Hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado
Year and major: Junior in civil engineering with a water resource/stormwater engineering focus
Gabrielle Dunn was introduced to civil engineering as a child hanging out at her parents’ civil engineering office.
Now a junior in CU Boulder’s civil engineering program with a focus on water, Dunn has one professional paid internship under her belt and will complete another one this summer. In fall 2023, Dunn will move into the Bachelor’s Accelerated Master’s program. She’s also a Kiewit Scholar, works at CU Boulder’s BOLD Center as a peer mentor and develops DEI curriculum and infrastructure for CU Boulder’s SpectrumX.
How did you become interested in engineering?
When I was really little, I hung out at my parents’ office and played with their tools, like measuring wheels and scales. And now I am using those tools! I would look at their house plans, and it was interesting to see how things fit together. Then in high school, I took drafting and architecture classes, and those classes helped me understand how project elements fit together and what’s important to keep in mind when designing, such as constructability, aesthetic and flow.
Why did you choose to study at CU Boulder?
I wanted to leave Fort Collins, but I also wanted to stay in Colorado. CU Boulder’s civil engineering department focuses on improving infrastructure, which I really like. There’s a lot of interesting research being done in the CIEST lab, specifically on new construction materials and improving pipe infrastructures.
Why did you choose to focus on water?
When I interned at Manhard Consulting (in Greenwood Village) last summer, I really enjoyed the water aspect because everything else — fire protection, drinking water, wastewater and other utilities — would be impacted if the storm design didn’t work. Most people think of “civil” as transportation or structural, but water and geotech are super-critical to design.
How did you get your summer internships?
I attended the civil engineering career fair last year. I just started chatting with one of the recruiters, and the recruiter said, “Why don't you come down for an interview?” Not enough students take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions at career fairs.
What enrichment activities have you been involved in at CU?
Kiewit Design-Build Scholars Program
Spring of my freshman year I was accepted into the Kiewit program, and since then I've received opportunities from Kiewit to learn about the construction industry. Kiewit helped me decide between field engineering and design, and I decided to stick with the design side. We also have a Kiewit industry mentor who gives advice about how to move forward in our careers and how to prepare for entering industry and the skills they look for, so that’s been very helpful.
BOLD Peer Mentor
I am a peer mentor with the BOLD Center, mentoring incoming freshmen who are BOLD scholars. I organize programs for students, such as study sessions, game nights and movie nights. I also keep track of whether students are meeting their scholarship requirements.
I also work in the SpectrumX center focusing on developing DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) curriculum and infrastructure. Many universities are involved in the broadband mapping project, and they bring students into the program to do research. We’re encouraging universities to bring in students from diverse backgrounds. We then organize workshops so when students enter the program they feel included and welcome.
INSTAAR undergraduate research assistant
I worked on a project for Professor Michael Gooseff, one of the lead PIs at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. We ran water through three sites at different rates. I organized the data that tracked the water flow and temperature. Another group looked at how the water and temperature impacted the soil biomes.
American Society of Civil Engineers
I’m the president of the CU Boulder chapter of ASCE. We invite companies to speak to students, and each week the students hear about internships and learn about different areas of civil engineering. We just had NewFields come in. They work on mining, and that was something I wasn’t familiar with, so that was pretty cool.
We also do the Concrete Canoe Competition, which is one of ASCE’s biggest draws.
Society of Women Engineers
With all our classes being so male- dominated, it’s nice to see how other women engineers are doing and hear about situations that might arise, like not being listened to in classes or group projects. SWE invites a lot of companies to speak, so it offers a professional development aspect as well.
You do a lot! How do you fit everything in?
I don’t overload myself. Two of my classes are difficult and two are more straightforward. I finished most of my college math class requirements in high school, which was super helpful.
What is a highlight of your academic career at CU?
My favorite activity is the concrete canoe competition. It’s fun to use concrete in a way that you wouldn’t normally use it. Last year we built the canoe and raced it, and we placed third in our region. The activity is outside the classroom, so if you mess up, you mess up. And you get to be creative and compete with other schools.
What do you plan to do after graduating from CU?
I’ll be doing the Bachelor’s Accelerated Master’s program in Fall 2023. After that I’ll probably go into the land development sector with a focus on drainage and water resources.
How has your educational experience helped you prepare for this?
CU Boulder has given me opportunities. You can ask your professors questions, especially with the program being so small. There’s always some way to get involved or something to pique your interest.
What advice would you give other CEAE students?
Don’t be afraid to ask your professors questions or to ask questions during your internships. If you want more experience or to learn more about a certain topic, advocate for yourself. More often than not, people will want to support you and encourage your growth, and asking for help is the best place to start.
And find ways to be involved in engineering outside the classroom; it will give you an edge over students who don’t take advantage of those opportunities.