Alumni Q+A: Thomas Kimes

Thomas Kimes
Senior Stormwater Engineer, Water Services Department, City of Kansas City, Missouri
Class of 1987
Current City: Kansas City, MO Hometown: Kansas City, MO

Tell me about an average day at your job.

My work is highly varied. Sometimes I am a designer and sometimes I am leading a project team. I may be visiting sites to formulate projects or visiting a construction project to evaluate progress. Occasionally, I travel to Washington, D.C. to advocate for water resources infrastructure.

How did UMKC prepare you for your career?

One of the greatest benefits of attending UMKC was the opportunity to interact with people who were already working in the field. Whether it be my fellow students or my instructors, they typically could give examples or share experiences they had on actual projects. It prepared me to understand the reality of the profession I would be entering.

What project have you worked on of which you are most proud?

I’ve had the opportunity to work on many of the projects that help shape Kansas City – the Kansas City Streetcar, the Liberty Memorial Museum, Blue River Flood Control, and Brush Creek Flood Control. I’ve been very fortunate.

What drew you to Engineering?

When I was in junior high school, a group of college students did a presentation on engineering. It made a lasting impact.

How did you decide what area you wanted to work in?

My original interest was in environmental engineering. My second job was for the Corps of Engineers, so I developed an interest in waterways.

What societies and groups are you a part of and how do you feel that they have helped you professionally?

I’ve been a member of the Alumni Association for years and I feel it’s important for practitioners to reach out to students.

What do you love about the engineering community in Kansas City?

Being a center for engineering, there is a lot of career opportunities locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. I’ve had the opportunity to work with people who are at the top of their field.

What advice do you have for students entering the field?

Engineering is not a job – it’s a career you build over time. You start with your education, but continue learning and growing for decades. Every day is an opportunity to learn something, to discover something, to develop an idea, and an opportunity to contribute something positive to the world. Your work will directly impact people’s lives. Engineering is a noble profession.

Transforming America’s Roads

Recently, Dr. John Kevern’s proposal entitled “Evaluation of Penetrating Sealers Applied to Saw Cut Faces in Concrete Pavement Joints” was approved for funding by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation policy research program. Dr. Kevern shared more about his proposal and how he got involved with this project.

Tell us more about the project.

For the last six years, the WisDOT, as part of the high-performance concrete (HPC) pavement standard special provision, has specified the use of a penetrating concrete sealer be applied to the saw cut faces in the joints. The HPC pavements on the Interstate 94 North-South corridor and the Interstate 41 corridor from Oshkosh to Green Bay have received this joint treatment. The specification requires a silane or siloxane-based concrete penetrating sealer be applied as soon as possible after the sawing operation is complete. To date, a variety of different products have been used, a number of different application methods have been employed, and the rates of application have been variable. In addition, the construction process and the construction inspection have not been uniform or consistent statewide. Therefore, there is no assurance that WisDOT is accomplishing the goal of distress free joints and longer life of the pavement. Finally, there has been no assessment by WisDOT on whether there are benefits and cost effectiveness to doing this work. The goals of this project are to (1) evaluate the concrete sealers used to date and the construction methods employed to determine if the achievement of sealing concrete pavement saw cut faces is accomplished with effectiveness and uniformity; (2) Assess the work done to date to determine if we are achieving the goal of longer lasting concrete pavement joints; and (3) Develop standard specification language for applying penetrating sealers to concrete pavement saw cuts along with construction inspection guidelines.

How did you get connected to this project?

I currently have a research project with the Wisconsin DOT on a related topic. We are partnering for this project with the University of Wisconsin-Platteville which is where I did my undergraduate degree.

Why did those sections of the interstate receive the joint treatment?

The highly traveled sections of the interstate in Wisconsin are constructed using high performance pavement. In essence they spend a little bit more money to hopefully get longer service life. Along with better pavement quality the DOT has been applying a super hydrophobic water proofing material.

Who is funding the research?

The Wisconsin Highway Research Program (WHRP), basically the research side of the DOT.

Is the goal of the project to determine the best method and sealer for these joints and make that a best practice for the state? For the country?

The primary goal is to evaluate if the state of Wisconsin is getting better service using the water proofing coatings. We will be evaluating different kinds and application techniques. The research will be distributed and although the state of Wisconsin is funding the work, all states will benefit.

Best-case scenario, how much time could these improvements add to the lifespan of concrete pavements?

Best case scenario they will double the lifespan of concrete pavement.

