Hometown: East Grand Rapids, Michigan
Year and major: Senior in architectural engineering
While growing up in Michigan, Kate MacKeigan enjoyed science and math. In high school she took an engineering systems class where students built a hydraulic pump and then worked on improving the design.
“That’s how I got introduced to engineering,” says MacKeigan, the first in her family to become an engineer. “I liked that it was hands on.”
Now a senior in architectural engineering (AREN) focusing on construction, MacKeigan will move to Hawaii after she graduates in May, having secured a full-time position as a field engineer for Hensel Phelps, the same large contractor she interned with in O‘ahu in the summer of 2022.
As a field engineer, MacKeigan will be surveying, performing inspections and doing Building Information Modeling (BIM) in a simulated environment, combining structural, mechanical, architectural and electrical models to help identify potential design or construction issues.
“I am so excited about my job!” she says.
The road to AREN
MacKeigan arrived on the CU Boulder campus enrolled in architectural engineering, but wasn’t sure if it was the right engineering area for her to pursue. While at CU, she attended many career information sessions through the Associated General Contractors of America (ACG) club and the Society of Women Engineers. “The information sessions gave me clarity, and confirmed that I had chosen the right area,” she says.
Then she attended more information sessions and career fairs to learn about the five possible specializations within AREN: lighting, electrical, mechanical, and structural design, and construction management; she decided to hone in on construction management because of its “hands-on aspect.”
The ability to help the environment through architectural engineering also drew her to the major. Buildings account for 40 percent of energy and 60 percent of electricity use worldwide, she says. Over the next nine years two trillion square feet of new buildings will be constructed.
“Architectural engineers have the opportunity to change the world through mitigating climate change," MacKeigan says. "We will be the ones responsible for designing sustainably, using our in-depth knowledge of each building sector and the efficiency measures behind them.”
What enrichment activities have you been involved with at CU? How have these affected your experience here?
I am the AGC president. AGC is very helpful for networking and bridging the gap between education and industry. Through AGC’s networking opportunities, I received an internship which led to a full-time job.
I was a BOLD scholar. The BOLD Center is a space of inclusion and support. Because of BOLD I joined the Society of Women Engineers, which provides support, additional networking opportunities and career advice.
What is a highlight of your academic career at CU?
I am one of the leads on CU Boulder’s Solar Decathlon team (a competition in which students from across the globe design and build a net-zero energy building in their community). Getting involved with the team has been the biggest contribution to my academic career because we are seeing the positive aspects it's having on Boulder County in addition to the Solar Decathlon’s Department of Energy competition.
We are building a net-zero home, (a building that produces as much energy as it consumes in a year), in partnership with Flatirons Habitat for Humanity, in Boulder’s Ponderosa Mobile Home Park community. The home will be sustainable with an energy-efficient design and will fall under affordable housing.
Ponderosa’s homes were heavily damaged during the 2013 flood. The goal is to have the home completed by March and then be purchased by a family living at Ponderosa. Hopefully the same energy-efficient techniques that we used will also be used when other residents build their new homes.
Our house also uses green hydrogen energy. Hydrogen systems run off of hydrolysis, which uses hydrogen atoms to store energy from solar panels; our Solar Decathlon home can stay off the electrical grid for up to four days.
You often don’t hear “energy efficient” and “affordable'' in the same sentence. Affordable housing is the most economical solution to reducing poverty. And I really like the sustainability aspect. It’s important to me because 40 percent of our carbon footprint is due to buildings. I see the potential for addressing this huge problem through choosing renewable energy, focusing on energy efficiency and using sustainable materials.
How has your educational experience helped you prepare for your new job?
CU Boulder has shown me how to work in a team, and specifically architectural engineering has given me a taste of each sector (lighting, electrical, mechanical, and structural design, and construction management) so when I look at a building, I can understand every aspect of it.
What advice would you give to current CEAE students?
Get involved in clubs and networking events that connect to what you are learning because that is where you will find clarity in your career goals and your purpose.
And the future?
My goal is to design buildings that can positively affect the environment, not just neutralize where the world is going, but give back to our environment through renewable energy and reduced embodied carbon of building products.