Jessica Watts

New Orleans, LA, US
Field of Work 
Civil Engineering
CDM Smith
Job Title or "Student" 
Water Resources Engineer / Project Manager
University of Texas, Austin
Master of Science in Engineering
Education Level 
Profile Biography 
Jessica Watts, P.E., CFM, D.WRE

I am a water resources engineer experienced in natural water quality, water resources engineering, and civil engineering. My project experience encompasses site development, grant writing, water distribution and sanitary sewerage collection systems, transportation, and environmental site assessments.

My project experience includes having served as Task Force Leader for New Orleans Infrastructure Assessment after Hurricane Katrina disaster, working as a Task Manager on the Integrated Water Management Strategy for the East Banks of Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, and St. Bernard Parish, serving as Assistant Project Manager on Pontilly HMGP Project, working as Project Manager for Louisiana's West Bank Subsurface Drainage Improvement Program, serving as Project Engineer for Little Maumelle Wastewater Treatment Facility for Little Rock Wastewater Utility in Arkansas and Project Engineer for Long Term Hazard Mitigation Project for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Jefferson Parish in Southern Louisiana.

I received my Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN, and my Masters degree in Environmental & Water Resource Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. I was the recipient of the Outstanding Young Engineer Award of the Memphis Chapter of Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE) in 2000 and was awarded an Honorable Mention for National Science Foundation Fellowship in 2006.

I am currently a water resources project engineer at the New Orleans office of CDM Smith and became a Diplomate in September 2009. I am also a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.

Childhood Inspiration to be an Engineer: Most, and I use that term lightly, of my childhood was spent in and around the New Orleans area. During my first 18 years I moved 13 times and lived in seven different cities. Neither of my parents was in the military -- we just moved a lot. Growing up in New Orleans was great. I remember, when I was eight, walking up the levee that was in our backyard -- one of the levees, in fact, that was breached after Hurricane Katrina -- looking over the edge and seeing a huge, dry, concrete canal. I asked my Dad what it was and why it was there. I remember him trying to explain that we lived in a "bowl" below sea level and that the canals were there to keep the water out. I didn't understand what he was talking about at the time, but I am very aware of it now.

My Decision to Become a Civil Engineer: I did not begin college knowing that I wanted to be a civil engineer. My interest in engineering was certainly sparked by my Dad, a professor of chemical engineering, but was cemented during my time at Space Academy, in Huntsville, Alabama, during high school. I entered college as a mechanical engineering major with the intention of continuing into graduate school and working for NASA. But, during a vacation my sophomore year I began thinking about the ramifications of choosing such a demanding career. What it would mean to a family I might have. I also realized that although I loved the space program, I was not enthralled with mechanical engineering as a whole. I began to think about which engineering I did like -- as a whole -- and not just one part of it. I realized that I would probably be happy doing any type of work as a civil engineer -- I liked it all. This is somewhat apparent in the course my career has taken. I am a diplomate, water resources engineer, but I have also had significant experience in transportation design, site development, land development, as well as water and sewer system design.

Most Rewarding Work:
My most memorable site development project is the one that sparked my return to graduate school -- with an emphasis in water resources. I was the civil engineer for a church design in Asheville, North Carolina. The church wanted their facility to be designed and built sustainably, but had not considered that their site could also be built sustainably. I did a lot of research and ended up suggesting many aspects that could be added to make their site more "green" from pervious pavement to a cistern for irrigation. I now work on multiple projects that include sustainable solutions for stormwater.

In graduate school I was privileged to work with Dr. David Maidment and enter the world of GIS and water resources. I have to say I totally fell in love with maps and everything that you could do with GIS. I love using GIS to analyze data and display my findings. I find that GIS makes the complexity of information that engineers need communicate easier to understand, especially to municipal officials as well as the general public.

Personal Advice for Young Engineers:
Enjoy what you do -- because that way the hard work won't be difficult.

Get involved outside of work and school. Join a group that you enjoy interacting with both socially and intellectually. It does not need to be a standard group, such as ASCE or NSPE. Join an organization where engineering may be fringe. It will expand your perspective. You will hear about new and different methods of attacking problems or maybe you will just meet people. But, people are the strongest resource in engineering.

I currently enjoy the regular activities of singing, reading, jogging, and knitting.

I also enjoy, on a less regular basis, whitewater rafting, canoeing, skiing, and cake decorating. I have enjoyed, before (having) kids, martial arts, dancing (ballroom and ballet), and stained glass.
Working outdoors, Pets, Dance, Reading, Travel, Sports
Race & Ethnicity 
Level of Participation 
After-school visit, In-school visit, Online role model, Summer camp visit
My Experience 
I am a new Role Model.
No Preference
Career exploration activities, Hands-on activities for students
Program Affiliation 
Girl Scouts, Society of Women Engineers (SWE)

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