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MIT Grad Digs Through Artillery Fields for Dangerous Ammunition
Ammunition detective De Jesus inspects artillery fields for dangerous weapons materials.

When Monique de Jesus graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she assumed her future career would involve engineering, not Sherlock Holmes-type detective work. An environmental engineer with Malcolm Pirnie Inc., a White Plains, N.Y. engineering firm, she is part of a team analyzing retired artillery ranges for the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. De Jesus and her colleagues inspect the fields carefully in order to detect materials that make up weapons, often metals such as lead, and their potential to contaminate the environment.

"We have to be detectives," De Jesus says. "We go through files, libraries, memos and talk to veterans. Sometimes they'd just go out to a field and shoot off ordinance. Often the information was not written down because it was only used for a year."

Some of the ranges date back to the Civil War. Others are now the location of civilian structures. "I'm amazed," she says. "Some people go out in these fields with metal detectors looking for souvenirs." The findings will go back to Congress, which will then allocate money to restore the land.

De Jesus' knowledge of environmental issues put her in the middle of history two years ago. She joined a team of engineers testing apartments around Ground Zero for hazardous substances. The job required special air sampling certification. "Some buildings were a total loss," she says. "There were serious issues of mold and asbestos. We were down there for two months and we felt like we were helping. The problem was not what was in the air, but what had settled."

The 24-year-old was recently recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a "New Face of Engineering." Having earned a bachelors degree in civil and environmental engineering in 2000 from MIT, and a masters degree in 2001 in environmental engineering with a concentration in water chemistry, de Jesus was recognized not just for her professional successes, but her personal ones as well, says Norida Torriente, ASCE spokesman. "The program is designed to show and inspire young people and showcase rising stars," she says. "Monique represents the new opportunities available today."

De Jesus is a native of Puerto Rico and graduated from an all-girls school there when she was 18. "In high school, math and science were my favorite subjects, so I got interested in engineering," she says, adding that she followed in a cousin's footsteps by attending MIT where she pursued engineering.

"I fell into environmental engineering," de Jesus says. "I went into chemical engineering at first. No one liked chemical engineering though. I had a friend in environmental engineering, so I took it and there were a lot of female professors leading normal lives and making a difference."

While at MIT, de Jesus helped recruit Hispanics to the college, as well as women. "I think people are realizing its not a male-female world," she says. "Things are open to everyone." During college, de Jesus interned for Malcolm Pirnie. That internship turned into the job she holds today.

Her boss John Logigian, an associate in the hazardous waste group, says she has a good combination of technical prowess and personality. "She's stellar, very enthusiastic," he says. "She is young and bright. Nothing daunts her. Nothing phases her."

De Jesus says that the unpredictability of her job keeps her interested in it. "I stayed in engineering because you never do the same thing twice," she says. "You have to tweak. You think you know what you're doing and you get thrown a curve ball."


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