detective De Jesus inspects artillery fields for dangerous
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
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
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
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."