Q&A: Talking with Rayna Volden, Jacobs Program Manager
Jacobs’ Program Manager Rayna Volden talks about her career, her STEAM heroes and the importance of trying something new each year.
One of Canada’s shining stars, Program Manager and Jacobs Vice President Rayna Volden has spent her 30-year engineering career delivering innovative solutions to all aspects of civil engineering and environmental challenges across the country.
Rayna has applied her engineering expertise in hydraulics, hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, storm and sanitary sewer conveyance, combined sewer overflow abatement, and urban stormwater management projects, primarily for municipal clients and conservation authorities.
In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we’re connecting virtually with our team of engineering heroes around the world to showcase their careers and how each of them helps Jacobs live up to our promise of Challenging today. Reinventing tomorrow.
For this feature, we talked with Program Manager and Jacobs Vice President Rayna Volden about her career, the STEAM heroes who inspired her andthe importance of trying something new each year.
Tell us a bit about what you’re working on these days.
Well actually the same thing I have been doing since 2008 — the City of Toronto’s Basement Flooding Protection Program (BFPP) — although I’ve been full time in the program manager role for the past five years on Phase 4, which includes more than 100 assignment solutions. Some might think that’s a long time to be in one job, but it’s something different every day, always new challenges and issues, so it’s never boring. I love the diversity of this role and the wonderful team that I get to work with each day.
I think I might be the only person who has been with the BFPP since the beginning, and the team has been co-located full time with the City of Toronto since 2015. I feel like I am part of two companies — Jacobs and the City of Toronto — and an integrated work family. Although we’re working remotely for now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has not been negatively affected as we’ve been able to successfully reinvent how we hold meetings and communicate with each other.
What’s your favorite part of the role?
As program manager I’m constantly challenged with new problems and trying to solve them. It’s a dynamic environment that keeps me on my toes — you can’t predict or anticipate what will happen on any given day. I’m constantly learning new things, which is fantastic.
We’re publishing this article in honor of International Women in Engineering Day and this year’s theme is Engineering Heroes. Who are some of the heroes who inspired you in your career in STEAM?
Well I definitely don’t come from a family of engineers — my parents were teachers, as well as working on the family farm in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. I excelled at math and sciences, so my high school guidance counsellor suggested I talk to an engineering professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an engineer, but it seemed like a degree that would open doors to other careers, so I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
I met some incredible engineers and mentors once I started working. The first was Nancy Schultz, a wet weather flow engineering expert who, even though I was just a junior engineer at the time, would always take my calls and make time for me in her day. She is one of the inspirational women engineers that I’ve had the pleasure of working with over my career. The second is Mario Parente, a hydraulics and wastewater collection engineer who I collaborated with on some of my most significant projects. I appreciated his practical outlook, and his strong belief in hands-on training for engineers.
When you think of engineers or engineering as a hero, what does that mean to you?
I think in general engineers are somewhat misunderstood; there is this stereotype of the geek with the pocket protector. Engineering is such a vast discipline, like business — it can mean so many things. I think engineers are unique in the way we instinctively think; we know how to solve problems. In fact, many engineers work in fields like investment banking because their thought processes are applicable to any type of business.
If you’re not working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?
My biggest challenge is that I can’t sit still — I always need to be doing something. My family call my need to keep active as “puttering” and my Dad was the same. In fact, every year I try something new; I’ve tried bungee jumping, learned to ride a motorcycle, learned to play hockey (and a ukulele and bass guitar!), started a girl band, performed at a gig, attended cooking classes, and have a tattoo. I love to be hands-on with anything I do. I think it’s really important to challenge yourself with something new every year — some activities become lifelong hobbies, while others just fade into the past.
Most interesting career moment?
Winning the BFPP Phase 4 project was very rewarding on many levels. I had been involved in BFPP for quite a while, and I was deeply involved in the development of the proposal and cost strategy. It was a personal and professional affirmation that I am good at what I do.
What would you rate a 10 out of 10?
Brad Pitt. Next question?Just kidding.
Life rates a 10 out of 10 — I have no regrets about any decisions I have made in my life. I take opportunities as they come along.
What advice would you give to young professionals?
I think many people have too many expectations about where they should be in various timeframes (five years, ten years and so on). I would encourage people to be more flexible. Don’t worry about making the right decision to ‘fit the plan’. Take opportunities as they arise — some of the best career moves of my life were the ones I didn’t plan for.
People would be surprised to know that I….
I’m naturally quite a shy person. People just assume that I am outgoing. When I first meet new people, I like to take the time to watch and listen and engage on my own terms. However, once I get to know people any shyness disappears.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?
Being part of Jacobs provides me with an incredible network of available resources. Every interaction I have with people is a new opportunity to connect with talented professionals. Recently I was on a Program Management call and the topic of discussion was Social Value and supporting our clients’ priorities, policies and regulations. Based on this presentation we are in discussions with the Social Value Practice Leader to establish opportunities for my program.
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