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From BYU to billion-dollar projects at Bechtel

kim irwin

It’s not always easy to figure out what you want to study in college. Kim Irwin came to BYU over 30 years ago thinking she wanted to be a home economics teacher. But, after working a summer job on a construction site, she realized her heart belonged to civil engineering. She is now a principal vice president of Bechtel National, serving as the project manager of a multi-billion-dollar project.

Irwin has always been bright, after skipping second grade, she later become the valedictorian of her small town high school in Arkansas. As one of the only members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her area, Irwin wanted to come to BYU to be around like-minded people. She got a first-year scholarship to BYU and headed west.

After her first year of college, she spent her summer working with her father as an operating engineer’s helper and an insulator’s helper at Bechtel worksites. Bechtel is the largest construction and civil engineering company in the United States and her father worked as the site manager at the Arkansas Nuclear One plant. It was there that her love for engineering and for Bechtel blossomed, so she came back to BYU and changed her major to civil engineering. She spent each summer working for Bechtel, expanding her knowledge and love of the industry. During this time, Irwin decided to put her studies and career on hold in order to serve a french-speaking mission in Quebec, Canada.

kim irwin plant
The Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant in Hanford, Washington, where Kim Irwin, principal VP for Bechtel National, works as project manager.
Photo by David Wyatt

Irwin graduated from BYU in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. In 1987, she was married in the Los Angeles Temple to Randy Irwin, a BYU business marketing graduate who had served a Spanish-speaking mission in Philadelphia.

Since graduating, she has worked as a business or project manager for Bechtel all over the country. Many of her projects have been within the government sector, including building nuclear power plants, cleaning up nuclear waste, and even working on a waste treatment site that was part of the Manhattan Project during WWII.

Over the years, Irwin’s love for engineering and Bechtel has grown exponentially. One of her favorite things about working at Bechtel has been associating with hardworking and intelligent people. She has also loved the variety in her job, saying that she hasn’t had the same job for more than two years. She explained that she loves working with Bechtel because they work to make the world a better place for people to live.

“Bechtel changes the face of the world by completing mega projects such as building the Hoover Dam, fighting the Kuwait oil fires, supplying water in South America, building nuclear power plants and cleaning up chemical and nuclear waste from the First and Second World War weapons,” Irwin said. “We are now working to eliminate the threat from aging tanks which have stored the waste from that effort for over 60 years. [Communities deserve] a clean, safe environment in return for their contributions to our nation's safety.”

Irwin has put in a lot of work over the years and Bechtel has blessed her life in return.

irwin plant
A bird's-eye view of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant and the surrounding geography in Washington.

“Bechtel continues to be a family-owned company and treats loyal employees as family,” Irwin said. “My family's commitment to the company was recognized when my transfer was tailor-made to accommodate our changed circumstances when my husband passed away.”

Her husband, Randy, passed away in 2010 from kidney cancer while two of her children were on missions and two were still in school. Irwin didn’t think she could continue to work and go on without her husband, who had been a stay-at-home dad for years. Bechtel was very sensitive to her situation and offered her a position in Washington where she could finish raising her family.

Bechtel has also given Irwin the opportunity to share her love for her work with young people as part of its mentor program. She shared the piece of advice she gives to each person she has mentored and added that it relates to BYU students, too.

“Leverage your individuality,” she said. “Bring what is unique about you to the table.”

That is something that has helped her get to where she is now. Being a BYU graduate and a faithful member of the Church, she said her faith makes her special. She recalled professors at BYU relating things like engineering and thermodynamics to the gospel, something she tries to do in her work now.

Irwin’s love for the gospel has been a huge strength in her life, and her love for engineering has been a driving force in her professional life. She has worked hard for Bechtel and Bechtel continues to support her.

“My loyalty and gratitude to Bechtel has only grown as I have been afforded time to recover from a personal tragedy and then been challenged with continued career growth.”