Victoria Wu Takes Her Robotics Skills From UMKC to NASA!

UMKC grad and NASA intern Victoria Wu recently shared more about her research with her mentor Dr. Rao, how she got involved in robotics, all of the cool things she gets to work on at NASA, and more!

1. Congratulations on your many accolades! Tell us more about your research with Dr. Rao.

During my junior year, I was an undergraduate research assistant under Dr. Rao focusing on the area of query optimization for federated SPARQL queries using cardinality estimates.

SPARQL is a query language for RDF (resource description framework) data. RDF is a neat, machine readable way to represent knowledge in the form of a triplet (subject-predicate-object) such as sky – has_color – blue. A wide variety of information, including abstract concepts, can be encoded in this way, forming a giant graph made of potentially interrelated statements from various sources, or endpoints. Federated SPARQL queries can gather RDF data from several databases across a network, providing a powerful tool to aggregate data from various endpoints. Optimizing the queries formed can result in faster execution time. The work I did focused on reordering service calls to different endpoints using cardinality estimates, or assumptions about the number of “answers” to a query.

2. How did you get involved in robotics?

I have to thank one of my classmates, Sarah Withee, for getting me started with robotics. It was at her persistent invitation as the software lead that I finally joined the UMKC IEEE robot team late my freshman year. The robot team was a great way to get involved in an engineering project, from contest description and robot requirements, to development, integration, and testing. It was also a fantastic environment to get experience working both in a large multidisciplinary team, as well as a smaller subteam (software and hardware team). And finally, it was incredibly fun! I’m extremely grateful for the experiences I had with my teammates and the wonderful support of Mrs. Debby Dilks, our robot team sponsor/coach at the time.

3. What was your experience like at the 2015 Grace Hopper Celebrating Women in Computing Conference?

I had the opportunity to present a poster there thanks to my undergraduate research advisor Dr. Praveen Rao. It was a wonderful experience to see so many others like me, that shared my interests. Normally in a CS/tech degree, there are only a handful of women students, but to see so many all at once, and especially to see women industry and academia leaders who had already gone ahead, was very inspiring.

There was a sense of camaraderie that made it easier to meet and talk to others. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people through this conference. I think that is the most valuable thing I got from my experience at GHC – the relationships that were made. I highly recommend for everyone to attend at least once. They do offer scholarships that you can apply for.

4. I hear you’re an intern at NASA! What kind of work do you do there?

I just started last spring as a Pathways intern at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in the science data processing (587) branch. One of the projects I worked on was for RRM3 (Robotic Refueling Mission Phase 3), starting development on a CFS (Core Flight System) application in C for interfacing with and configuring a wireless access point, and passing along video telemetry. It was my first industry/non academia internship, and it was a great learning experience for me. I got to look at the project requirements document to see what was expected of my app, do development work with those requirements, test on different platforms, and learn their build environment. It was a great place to work, and I’m really happy I had this opportunity. I highly recommend applying for NASA Pathways (co-op) internships through USAJobs for those interested in working here after college; you can also apply for internships through NASA’s OSSI website.

5. What advice would you give to other women who are beginning to pursue their degree in computer science?

My main advice is to spend time thinking about what your career/life goals are, and then take every action you can to get closer to that goal. If academia and research sounds interesting, apply for REUs (Research Experience for Undergraduates), funded summer long research programs at various universities in a wide variety of topics. Conducting longer term research as an undergraduate research assistant is also a great way to get experience. If you want to go into industry, pursue internships at companies and ask classmates and professors about opportunities or people they know that work at companies similar to the ones you want to work for.

I would also encourage seeking leadership roles in student clubs and extracurricular activities that interest you. They are a great way to develop soft skills and build relationships with other students and professors. When I served as secretary, then chair for our ACM student chapter (Association for Computing Machinery), I got to develop my public speaking and networking skills. I also greatly benefited from the support and encouragement of our student chapter sponsor, Professor Brian Hare.

If this field is something that you like, and enjoy doing, seek out and pursue as many related opportunities as possible, keep trying, and don’t be discouraged – it’s easier to be at peace when you know you did your best, whatever the outcome.

6. What made you choose UMKC?

I attended UMKC because of its affordability as a public school, scholarships offered, and its location nearby. It was also a good size for me – not too small, but also not too big where you get lost in a sea of students. The school size makes it much easier to get involved in extra curricular clubs.

7. What are your plans for the future?

After I complete my master’s, I hope to return to Goddard full time. From there I look forward to working on more neat projects!