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UNLV Alumna Vying for National Association’s Top Role

Graduate Kristina Swallow would be the first Nevadan to hold the top position with the American Society of Civil Engineers.

People  |  Apr 29, 2016  |  By Cheryl Bella

When UNLV alumni reached out to Kristina Swallow some 20 years ago, the young engineer jumped at the suggestion that she nurture even younger engineers.

Swallow, then a recent civil engineering graduate and new transplant to Las Vegas,  became involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as a way to get engaged in her community and network with others in her field. She soon was asked to help start a young engineers group for ASCE.

That experience, and then becoming a UNLV student herself, have been invaluable to her career.

Now Swallow is running for president-elect of ASCE, at a time when recruiting more women to engineering — and keeping them in the field — is an important focus of the industry. This is the first time in the organization’s 164-year history that two women are running for president. Whoever gets elected will be only the fourth female ASCE president; and Swallow would be the first from Nevada.

Swallow's decision to return for a graduate degree parallels the importance ASCE has placed on education beyond the baccalaureate.

“We get a lot of the basics while getting our undergraduate degree,” she said, “but our environment, our culture, our world is changing, and we need to be thinking bigger and broader.”

Swallow graduated with a master of science in civil and environmental engineering from UNLV in 2004. “UNLV was a great place to get my master’s because I was able to do it while I was working,” she noted. “They really accommodate the working graduate student so that you can take your classes in the evening.”

She points to the diversity of the student body, the ties she developed to the community, and the ongoing relationships with current UNLV faculty – both as mentors and friends – as highlights of her extended educational experience.

“One of the best things about having gotten my degree at UNLV is the network I developed,” Swallow said. “I met so many faculty and students, and today I work with a lot of them, both as peers and also through ASCE.” Among them are Tom Piechota, vice president for research and economic development, and Donald Hayes, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.

In 2013, Swallow was recognized as Alumna of the Year by the College of Engineering. Her varied background includes working for the public sector — she is currently program manager for the city of Las Vegas department of public works — and private sector where she worked for engineering consulting firms and owned a small engineering consulting business.

She also worked for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall from 2009-12 as his lead on transportation policy, drafting language for the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill and the development and passage of the MAP-21 surface transportation authorization bill. Swallow quickly recognized the impact of effectively communicating to elected officials and other leaders the importance of the nation’s infrastructure for our overall health, economy, and quality of life.

Add to Swallow’s educational and work background her extended involvement in ASCE, and she is uniquely qualified to lead the premier national organization for civil engineers. Over a 20-year period, Swallow has grown from leading ASCE’s Younger Member Forum to serving as its Southern Nevada branch president, Nevada section president, region governor, congressional fellow, and region director. Along the way she’s met mentors and advisors and learned not be afraid of change and to follow her passion.

One small but meaningful thing she’s passionate about: the hashtag #ASCEmademe. While occasionally used tongue-in-cheek by tired engineering students burning the midnight oil, for Swallow it is a proclamation about the important role the organization and other ASCE members can have in an engineer's career and life.

Follow Kristina on Twitter @ASCEKristina. Association presidential elections for ASCE members will be online May 1 through June 1.