May 20, 2019
There were two envelopes in the mailbox. To Sidney Smith’s excitement (and relief), neither was the standard business-letter size.
“My roommate and I both took the exam that day,” explains Sidney, who recently passed the Principals and Practice of Engineering (PE) test and now is TSP’s newest licensed mechanical engineer. “We knew the big envelope means you passed because they send your certificate right away. I ran through the house, shouting her name. So technically she was the first person I told. And then I started a big group chat with all my family.”
It’s a fairly long list. Sidney is the youngest of five children—born one minute after her twin, Sarah. The four sisters and one brother grew up on a farm in northeast South Dakota, not quite halfway between Summit and Marvin. At Summit High School, Sidney excelled in mathematics, taking “senior math” as a junior. The class combined advanced algebra and trigonometry, but the small district didn’t offer calculus or the option to take AP courses.
In hindsight, Sidney considers herself lucky that she scored high enough on her placement tests to land in her first-ever calculus class right out of the gate at South Dakota State University. It’s a prerequisite to advance to calculus-based physics, and the remaining semesters get more unworkable for engineering majors without completing those two courses during freshman year. She credits the calculus lab, a separate credit, for “saving” her that first semester.
Soon after arriving on campus, Sidney met future TSP team member Carly Nord. Carly was a year ahead of Sidney, studying electrical engineering and living on the same all-female floor for engineering students.
“People there would ask, ‘What got you interested in this?’ and so many of the answers were about uncles or dads or older brothers who were engineers,” Sidney says. “But there weren’t engineers in my family. Growing up, I didn’t even know any engineers.”
She did know that two math-related fields—education and nursing—weren’t the right fit. Her oldest sister’s husband suggested engineering, a path he’d begun before switching to study criminal justice and serve in the military. Sidney’s SDSU campus tour included a visit with the associate dean, who strongly suggested she pursue his own discipline: civil engineering. A careful reading of the course catalog changed Sidney’s mind.
“I was looking at the class descriptions, and mechanical ‘turbomachinery’ and ‘thermodynamics’ just sounded more interesting to me,” she says.
Sidney’s first project at TSP put both her HVAC and plumbing knowledge to the test. “I was learning everything as we did it for Midco Aquatic Center, so that was pretty exciting,” she says. Senior Mechanical Engineer Roger Nikolas and Bob King, a former TSP mechanical designer, guided her through. “I remember Bob handing me his hand drawing for the water room with the heaters and all the equipment, and I just said, ‘This is more perfect than anything I could do in Revit.’ ”
The long construction phase for the city-owned indoor pool meant Sidney stepped inside a different project as her first substantial completion: Special Olympics South Dakota’s Unify Center. The Beacom Institute of Technology, on the Dakota State University campus, ranks as another early-career high point. “It was a really neat project—and my first LEED project, too,” she says.
Sidney since has expanded her sustainable-design knowledge, earning her LEED Accredited Professional certification with the added Building Design + Construction designation. Like any true designer, she’ll want to oversee and upgrade systems if she ever builds her own home. Her “wish list” includes superior insulation, tight-sealing windows, and a high-efficiency HVAC system.
For now, she’s content she won’t have to sit through another eight-hour exam.