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Harvest Schroeder: The Human Factor

Harvest Schroeder with a flood inundation map of Des Moines.

Harvest Schroeder with a flood inundation map of Des Moines.

Harvest Schroeder admits that earning an engineering degree is challenging. “It is hard, but so is everything else that’s worthwhile,” Schroeder says. She likes to think about the human results of her work, and making the world better for the real people.

“It’s totally worth it,” the IIHR engineer says.

Small-Town Scientist

The Calamus, Iowa, native earned a B.S. in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Iowa, and she’s now pursuing an M.S. degree while working full-time on the Iowa Flood Center’s (IFC) Statewide Floodplain Mapping Project.

After being home schooled through her freshman year of high school, Schroeder graduated from Calamus-Wheatland High School. Her father taught science at the tiny school system, and his enthusiasm for all things scientific trickled down to Schroeder and her four siblings. He took the family on long vacations in the summer, tent camping in national parks and exploring the natural world.

Schroeder loved science and math classes, but she wasn’t set on engineering as a high school student. Like many younger students, she wasn’t entirely sure what an engineer does. “I feel like it’s something of a hidden profession,” she says.

She learned more about engineering from her older brother, who went to Iowa State to study chemical engineering. Job shadowing a civil engineer opened her eyes to what engineers actually do. Being outdoors at least part of the time appealed to her, and she also appreciated the fact that engineers can actually see the results of their work. “You’re building something,” she explains.

Engineering a Bright Future

When Schroeder was just starting her engineering classes at Iowa, she remembers looking around and finding herself one of only a few women in the room. “It’s definitely intimidating,” she says, but that doesn’t bother her these days. Although Schroeder knows that old-school resistance to women in engineering exists, she has never experienced it firsthand.

“I think I’ve been kind of fortunate,” she says.

Schroeder interned with the City of Iowa City in 2008 — the year of the big flood. That experience made her acutely aware of the importance of water-related engineering and its impact on people and communities.

It was something she never forgot. So when Schroder heard about an opportunity for students to work on the IFC’s Statewide Floodplain Mapping Project, she immediately wanted to get involved. After she completed her undergraduate degree, Schroeder’s position at the IFC evolved into a full-time job, and she was later chosen to serve as one of the project leaders.

The five-year effort has a big goal: to create new floodplain maps for the 85 Iowa counties that were declared Presidential Disaster Areas after the 2008 floods. Schroeder shares the leadership duties with Engineer Derek Chang, and she says they’re fortunate to have great supervision from IFC Associate Director Nate Young, as well as an excellent team of dedicated engineers.

When the Statewide Floodplain Mapping Project is complete, most Iowans will have up-to-date, reliable floodplain maps to turn to, which will make a positive difference in the lives of many Iowans. “I do feel you’re getting a useful product that people will use,” Schroeder says. “That provides a lot of motivation for me.”

Schroeder hopes to continue working in the field of hydrology and hydraulic engineering after the project is done. “I love being in the water research world,” she says.

An Intense Competitor

When she’s not working, Schroeder likes to spend time with her family and help out at her church, where she teaches Sunday school to second and third graders. She also loves to get outside and be active. She took up downhill skiing a couple of years ago, after cross country skiing throughout her youth. She also likes sand volleyball and Ultimate Frisbee.

When it comes to sports, Schroeder says, her normally low-key personality disappears. “My competitive side comes out,” she says. “It gets intense sometimes!”

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Last modified on June 25th, 2015
Posted on November 13th, 2013

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