Building Bridges and Breaking Records

Kitty DiFalco, civil engineering senior and April Engineer of the Month, looks forward to contributing her skills and passion to repair and build upon the country’s infrastructure.

Kitty DiFalco poses in her black polo with the "We Engineer Better" emblem.

The summer before her senior year of high school, Kitty DiFalco spent a week at the University of Cincinnati for the “Women in Engineering” program. While there, she was introduced to the different aspects of the College of Engineering and Applied Science and instantly knew that she would one day call UC home after hearing about the cooperative education (co-op) program.

“I saw that co-op would afford me the ability to find my fit within engineering, apply the classroom to the field and vice versa, and travel outside of Cincinnati,” said Kitty.

Within her first year, Kitty wanted to confirm what she believed to be an interest in civil engineering before committing to a major. That day came when she listened to a presentation from students in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management (CAECM) during Learning Community.  The students shared their co-op and classroom experiences and Kitty states, “I could picture myself in their shoes, or better yet, picture myself in their boots and hardhats.”

Kitty enjoys the practicality of engineering, particularly in the design and construction of civil structures.

“As a civil engineer, I will be able to contribute to society by physically building the infrastructure that gets people from point A to point B in their everyday lives. I feel that this is a fortunate time to have a passion for civil engineering in history – our existing infrastructure is in need of repair, and there will be opportunities all over the country to contribute my skills and passion,” stated Kitty.

Kitty received plenty of practice in her boots and hardhat during her co-op rotations. In fall 2014 and summer 2015, she worked on the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge Replacement Project in Morrow, Ohio. There, she worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation to oversee the construction of the two cast-in-place balanced cantilever, post-tensioned concrete bridges. In the field, she inspected re-bar placement, concrete pours, post-tension (PT) cable installation, PT cable stressing, PT grouting operations and more. Inspection involved recording strand elongation for PT stressing operations (longitudinal and transverse) and QC testing for concrete and grouting operations.

In the office, she worked with segmental bridge specialists residing on the job. She states that she became involved in support engineering for the resident segmental bridge specialist. This included verifying geometry control data spreadsheets, reviewing maintenance manuals, reviewing the contractor’s construction engineering calculations and recording crack inspection reports.

“These field experiences afford me specialized knowledge that will be highly valuable in a career of bridge engineering,” stated Kitty, “After working for a public owner, I decided I wanted to try out the private industry and sought out a bridge construction company.”

Kitty secured a co-op position with American Bridge Company, a general contractor that specializes in complex bridge construction and rehabilitation. The Pittsburgh-based company is well known for its in-house engineering of complex construction means and methods.

In spring 2016, she worked in the estimating department at the corporate headquarters in Coraopolis, PA. Projects that she contributed to include the I-287 Gowanus Bridge Rehabilitation Project (Brooklyn, NYC), Peace Bridge Rehabilitation Project (Buffalo, NY), Golden Gate Suicide Deterrent System (San Francisco, CA) and others. She worked primarily with quantity takeoffs, “this allowed me to learn useful technology (Excel and Bluebeam) as well as the elements of steel bridges, both in new construction and rehabilitation,” said Kitty.

In fall 2016, she returned to American Bridge Company to work in the engineering department. During this semester, she worked primarily on a rigging package to be used in the installation of major truss members in a railroad bridge construction project in Portageville, New York. She communicated rigging operations through construction drawings, shop fabrication drawings, and engineering calculations in submittal packages.

For her final co-op with American Bridge, she spent summer 2017 working in the demolition department on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Through this field engineering co-op, she came to understand the complex and fast-paced nature of a nearly $4-billion joint-venture bridge construction project. She focused on the demolition of the Westchester Approach and was responsible for developing the construction sequence drawings and helping compile the construction work plans for two stages of bridge superstructure removal (concrete deck removal by excavator and stringer removal by crane).

“Each of these five co-op experiences afforded me a vast amount of academic, personal and professional experience,” stated Kitty. “When I explain co-op to others, I describe it as an opportunity to figure out your path in your major, to learn how to make mistakes and to gain confidence in your abilities.”

Kitty states that she gains the most confidence after achieving her goals. The process of setting goals, identifying mentors and working towards growth are habits that she states will take her far after graduation.

Along with achieving her goals, Kitty states that her proudest achievements lie in the organizations in which she has partaken.

In the past two years, she has used her experience on co-op to compete in three different heavy-civil estimating competitions – Ohio Contractors Association (OCA) 2017, Allied Schools of Construction (ASC) 2017 and OCA 2018.

“In each of these competitions, I worked with a team of civil engineers and construction managers to represent the university and bring home the hardware,” stated Kitty. “Of these competitions, my proudest achievement was participating on the ASC team. This year, I was privileged enough to be part of the competition’s first all-female team. Not only am I proud to have been part of such a strong group of women in STEM, I am also proud that we took first place in the competition.”

Additionally, she is honored to have been nominated for the Herman Schneider Medal.

“To be recognized by the college for the work that I completed while on co-op was the icing on the cake for my experience at the University of Cincinnati,” stated Kitty.

Kitty encourages current and future students to ask questions, own up to mistakes, take the initiative to find engaging and meaningful work, use the UC-mandated PAL report to set effective goals with your supervisor, and to reach out to work colleagues beyond your immediate department.

In the academic realm, she suggests that students find time in their schedule to take classes that broaden their knowledge outside of engineering.

“Choose to spend time with people who will lift you up and help you tackle the tough stuff when something on co-op or in academics gets too stressful or is not helping you fulfill your passions,” stated Kitty.

After graduation later this month, Kitty will be spending time at home in Cincinnati before taking a trip to Europe with a childhood friend. In July, she will start working as a full-time field engineer with American Bridge Company on a bridge construction and/or rehabilitation project. Her geographical location is not yet determined, but it could be anywhere across the United States.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science congratulates Kitty DiFalco on her outstanding achievements thus far and as the April Engineer of the Month.

Select for previous Engineers of the Month.