
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. I mean, two different industries a little bit since I'm on the residential side now of things. But yeah. We can speak to each other at least. There's a little bit of understanding there.
Isaac Oakeson: That's good. Let's switch it a little bit to -- If there's any advice that you might have for someone that's preparing for like the FE or even PE exam, what's been your experience with that? And what tips would you share with someone that has to go through that?
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. You know, that's a tough experience. I am not a great test taker. I passed my FE and I'm in the process of retaking my PE. And I have to say that, you know, sticking to your schedule and trying to commit to those study hours is really important. And offloading other responsibilities, whether that means like getting a HelloFresh subscription for dinner or things like that so you don't have to think about those kinds of things to try and make your life easier for those four, three months while you're studying for is really critical. And then lastly, there is a subReddit for the PE exam. I think they share resources there sometimes. And it's also just like solidarity with everyone that's trying to study at the same time. And I found that to be comforting.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome.
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, if people don't know about it, we do have our own community. If you want to join it at ceacommunity.com. And that's just the Facebook community that we've got built. And then if people do join our courses, you also get access to one of our private Facebook communities, and then you really are in the trenches with others going through the same thing at the same time. Are you excited about the exam going computer-based?
Khamini Fennelly: i'm very nervous, obviously. It's the first time. I do like that it's, you know, more available now and I don't have to like track to a specific site. So I'll be taking it in April still. But you know, on the computer. Just gotta buckle down and learn that whole 500-page booklet now that they're giving us.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, good times. I know a lot of people are a little worried about that. But if you've taken the FE, it's going to be very similar to that now that it's switching to the PE. So that's kind of exciting. And you don't need a suitcase full of books anymore.
Khamini Fennelly: Happy about losing the suitcase. I think it's best left at home.
Isaac Oakeson: Use it for travel.
Khamini Fennelly: Yes. For the trip I take after the PE
Isaac Oakeson: Well, is there any other resources that you have found helpful that you could recommend to our audience? Whether that's a book, a course, a website.
Khamini Fennelly: It's going to sound strange, but we're always on social media. And I think Instagram has been a really interesting resource for me to be able to connect with people, especially during these times. There are a lot of women, particularly, that I've seen that are sharing about what they do in their day-to-day, whether that be in the field, operating an excavator, testing soil, doing all these really cool things and sharing their day-to-day on their Instagram stories. And just kind of feeling that connection with other women around the country has been a really wonderful thing for me to feel inspired by and learn more from, and obsviously network as well.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I've seen LinkedIn has a huge tool as well for women in engineering. And people posting things on there and it's just kind of taken off. So it's been fun to watch as well.
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. It's cool. I mean, it's kind of like this PSA announcement, right? That you get to just share it to all the people that you know. And then if someone interacts with it, it can extend. So why not if you have a big win. Or even a small win. Just get it out there and give people gradual updates. You don't have to wait for like a job interview or annual review internally to share all the things that's been happening with you. Which is another good piece of advice, is don't wait. I definitely keep a monthly log of all the things that happen month by month. You know, whether I speak somewhere or have notable accomplishments. So when I am ready for my annual review, I'm not buzzing trying to figure out what happened this past year.
Isaac Oakeson: That's a good advice. I had one more question here before we kind of wrap this up. But if anybody felt like they didn't love what they were doing in the world of civil engineering, do you have any thoughts around what they could do to either move positions or look around or try something different?
Khamini Fennelly: Yeah. Sure. I think civil engineers have a lot more hard and soft skills that they may not be fully aware of, whether that be in technical writing, the ability to assess problems. I guess my overall advice on this situation though, is that don't think you have to make a hard pivot and change careers massively to find a difference in your life. It could be environmental-based, like where you're currently working. But also like, making small changes gradually would be the best way for you to sort of kind of figure out where you want to go next. So for example, my pivot, I'd never thought I'd be working in the intersection of tech and site civil engineering. But that was something I am able to still use all of my previous skills for now in a whole new way. I'm not doing anything that I was doing at my previous job, but I'm not losing my skill set either. And I'm actually building on it even more rapidly than I was before. So just because you're not happy with what your current skill set is or what you're currently doing, utilize what you already have within you and trying to find new ways to use it, innovate it and create it for yourself.
Isaac Oakeson: I love that. Good advice. I totally agree with you. I think there's just a lot of different things you could do, but you don't need to make a hard pivot. You could probably find something within this industry that you could find more fulfilling if you're not loving what you're doing already. So, anyway.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, I really do appreciate you jumping on the show. What's the best way for our audience to find you?
Khamini Fennelly: You can find me on LinkedIn at @KhaminiFennelly. And also on Instagram @khaminifennely.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. Thanks, Khamini. You're awesome! Thanks for jumping on the show.
Khamini Fennelly: Thank you for having me, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. See you.
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