The stormwater system—you can’t see it, unless you know what it is: greenways, ponds, pipes underground and, yes, the lakes. The stormwater system is what supports and moves stormwater in and out of our area. You can look at the lakes, the isthmus and continued and increasing severe rain events as a very daunting, never-ending task to take on - or - an opportunity to improve the lives of Madisonians with incredible impact.

Successfully taking the challenge is Engineering Division Principal Engineer and Stormwater Section Manager Janet Schmidt.

“Our group [Engineering stormwater section] takes care of the planning. We plan the projects, we design the projects as a group,” Schmidt said. “We see the projects through to the construction stage. So, even though we’re not the actual boots on the ground getting things constructed, we’re the people who are planning the projects, overseeing issues, and supporting the construction staff and contractors to get the projects built.”

Schmidt leads the stormwater design section, one of roughly eight main sections of the Engineering Division, tasked with looking specifically at improving the stormwater system and water quality in the City of Madison—not an easy feat considering the increased rain storms, increased intensity rain storms in an area already saturated and challenged by location in the middle of two lakes. Also, don’t forget stormwater projects are incredibly expensive, take years to complete and have wide, long-lasting impacts outside of the project location.

“I like the problem-solving aspect of it, I like being able to look at a problem and see if there is a way to come up with a solution and make it a good solution,” Schmidt said. “I like the atmosphere. I like the fast-paced work we do at the City.”

While Schmidt knows exactly what to do to lead her team with growing stormwater needs in our community, growing up in Oshkosh, Wis., and into college, she didn’t always know this was where she’d be.

“I started out at UW-Madison as a business major,” Schmidt said.  “My dad early on identified that I wouldn’t like that—and my brother suggested that I go into civil engineering.”

Schmidt was one of few women in her Engineering classes at the time, and being the only woman in the room would often continue as her career progressed. After college, Schmidt worked at the University of Wisconsin Madison Facilities Planning and Management as one of only two civil engineers, and then moved onto the Department of Transportation before working for the City of Madison Engineering Division in 1995 as an hourly drafter.

“When I started with the City, there were a couple women engineers, but not very many, it was mostly male, but over time, the City has really grown and got a lot more of women and minority engineers in,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt was promoted to street sanitary and stormwater design and moved on to street design. She then took over management of private development work for almost ten years before eventually taking a position in the City of Madison Parks Division as planning and development manager. In 2018, she made her way back to Engineering as the Principal Engineer and Section Manager of the stormwater section.

“It’s important for everybody, and women in particular, to raise awareness of careers in the construction industry, because construction is a male-dominated field,” Schmidt said. “I think it’s important because I’d really like to get away from the mindset, ‘you’re a woman, this is not a typical role for you,’ or, ‘these are the type of people who are stereotypically in these roles,’ and just let people be able to bring to the table, their skill set versus judging them for where they come from or their background.”

Whether the work is in the background, actual ground or underground, a career in construction is where Schmidt’s love for problem solving meets opportunity, something other women can look for even if they can’t see it, now that they know what it is.

The City of Madison is highlighting the work of five women during National Women in Construction Week March 6-12, 2022.

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