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Where Are They Now? Ciara Pickering Checks in from South Carolina

September 30, 2022

Ciara Pickering shares how BAE's bioenvironmental focus prepared her for her career, and how she spends down time hiking with her dog Wally.

By Karin Pekarchik

In 2017, Joe Dvorak and I took 15 students to Germany for 24 days for a program we called Digital Germany. Ciara Pickering was one of those students, and she later got her master’s degree under Dr. Ford, focusing on bioenvironmental studies. Like Professor Czarena Crofcheck, Ciara often gave sweet gifts at the holidays, including a paper Christmas tree full of chocolates that's still on my shelf. She has stayed in touch, suggesting different topics for social media posts and keeping me up to date on her dog, job, and life in South Carolina. It is my pleasure to ask Ciara questions about her career so the wider BAE audience can get to know her.

Can you recap your time at BAE? What are your favorite memories of Kentucky?

In the summer of 2014, I arrived at the University of Kentucky for new student orientation and to schedule my classes. At the time, I knew I was interested in environmental engineering, so I had declared Civil Engineering as my major. However, when I went over my four-year plan, I was not excited about the upper engineering courses and the technical elective options. I reviewed the Biosystems curriculum and it interested me a lot more, specifically the stream restoration course and land and water resources course. I scheduled a meeting with Dr. Agouridis and the rest was history!

Switching to BAE was the best decision I have ever made. I loved my time with the department. My favorite part about BAE was the community. It is a smaller program, so I became such good friends with the other students in my cohort. We scheduled our courses together so we could sit next to each other in class. We created study groups and had late night library cramming sessions. It was such a great support system and I made so many friendships that have lasted past our time in college. Outside of class we had a lot of fun too. BAE held cookouts, ice cream socials, tailgates, and holiday breakfasts. I was also involved in the department’s student chapter of ASABE and the department’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Honor Society. I attended an ASABE student rally at Virginia Tech and then, when I was an officer for the organization, our department hosted a rally at UK, complete with watching horse racing at Keeneland and going on Bourbon tours for the full Kentucky experience. I loved BAE so much that when I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I decided to stay around for another two years to get my master’s degree.

Where did you go after finishing your degree at University of Kentucky?

After I finished my master’s degree, I accepted a job with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in South Carolina. I was a field engineer working on projects in the 23 upstate counties in South Carolina. I coordinated and supervised the planning, design, and construction of engineering practices such as water management, animal waste management, erosion control, flood control, wetland creation or restoration, and other conservation practices needing engineering guidance. I really enjoyed this job, but I ultimately missed research.

What is your current job? What do you like most about it?

I am currently an Environmental Engineer for RTI International, a non-profit research institute based out of The Research Triangle in North Carolina. I am a telecommuter, so I have remained in South Carolina even though my new company is in Raleigh, NC. Although I have only been working here for a few months now, I absolutely love it. I have the best coworkers and I get to work on so many interested projects, such as water supply forecasting for major rivers out west, water quality modeling to help inform urban planning, dam break and flood inundation mapping for emergency planning, and even quantifying the value of clean water in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

What took you to South Carolina? Can you compare and contrast where you are in SC to Lexington?

Although my job with the NRCS initially brought me to South Carolina, I loved it here so much that I remained living here even though I took a new job. I live in Greenville, SC, which has been named one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the U.S. Greenville’s population is significantly smaller than Lexington’s, but has a similar feel to it. Like Lexington, there is always so much to do downtown. There are no large colleges here, but there are three smaller universities and a technical college. My favorite things about living here are the mountain views and the proximity to great hiking.

How did your experience in BAE prepare you for what you are doing now (or since leaving)?

BAE really prepared me for my future career. The department provided me with so many wonderful opportunities. Senior design was by far one of the most beneficial classes. I learned how to write technical reports and create design plans. The instructors did a great job making it feel like a workplace environment so that students are well prepared. Additionally, I spent two summers working for staff in the department and learned valuable skills such a surveying, water quality sampling, and lab procedures. I also gained valuable leadership skills during my time as an officer for the ASABE Student Branch. The Digital Germany trip gave me an international perspective on engineering, one that is very useful now that I work for an international organization. Lastly, my master’s research with Dr. Ford was hands down the most rewarding. He really pushes his students to produce high-quality research and as a result, I was able to present at local and international conferences as well as publish a journal paper. I learned so much about hydrologic and hydraulic modeling and without that knowledge, I would not be working in the position that I am currently.

What do you miss about Lexington?

The thing I miss most about Lexington is getting to go to the horse races at Keeneland. I also miss some of my favorite restaurants such as Local Taco and Drakes.

What do you like to do in your time off?

When I am not working, you can most likely find me outside spending time with my Bernedoodle, Wally. I hike every chance I get, whether it is backpacking up in Pisgah National Forest or hiking at a South Carolina State Park. I am currently trying to become an “Ultimate Outsider” by visiting all 47 South Carolina State Parks. I love being on the water and spend summer lake days wakeboarding or kayaking. I go on quite a few small weekend trips to nearby cities such as Asheville, Charleston, Atlanta, and even the occasional trip back to Kentucky. During weekends at home, I also enjoy exploring breweries and all that Greenville has to offer.