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ms Q+A: Monica Backs

Maggie Kearns Francis

September 23, 2019

Monica in 100 Words or Less

I’m a water resources engineer and I have been with ms since I graduated with my Ecological Engineering degree from The Ohio State University in May 2018. I’m learning so much on a daily basis, but a typical day at the office involves hydraulic models, floodplain analysis and stormwater best management practice design. I love animals, reggae music, the great outdoors, and anything involving soil or water. When I’m working at my desk, I’m probably listening to a creepy true crime podcast, so here’s your heads up that I might be a little jumpy if you happen to stop by.

The Speed Round

What was your first job?
I sold art and ran summer camp at Firelands Association for the Visual Arts in Oberlin, Ohio.


Next item to cross off your bucket list?
Goat yoga, no question.


Best concert you’ve attended?
The Green and SOJA in Richmond, Virginia. Or Sam Smith in Columbus. I cried tears of joy at both.


If you had an extra hour of time in each day, how would you use it?
Either reading or doing yoga.


Cook in or eat out?
Eat out! My roommate is a chef though, so sometimes I take advantage of that and stay in.


Last book you read?
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells – Yes, it was as terrifying as the title makes it sound.


Sweet or salty?
Salty! (Check out the 3 pound bucket of pretzels under my desk…)


If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
Photography or drawing. Something artistic, definitely. I want to be more left-brained.


What household chore to you hate the most?
Folding laundry. I’d basically rather do any other chore in existence.


If you could eliminate one thing from your daily routine, what would it be?
The entire first hour after waking up. I’m NOT a morning person at all.


Last album you listened to?
Hotting Up by Iration


Favorite smell?
Cactus Blossom from Bath and Body Works!!!

Tell Us More

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned while working at ms?
So far, I think the most surprising thing I have learned is how much time and detail goes into every single plan sheet we make. It’s so much more than making a nice-looking picture on paper! I’ve worked through the whole process now, starting with fieldwork/data collection, followed by getting all of that data onto the computer, and finally ending with adjusting that data to be easily understood on paper. It takes a crazy amount of time to get to the final product. Before, I just looked at engineering drawings as pretty drawings, without really considering how all that information got there. Now that I’m the one helping to create them, I have a much greater appreciation for the time and effort it truly takes to get them produced.


If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be doing?
I think I would like to be a marine biologist, working with sea turtles or sharks…Either that or a nature photographer. I’m obsessed with National Geographic so having a photo featured in the magazine would be a dream.


What were your favorite hobbies as a child? Do they mimic what you do today?
I spent a lot of time outside. You could usually find me swimming, playing soccer, or reading books about animals. I grew up visiting my grandparents at their lake house, so I was always catching frogs, fish, and turtles. I still do all of those things on a pretty regular basis, but I read more than just non-fiction now, and I don’t ask my mom if I can keep little critters anymore (or at least not as often as I used to anyways).


What project are you most proud to have been a part of, and why?
I think I’m most proud of any of the innovative green infrastructure (GI) projects I’ve worked on. The fact that GI is becoming more frequent in stormwater management is super exciting. While it’s still in the works, the upcoming Eureka-Fremont project for Blueprint Columbus has been a really awesome experience. Being able to assist with the design of bioretention cells at the large scale this project requires has been really challenging, but I know these cells will add so much value (and natural beauty) to the area!


You’ve got one day in Columbus. What do you do?
During the summer months, I would definitely spend the day at the Columbus Zoo or Franklin Park Conservatory. Dinner would follow at Thurman’s Café in German Village (I don’t eat much red meat anymore but when I do, I SPLURGE. Go get yourself a ¾ pound burger. It will change your life.) I’d wrap up the day unwinding at one of the rooftop bars downtown to watch the sunset. During football season though, I would definitely use the day for attending an OSU football game! Spending the day tailgating with friends and family is so fun and watching the game inside The Shoe is an unforgettable experience.


What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like anything that involves being active and outside. Activities like hiking and kayaking are my favorites, but I can just as easily opt for a chill day by the pool. I run (not very fast) a lot, and hope to complete a marathon soon. I volunteer with Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, which means I plant a lot of trees and spend a good deal of time covered in dirt. If I’m ever sitting still, I’m probably watching puppy videos online or binge-watching true crime documentaries or Chopped on Food Network.


Any final words?
One of my favorite sayings is “bloom where you are planted.” I really believe everyone is capable of making a positive impact right where they are. One of the main reasons I pursued engineering is because I feel the projects engineers take on truly benefit society by keeping people safe, providing clean water, improving the environment, or making everyday tasks easier. I feel successful engineering makes communities bloom. The work we do here at ms truly benefits our surroundings, our neighbors, and our environment. I feel fortunate to have been planted in Columbus, as well as here at ms, and I look forward to blooming here too.