'Artist rendering': 21-year-old takes artistic love, turns it into engineering design career at City of Sumter

BY BRUCE MILLS
bruce@theitem.com
Posted 10/4/18

Ever wonder about what goes into supplying water for your home, what kind of flow is necessary for your sewer line or what factors are involved in paving sidewalks and roads around town?

Kristen Nygaard, a Kershaw County native, has found a niche …

This item is available in full to subscribers

'Artist rendering': 21-year-old takes artistic love, turns it into engineering design career at City of Sumter

Posted

Ever wonder about what goes into supplying water for your home, what kind of flow is necessary for your sewer line or what factors are involved in paving sidewalks and roads around town?

Kristen Nygaard, a Kershaw County native, has found a niche - and a good job - working around these aspects of the civil engineering field with the City of Sumter Engineering Department.

At 21, Nygaard is the youngest member of the city's four-person engineering staff.

She got to that point from initially always being "very artistic," she said, but life circumstances didn't allow her to go to an "art college after high school and study to become a graphic designer."

Instead, with some part-time work experience under her belt making and designing tools with a local company, Nygaard discovered through her own research she could work in the field of Computer Aided Design (CAD) within a couple years by staying home and going to school locally at Central Carolina Technical College.

She said she immediately had a love for the design aspect of the field of study - called Engineering Design Technology at CCTC - and still considers it an "artistic-type field," even though some others do not.

After graduating from Lugoff-Elgin High School in 2016, she enrolled at CCTC in August of that year in the two-year Associate Degree program.

Through a scholarship opportunity the college offers to high school graduates who meet necessary requirements in the greater region, Nygaard was able to go to school tuition free. She said she was able to apply other scholarships she received toward book fees and other areas and basically went to CCTC for free.

Less than two years later (22 months precisely), Nygaard graduated in May with her Associate in Engineering Design Technology in five semesters at the college.

With degree in hand, she began as an engineering associate with the City of Sumter in June.

Now, she spends her days using CAD programming to design technical drawings for water and sewer line installations and repairs, sidewalks, driveways, roads and other general infrastructure construction in the city.

On Wednesday, she was reviewing a Manning Avenue sewer line replacement project where she had to calculate the slope - or angle of the pipe - necessary to ensure there would be enough flow in the line so it wouldn't get clogged.

Another project related to a new doctor's office coming soon to Cuttino Road calls for replacing older sewer and water lines made of clay, ceramic pipe with PVC pipe. Because of trees in the area, the water line is going to be moved to the opposite side of the road to allow for ease of maintenance, she said.

Nygaard said she loves various aspects of the position, including her ability to use her creativity, and wants to stay in the field for the rest of her career.

"Not only am I getting to do a 'hobby' - I'll call it - that I enjoyed so much as a kid growing up, but I'm also getting to create things that are going to be around for a long time," Nygaard said. "This work helps people in their everyday life. It's kind of cool knowing, hey, I did that, and it's going to be there for a long time, and people are going to use it."

"So, I guess, having that impact on everyday life is a cool thing to have in my back pocket."

She called her main professor in CCTC's Engineering Design Technology program, longtime instructor David Tuders, a very good mentor and encouraging.

Tuders called Nygaard a model student who worked hard every day in class.

"Once she showed me her level of commitment," Tuders said, "that's when I was willing to place her in an internship and help her build a career."

More on the field

Like many Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers, pay is good in Engineering Design. Tuders, the academic program chairman, said graduates of CCTC's two-year program earn about $20 per hour on average, or $40,000 annually.

With five-plus years' experience in the field, graduates can earn up to about $30 per hour, or $60,000 annually, he said. Tuders said he has one former graduate who works locally and earns about $70,000.

Skills needed

Tuders said students who tend to do well in the program like math and have good communication skills, or "soft skills." He also said students who play video games tend to excel in the program because of the 3D aspects and modeling.