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Employee Spotlight: Karen Dvorsky, District 4 Program Development Engineer

IDOT Blog – Monday, May 23, 2022

Engineering is in Karen Dvorsky’s blood. Her dad, four of six siblings, husband, and two of three children are all engineers.

Dvorsky, District 4’s Program Development Engineer, joined IDOT in 2017. Here are some of her thoughts about her job and life outside of IDOT.

Q. In your role as bureau chief of Program Development, what do you do?

A. I am accountable for providing overall direction to a diverse staff of 60 to 80 engineers, technicians, land surveyors and realty specialists for accomplishing the district’s annual and multi-year programs. My team is responsible for developing projects from their inception to bidding and performs all associated activities, including programming, preparing engineering and environmental studies and reports, developing contract plans and specifications, purchasing right of way, and preparing agreements with governmental agencies, railroads and utility companies.

Q .What is the most important impact of your work?

A. I facilitate decision-making and work to remove obstacles to keep projects moving. With engineering, there are always many ways to solve a particular problem, and those solutions usually balance a whole gamut of policies, guidelines, needs or desires of many stakeholders, and cost. When direction is needed or the decision is unclear, I review the data, talk through the issues or challenges, and facilitate discussions to resolve an issue or gain consensus on a path moving forward consistent with IDOT’s mission of providing safe, cost-effective transportation for Illinois in ways that enhance quality of life, promote economic prosperity and demonstrate respect for our environment.

Q. What is your favorite part of your work?

A. The most exciting part of my job is working together with a lot of different people and groups, both internal and external, to develop transportation infrastructure improvement projects that will impact future generations. It’s especially exciting to be part of projects that will have a major impact to the travelling public, such as the new eastbound McClugage Bridge over the Illinois River, the expansion of U.S. 24 from Banner to Kingston Mines, and the reconstruction of Illinois 29 from the McClugage Bridge to Peoria Heights, just to name a few. I feel most accomplished when I help overcome obstacles that seem to get in the way of getting our work done in a timely and efficient manner.

Q. Beyond your regular work duties, what do you do to contribute to your profession?

A. Over the years, I have mentored many young engineers. As my career progressed to leadership roles, I served as a role model, particularly to female engineers. Of interest, when I started my first engineering job in 1986, I was one of only two female engineers in Minnesota working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. Today, I am one of 42 women engineers and engineering technicians working in District 4 alone!

I have been involved with several junior high STEM programs. I assisted with the local MathCounts competition for many years, serving in various roles including planning, organizing, scoring and moderating the local math competition. I was also very involved with FIRST LEGO League, where I spearheaded the formulation of three local junior high robotics teams and coached one of those teams for three years. Most recently, I participated in Engineers in the Classroom, where I volunteered to partner with a local school to help students develop a Rube Goldberg machine and participate in a local and state competition.

Q. What education, experience or special training has prepared you for your current role?

A. My education, including a bachelor’s and master’s in civil engineering from University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) was great preparation for my early career. However, my experiences in the engineering field have had a more direct impact in preparing me for my current role. My career path was diverse, and each job or assignment along the way has helped build my broad understanding of how Program Development fits into the overall mission of the district and the department, and how we must cooperatively work with our industry partners.