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A coming storm

A coming storm

Nicole L. Craw July 25, 2022

In August 2017, the small city of Orange, Texas, a few miles from the Louisiana border, suffered severe flooding, upwards of 5 feet of water on most residential streets as Hurricane Harvey roared over the area. More than 75 Texans died and the storm caused billions of dollars in damages, tied with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest storm in U.S. history.

Nearly 800 miles away in St. Louis, civil engineer Fernando del Monte ’08 is trying to prevent that from happening again.  

“We’re helping reduce risk. We talk to these communities and we say, ‘There’s always a chance it can flood,’ but our work helps reduce that risk,” del Monte said. “They can definitely feel better having [a
levee] behind their house or business.” 

Working for the engineering firm Stantec as a project manager, del Monte is part of a team of engineers and designers tasked with protecting Orange from hurricane storm surges and other causes of flooding. The team is currently investigating and studying the site to develop a 25-mile
system of floodwalls, levees and pump stations around the city along the Gulf Coast.

“Unfortunately, flood protection is something most people never think about until they need it,” del Monte said.

Fernando del Monte sitting in front of a bridge along a waterway.
Fernando del Monte '08

The Puerto Rico native recently finished working on what was known at the time as the largest ecological rehabilitation project in the United States on the Klamath River in northern California. For the project, del Monte was part of the engineering and remediation team for the proposed removal of three large dams along a 40-mile stretch of the river. The dams were first built in the early 1900s.

The removal of the dams will open a large section of the river to restoration projects, which will benefit several Native American tribes downriver who are dependent on the river’s rich salmon population.

“Their livelihood was at stake, so it’s really a feel-good project when the outcome is good for the environment and you’re helping the livelihood of a lot of people,” del Monte said.

As a student at UD, del Monte started out as a mechanical engineering major. He earned a co-op position his sophomore year at a company in Cincinnati, but he soon realized the field was not for him. He switched to civil engineering the following fall and said that he then found his true calling.

It was also as a junior that he met Laura Kozuh Bistrek ’97, executive director of the Diversity in Engineering Center. Their meeting, del Monte said, changed his professional trajectory. As a new employee at UD that year, Bistrek was looking to engage more with a diverse group of students, and del Monte was eager to learn.

“Laura was bringing a fresh perspective to the program. She had a clear plan of growth and was doing really awesome things and empowering students,” del Monte said. “I really attribute her leadership to pushing me to take on roles that I didn’t think I could do.”

At Bistrek’s urging, del Monte restarted the University of Dayton chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He took on a leadership role and helped recruit a new class of members. He also served as a leader and peer mentor in the Multi-Ethnic Engineers Program (formerly the Minority Engineering Program).

“All of our students are amazing, but there are definitely some who stand out, and he will always be one of those students who stands out for me,” said Bistrek. 

Bistrek had come to UD from the corporate world, having worked for the engineering firm Tetra Tech. Upon graduation, del Monte took his first job with that same company, a firm he stayed with for 10 years.

Bistrek said that working with del Monte and getting to see his success cemented her direction at UD. “There is no way I would have been able to start my career in higher education successfully without him,” she said. “So, this very much is a full-circle story.”

In his studies, del Monte said he gained real-world knowledge from Donald V. Chase, lecturer of civil and environmental engineering. He said Chase was not only technically excellent but also practical in his approach to teaching.

“He would push us to just take a second, step back and ask, ‘Does this makes sense? Yes or no? Is there an easier way to do it or a more practical way of doing it?’” said del Monte. “So, now in my career, I’m always looking for that common sense approach.”

Del Monte went on to graduate school, earning a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Del Monte said he owes a lot in his life to UD, besides his career. While living on Irving his senior year, he shared a backyard with his future wife, Molly Bytnar ’07, an international business major. Together, they have three children: Fernando Jr., 6; Clara, 4; and Nico, 2. And with a dog named Rudy, memories of UD are never far away.

“I guess it comes down to community — UD helps you establish religion, relationships, taking care of one another, and that’s kind of how I live now. With my neighbors and organizations that my kids are a part of — we’re in this together, so let’s make it better,” he said.

At his current company, Stantec, del Monte said he is proud to work with several UD graduates. While none of them are in his St. Louis office, Stantec employs at least 10 Flyers in its offices in Cincinnati, Phoenix and Kentucky.

“It’s that ‘humanity’ thing and the ‘more than being an engineer’ thing that UD produces. That must be a UD thing.”

“I love hiring UD engineers. I may be biased, but just the complete person package of a UD grad — you don’t see that coming from many other universities,” he said. “It’s that ‘humanity’ thing and the ‘more than being an engineer’ thing that UD produces. That must be a UD thing.”


Photograph by Tutti Del Monte.

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