Walker Headlights: Kate Stairs
Kate Stairs, PE, is the Director of Operations for Walker’s Philadelphia office. With Walker since 2002, Kathryn has gained valuable experience in the design, construction administration, and restoration of parking structures and buildings as well as the design of new parking structures. Prior to joining Walker, Kate performed project engineering for a contractor in New York where she was involved in anchor block restoration of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
Check out more of her story in this month’s Walker Headlights!
Q: You attended Drexel University, can you tell us about your college experiences?
A: Drexel provided me with a solid education and valuable professional experiences. Their 5-Year Engineering program includes three 6-month internships. I was able to work for an owner’s in-house engineering department, a large contractor doing bridge restoration in New York City, and Walker Parking while in school. It’s a strenuous school schedule because you are either in classes or working full-time year round, but it was a wonderful way for me to immerse myself in the design and construction industry and get a sanity check on whether it’s was a good fit.
Q: How did your path lead to Walker?
A: I found Walker for my last internship. Having previously worked for an owner and a contractor, I wanted to experience another side of the industry to round out my college “education”. I loved working for a consulting engineer and knew this was where I belonged. At the end of my internship I was able to continue working part time until I graduated and joined Walker full-time.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about working for Walker?
A: I know it sounds like a stock answer, but the people I work with really fuel my day to day enjoyment of Walker. The Philly office is a great group of talented professionals who work hard every day, and I love working with them.
With regard to the actual work, I especially enjoy the start of a Restoration project. It’s exciting to go into a project with a fresh set of eyes, gather information during the survey, think about what we are seeing, figure out what’s going on and most importantly, what to do about it.
Q: What led you to pursue a career in engineering and restoration?
A: I don’t have the typical engineering backstory. My dad was a mailman, my mom is a nurse, and I’m pretty sure I associated “Engineer” with trains until adolescence. My interest grew once I was in high school and got into higher level math and physics. I was really drawn to the challenge that designing and building structures presented. My college internships really cemented that interest. Restoration wasn’t on my radar until I was full-time at Walker, and began to be exposed to projects here and there. Besides being really interesting work, I am drawn to the pace of restoration projects and the opportunity to work closely with Owners and Contractors.
Q: What advice would you give an aspiring engineer?
A: Spend your time well – get as many internships as you can, and mix it up a bit so you have some different perspectives. College is such a large investment of time, effort, and money. Take every opportunity to ensure that you’re putting that effort towards the right industry for your interests and skills.
Q: Tell us about your family?
A: My husband and I have been married for 11 years, have two young daughters (6 and 3) and a black lab who tolerates our chaotic, fun, loud house admirably. We are in the thick of it – working hard to build a good life and give our all to our girls, careers, and each other. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by a network of parents and extended family that is generous with their time, cooking, and love.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A: Balancing the structure’s repair needs, a client’s budget, and everyone’s expectations is an art. When it all comes together it’s very rewarding.
Q: What is your favorite thing about living in Pennsylvania?
A: I love the variety of living in a climate with 4 seasons and being close to Philadelphia. My family really enjoys living in a smaller suburb while still having access to the restaurants, events, and history of the City.
Q: In your downtime, what might we find you doing?
A: I have always been an avid reader, and crave time spent in a good story. These days, most of my downtime is spent playing and reading with my girls. We’re pretty deep into a Lego phase, and spend a lot of time building and playing in miniature communities. It’s an interesting crossover between my personal and professional life.
Q: Who do you admire most in life?
A: This is the easiest to answer: my parents. I was raised by two extremely hardworking people. Their lives were busy, but the love and effort was always clear to my siblings and I. They had great pride in their work and even greater joy in their family, something I admire more and more the older I get. As my husband and I navigate parenthood and careers, I am grateful to my parents for their example.
Q: What is the most exciting and unique project you’ve worked on while here at Walker?
A: A number of years ago I worked on a project in Lower Manhattan for a package delivery company who needed to repair the roof level plaza slab over their distribution facility. The repairs were especially challenging because the Owner required that they be completed with no interruptions to their nearly 24-hour operations. The solutions that Walker and the project team developed were innovative, cost and schedule effective, and most importantly, resulted in no lost time for the Owner. It was an exciting project to take part in, and I was proud of our role in the successful result.
Q: What is your philosophy towards your work?
A: For me, relationships are key. This is true for everyone we interact with – coworkers, clients, Contractors, manufacturers… I think when people respect and appreciate the team members they collaborate with, it makes projects successful and work a happier place to be.
Q: What does an average day look like for a Director of Operations at Walker?
A: That’s a great question, and to be honest I’m still answering it for myself! I’m a month into my new position and still figuring a lot out. I’m looking forward to making sure the Philadelphia office continues to be a great place to work, something that I’ve been grateful for since I started here.
Thank you, Kate!
If you’d like to get in touch with Kate, you can reach her here.