“You can pay off your student loans and still be able to do fun things."
Upon graduating from Penn State with a freshly minted architect’s degree, Christi Saunders felt ready to work, but faced the Great Recession. She opted for graduate school to expand her options while hoping for an uptick in the job market.
While some of her engineering classmates seemed narrowly focused on completing assignments as they came up, her undergraduate work had trained her to take a broader view. “In studying architecture, you’re given a basic outline of what’s deliverable, but how you get there is less structured,” she says. “You’re always thinking about the next step. That seemed to impress my professors, and it helped me to get this job.”
She emerged two years later with a degree in civil engineering and a great job that melds her ability to see the big picture with the details of how to make buildings work amid concerns for sustainability. She works for Mascaro Construction, designing computer models of structures before they are built.
The work is engaging, but the best part of job? “I would have to say the people I work with. That can make a big difference. People get along with each other, and I was made to feel like I belong from the beginning. The owners make you feel like you’re important to the company.”
Christi works out of Mascaro’s office on the North Shore. Her boyfriend works in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, and together they found a place that’s somewhat in the middle: Regent Square, on the eastern fringe of Frick Park. It’s a great place to walk their Pomeranian, Zoey, hike steep, wooded trails or play a bit of tennis. “I never feel like I’m in the city,” she said. “I’m in a neighborhood.”
The couple bought each other kayaks last Christmas, and appreciates easy highway access to get away to the Youghiogheny River, rich in secluded little tributaries that feel miles away from modern life. Other favorite spots include Keystone Lake in Westmoreland County; Connemaugh River Lake in Indiana County; and Fayette County’s Ohiopyle State Park which also offers abundant hiking and white-water rafting. They also enjoy simply tooling around the city on weekends, which has offered such serendipitous finds as an African dance festival at Point State Park last summer.
“The living here is relatively inexpensive,” Christi says. “You’re able to pay off your student loans and still be able to travel and do fun things. People are friendly , and it’s a clean, green environment. You can easily find a place to call home for a number of reasons.”